Mark-Anthony Johnson is the founder and CEO of JIC Holdings, an innovative private holding company established in 2009, which he has built into an international asset and investment management company. This follows an earlier, also successful, business he created, namely the JIC Group. Under his guidance and control, JIC Holdings has developed into an international asset and investment firm with global interests and with a special, strong focus on Africa, intra-Africa trade and the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
Mark-Anthony Johnson was born in the United Kingdom (UK) and raised in Sierra Leone until he was eight years old when his parents returned to London. Educated in the UK at Mill Hill School he then achieved a BA (Hons) in Business and International Finance at University of Westminster.
Mark-Anthony’s interest in Africa can be traced back to the 1980s when he was involved in commodities trading in Southern Africa. He was engaged in mineral export as well as trading in gold and diamonds.
However, his vision was not only limited to owning businesses and providing thousands with employment opportunities. Exploring and realizing Africa’s potential was part of his grand scheme of vision growing up.
With a deep-rooted connection to the African continent, Mark-Anthony has been passionate about developments in Africa for over 30 years. His vision for Africa was shaped in part by Ghana’s founding president, Dr. Kwame Nkrumha’s vision of a United Africa. With this as his guiding principle, Mark-Anthony has ensured JIC Holdings has a strong focus on the continent, while Mark-Anthony himself is a strong advocate of AfCFTA.
He believes that Africa has gained strong traction with 43 countries (out of 54 signatories) having ratified the AfCFTA Agreement and is now at a tipping point to make a huge difference in global business, trade, and investment, as well as movement of people and goods. The time is right for foreign investors to take Africa seriously for investment.
Below is Face2face Africa’s interview with Mark-Anthony Johnson
Could you introduce yourself?
I started off as one of the first traders at the London stock exchange then I moved on to real estate and other types of investments. Most importantly, my passion is trading within Africa.
How was growing up like for you?
My parents were both government officials in Sierra Leone. We moved to the UK when I was eight. In 1999, I moved out of the UK, with my office relocated to Gibraltar and my home moved to Brussels, Belgium.
Growing up was fun, I was one of those adventurous kids. I was always trading, even at school. Always looking for something to sell or a good way of earning, I managed to get all the kids to buy stuff that I had and there was always a deal to be done. Growing up was very interesting.
What were your career goals and how did you navigate them?
I always knew I wanted to build an enterprise and that was the end of it. There were no ifs and buts. I was going to do it. There was no doubt in my mind. I read all the books of all the great entrepreneurs of yesteryear so I had absolute clarity on who I wanted to become in the future.
I have always wanted to explore and visit Africa while doing business across Africa from an early age. My dream was to become an entrepreneur and set up an enterprise. It wasn’t just about the money, but it was to make a difference in Africa. First, I had to get the funds. With a number of lucky breaks in the 80s getting me to the starters block and the rest they say is history.
Could you tell us what inspired your career option?
There was only one option. My thought was always to set up multiple businesses with synergies. There was nothing else I was interested in. I didn’t want to be a footballer in spite of being widely considered a talented athlete. I have had this passion for wanting to connect with the rest of the world.
Could you walk us through some of your businesses?
As a holding company, we acquire, invest, and build businesses. We are in the business of making a difference in different sectors, from construction to events, communication, IT, etc.
You are deeply connected to the economies of Africa. Tells us more.
I have been investing in Africa since the 80s. My first big deal came from Southern Africa in the mining sector by way of commodity trading. Then we moved on to marketing the Africa brand, by profiling African countries internationally. Our main objective was to showcase Africa to the world.
You are involved in the AfCFTA. Could you tell us about it?
The African Continental Free Trade Area has been a passion of mine for as long as I could remember. I have always liked the concept of Kwame Nkrumah’s vision of Africa, a united Africa. Interestingly enough, we share the same birth date, 21 of September. So on his birthday, I celebrate mine.
I felt connected to this vision, and therefore why I got passionate for the one Africa, united Africa vision. I believe it is our job, collectively, the over 1.4 billion people that make up the African continent, to assume our collective responsibility in the AfCFTA world to see to an equal market and connect the African dream.
How is your organization capitalizing on the whole AfCFTA concept?
Very simply. It is the AfCFTA’s responsibility to create all the policies, but the agency is responsible for creating and implementing the policy.
It is the private sector’s duty to take full advantage of the policies by implementing projects and raising funds for AfCFTA actualization.
If countries like China, Singapore and UAE can transform themselves in such a short space of time, with our richness, the likes of Sierra Leone with diamonds, Ghana with gold and cocoa, we can do the same.
Any advice for people looking to invest in Africa?
Because working with international investors is my strength and our service is geared towards guiding them. It is very straightforward for me; first and foremost, they must do their homework and understand the areas they want to invest in. They must choose the right country, which is very important, making sure that they find the right partners around. They shouldn’t try to do it on their own or alone.
I would encourage investors to partner with local individuals, companies, or businesses. I know that it is one of the biggest challenges for these investors. ‘We don’t know who to trust, where to find what.’ Nonetheless, there are good people all over Africa, so they shouldn’t let those small percentages of unscrupulous characters put them off.
They should carry out due diligence and identify key projects. Once the right country is chosen, with the right team with local support, a good footing can be set.
And I suggest they must stop with the attitude that they know best. They may know best in America or Europe, but Africa is a totally different beast, especially if they have never traded in Africa before.