Mauritius is currently going through a phase of transformation from a middle income to a high-income country. How do you think this moment has to be managed to sustain growth?
We need new sectors; we need to reinvent ourselves. There are two very important sectors in Mauritius but nobody knows in which direction they will grow. These are the financial services and the tourism sectors. Everybody has its own point of view and this is exactly the first thing that we have to take care of. If we take the example of the hotels, it’s not possible to be in each segment, they have to choose if they want to be in the mass or in the upscale market.
Concerning the financial services sector, the vast majority of our flows source today is India. It’s based on one single taxation duty agreement and this certainly has an impact on our sector. That’s what we have to change. We need to be more conscious and to know exactly from where the evolution comes and what changes it will bring.
To keep on growing this two sectors have to be cleaned up. We have to clarify everything and perhaps to change of direction. We also have to reinvent ourselves to service Africa and the first thing that we should do for that is to improve our connectivity to Africa otherwise we will lose our competitiveness and a huge volume of manufacturing.
The plan of the government is to transform Mauritius into a business hub; taking advantage of the role the country plays as a bridge to enter the African continent. Why does it make sense for an investor to enter the African market via Mauritius?
We have the infrastructure and the legal framework. We have a democracy, which is working. We have a banking network, which works also very well and is well regulated and the government is pro-business. All of these elements are totally different in Africa so if you want to grow in Africa you really have to be based in a stable environment that we can provide. We need to have substance here though; we need bankers and investors based in Mauritius who invest in Africa.
The financial crisis extended its effects to worldwide economies. In the case of Mauritius, being the financial sector one of the most representatives, what were the main challenges and how did you face them?
The only sector that really suffered was the tourism sector. The years 2008 and 2009 were really delicate because in 2006 every single big group in the industry went up to 5 stars hotels, which means that every 4 stars properties had been renovated, but none was done with equity and this is why they are suffering.
AXYS was established in 1991 and has consolidated, expanded and diversified its operations since. How has been the evolution of the company? What have been the main challenges you’ve face?
We have done long term investments on a very entrepreneurial way. We have a different way to see things compared to other groups in Mauritius, and this has helped us to close some transactions. We used to be in financial services, manufacturing and tourism. Now the next step for us is Africa, it’s a logical step. We don’t have the financial strength of certain big groups so we have to take a few risks. Today our main goal is to diversify ourselves and to enter Africa.
The main challenge here in Mauritius is to raise capital. If you want to grow, you have to do it with a bank debt and that can be challenging.
We meet with Mr. Treeboohun, from Global Finance Mauritius, who remarked the importance of increasing Mauritius’ financial visibility. What is the contribution of AXYS to extend Mauritius’ international awareness, especially in the financial sector?
When Global Finance Mauritius started we actually did not join them for a very simple reason, we thought it was too business centric. We always though that the financial sector had to be more than just OMC and banks. We need to go outside Mauritius to get a real vision and strategy on how to develop substances. In this order of ideas, we bought two companies in Geneva in 2012 and 2013. We believe that the banking sector in Mauritius will grow but we need competencies and we need to buy flags and credibility. That goes with taking risk by investing outside Mauritius and that’s what we have done. Currently, we are buying an operations center in Johannesburg and one in Nairobi, because if you want to develop the banking sector you need to be sure that you have the ability of doing it and in Mauritius we don’t have that for the moment.
As Mauritius’ financial sector sets under the international spotlight, opportunities increase but so does the competition. Where are you focusing your efforts to continue on this path of diversification?
Diversification goes through Africa for us. All our strategy is focusing on East and Southern Africa. Our strategy is to move our technical capabilities from Geneva into Africa. We are the largest independent trust company in Geneva today. Our next step is also to have more presence in Hong-Kong.
AXYS Group provides managing services so the companies can focus on their core activities, addressing your efforts to be the 'life-long' partner in investments and finance. Within these services, what is the added value the company gives to its clients?
Our main focus for the last 3 years has been to build a track record on corporate banking and individuals.We are based in Africa and developing our high networks in Mauritius and Geneva. That is our focus today. We actually operate as a mini-family office. Everything is done through us. We got some local and international clients but everything is administrated through us; taxes, accountancy. That is really a niche market and that is what Africa needs.
Our client base is really diversified. They are mainly from Europe but also from Middle East and Africa; and we also have a growing number from the Asian continent.
We believe that every company needs to have a clear set of goals but it is the vision of its leaders that can make it reach these objectives. As the CEO of AXYS, where do you see the company in the next five years?
We will be present in 3 countries in Africa. We will expand the services that we are offering. Today we cover everything except one but it should be achieved in November of this year. The plan of AXYS is to grow organically into Africa and the region.
Mr. Rivalland, you joined the group in 1999 and you have held different leading roles since, being a key player in the company’s performance. From a more personal perspective, when you look back at all these years of work and achievements, what makes you feel most proud of?
I’m actually really proud of the evolution of this company. We grew this company without capital and today we are a diversified group. We have been able to do a few deals that were at the time completely against the market dynamic. We also entered a few sectors when people thought it was not the good time to come in but we succeeded and we are where we are now.
To conclude this interview, our readers are more interested on the leaders we interview than on the company or institution itself. In that context, what message would you like to send to our worldwide readers of HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW?
They have to come and have a look at Mauritius. They have to come and see the people and look at the actual environment where we are working. They will be surprised. Working in Mauritius is amazing!