Akinyinka Akintunde stands out as an exceptional leader catalysing transformative change across Africa’s business landscape. As both the President and CEO of AFEX Nigeria, Yinka has masterfully steered the company to unparalleled heights, championing the cause of farmers while also moulding the contours of commodity markets. His visionary leadership has not only empowered innumerable farmers but has also left an indelible mark on the sector itself.
In a distinguished interview with Business Elites Africa, Yinka delves deeply into the reservoir of his insights and experiences. With candour and wisdom, he illuminates the path he undertook, narrating his extraordinary journey which has been nothing less than remarkable. Through his words, he provides a glimpse into his exceptional trajectory, unveiling the strategic nuances that have guided his approach and fuelled his success.
BEA: In your experience, how do strategic platforms and partnerships contribute to accelerating operational excellence and growth for businesses in Nigeria’s evolving market landscape?
Akinyinka Akintunde: Operational excellence is essentially a consciously structured framework put in place by stakeholders in a business to drive platforms and partnerships. I don’t believe that platforms and partnerships inherently drive excellence; I think it’s about being deliberate in setting up the operational structure, which in itself should be efficient. Then, leveraging platforms and partnerships to drive market presence becomes possible. When considering operational excellence, it’s about defining the work structure and design, even as simple as the workspace, to make it conducive. If you establish this well, leveraging platforms and partnerships for growth becomes more viable. For instance, if you look at AFEX’s model, it heavily relies on the platforms we develop. We consider these platforms crucial for the market’s growth and structure, and we collaborate with strategic partners to achieve this.
The Nigerian ecosystem is highly dynamic. It’s impossible to nurture a thriving business with an outdated model. Notably, the remarkable growth we’re witnessing is propelled by SMEs and MSMEs, entities that display remarkable adaptability in their models to address policy and environmental changes. It’s this resilience that allows Nigerians to succeed in diverse situations.
BEA: As someone who believes in the transformative power of technology, could you share an example of how AFEX has leveraged innovative approaches to address challenges in the commodities exchange ecosystem?
Akinyinka Akintunde: I’m an ardent advocate of technology’s transformative potential, but I hold a strong belief that for technology to work, it needs a supportive infrastructure. This infrastructure gap currently exists in Africa. The effective use of technology relies on this underlying infrastructure to surmount barriers. In AFEX’s context, a prime example is our farmer ERP software. Prior to its development, there were some proprietary software solutions available, focusing on foundational tasks like farmer registration. However, we realised that for technology to have a lasting impact, we needed a solid on-ground infrastructure that could connect all stakeholders we engage with: from warehousing to farmers, processors, and eventual buyers.
Our technology was designed to seamlessly bring these stakeholders together. Moreover, we transformed inventory management by digitising the entire process from the farm to the factory. Notably, our system ensures traceability, enabling processors to track commodity origins and maintain proper KYC documentation. Payments to suppliers are streamlined through the system. Our approach involves harnessing technology developed by Africans for Africans, promoting transparency and fairness, all underpinned by a robust infrastructure that can be replicated at the country level. This strategy empowers us with insights into smallholder farmers, which, beyond boosting the economy, enhances planning and forecasting capabilities. This serves as a prime example of technology’s transformative power.
We anticipate a shift from technology-enabled solutions toward technology-infrastructure models. The era of pure technology in Africa is waning, with more financiers favouring businesses supported by robust infrastructure. Within
BEA: We understand you place great importance on fostering a culture that drives success. How do you ensure this culture remains adaptive and aligned with the dynamic demands of the financial and capital market ecosystem?
Akinyinka Akintunde: I’ll take a slightly contrary stance by suggesting that culture isn’t inherently adaptive; rather, it’s a constant amidst change. Let’s consider the Yoruba culture, where prostrating to greet elders remains a core practice. Despite shifts in the world, this fundamental culture endures. From AFEX’s perspective, we’ve ingrained our culture of Execution, Excellence, and Empathy into all our operations. This culture becomes our guiding light during times of change.
Execution demands that we deliver for clients and stakeholders regardless of the circumstances. Excellence requires us to prioritise quality at all times. Empathy dictates that we conduct business without harming our stakeholders. While these values remain constant, their application evolves as we adapt to new scenarios. As the business landscape evolves, we simply apply our bias for action, combining it with quality and empathy to propel the business forward.
BEA: Given your expertise in business technology and product development, what emerging trends do you see reshaping the investment landscape in Africa, and how is AFEX positioning itself to capitalise on these trends?
Akinyinka Akintunde: We anticipate a shift from technology-enabled solutions toward technology-infrastructure models. The era of pure technology in Africa is waning, with more financiers favouring businesses supported by robust infrastructure. Within our current ecosystem, unconventional products that address market challenges are highly sought after. At AFEX, we’re designing solutions that target access to cash, investments, and markets. These solutions are built on a foundation that converts cash to security and vice versa. This framework has the potential to unlock gaps in the ecosystem, leading to the creation of innovative products.
Over the next five years, businesses will either integrate technology with infrastructure or face challenges due to the current business volatility. The landscape will likely see fewer players, heightened innovation, and derivatives firmly entrenched.
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BEA: With your background in strategy and finance, could you provide insights into how AFEX’s approach to integration and international expansion has contributed to enhancing the company’s sales footprint while maintaining local relevance?
Akinyinka Akintunde: We dedicated six years to building a scalable solution in Nigeria, an environment renowned for its challenging business landscape. We believed that if we succeeded in Nigeria, our model could thrive anywhere.
When we ventured into Kenya, we achieved break-even within the first year of operation. We financed over 10,000 farmers and engaged with 75,000 more. These countries already had operational structures, allowing us to seamlessly integrate our model and make a market impact.
The success beyond Nigeria is greatly influenced by the local talent pool, possessing a deep understanding of the environment’s nuances. This insight empowers them to drive operations effectively. In our foreign operations, we employ approximately 90% local talent.
Lastly, our robust commercial team leverages accomplishments on the supply side, nurturing relationships, identifying market gaps, and tailoring products for success. Our model is nimble to establish and well-positioned for seamless long-term growth.
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