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#WomensMonth: 'South Africa has enormous opportunity' - Alison Collier, MD of Endeavor SA

Endeavor South Africa opened its offices in 2004 and has led high-impact entrepreneurs to success by catalysing long-term economic growth through selecting, mentoring, and accelerating the best high-impact entrepreneurs South Africa has to offer.
Alison Collier, MD of Endeavor SA
Endeavor is an organisation of entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs with the goal to support and inspire entrepreneurs.

The organisation’s managing director, Alison Collier, is an established businesswoman who has enjoyed a long and illustrious career in various industries. One of the highlights of her career was successfully leading the international expansion of a Cape Town-based beverage startup BOS Ice Tea to Europe.

With extensive global experience, Alison Collier, a definite role model for future businesswomen, shares her journey with us this Women's Month.

BizcommunityCan you tell us a bit about yourself?


I’m a South African. I love this country and am very happy to be home after spending more than 15 years overseas in Europe and Asia.
South Africa is a country with enormous opportunity, but it doesn’t come without risks and obstacles.
I have always been driven to learn and to build new things that deliver value and make a real difference.

I have a passion to drive business development and growth, specifically in the entrepreneurial space given the enormous positive impact that high-growth emerging businesses have on long term job creation and economic growth. I am very excited to be back in South Africa and working with Endeavor to drive this locally. I am a huge nature lover and enjoy hiking and sailing. I am also an avid reader, with Red Notice currently being at the top of my book list.

BizcommunityYou're the MD of Endeavor SA. Tell us more about your role here?


Endeavor is more than a job to me. Endeavor enables me to apply my expertise to support South Africa’s revenue growth and job creation through supporting the advancement of some of the country’s fastest growing medium-sized entrepreneurs.
Endeavor is a global organisation that accelerates growth of these entrepreneurs, and in doing so, deliver on our mission to drive job creation and revenue growth in emerging markets.
To put this in numbers, over the past two years, Endeavor’s SA portfolio of 26 entrepreneurs had an average turnover of R200 million per annum and have collectively generated 5,000 jobs (with a headcount growth of 29% per annum) and R2 billion in incremental revenue (revenue growth of 27% per annum).

In 2019 they employed 12,000 people and generated R5 billion in total revenue. These growth figures are hugely impressive and highlight that entrepreneurs are the real growth drivers of an economy. It is a privilege to work with such remarkable entrepreneurs – especially to see how willingly they pay-it-forward and share their learnings with earlier stage entrepreneurs.

BizcommunityWhat is the core function of Endeavor?


To accelerate growth of South African entrepreneurs, and in doing so, bring about systemic changes to a sector that drives economic growth and job creation. The three areas we focus on are: Access to Markets, Access to Capital and Access to Talent.

We provide access to markets locally and globally by connecting entrepreneurs to a trusted network of experts who have been there and done it. We also fast track commercial introductions and new market entry.

We advise on capital raises and connect companies to the right strategic investors in South Africa and globally. We provide tailored mentoring to a company based on their specific needs. This mentoring leverages Endeavor’s powerful network of successful entrepreneurs and mentors who advise up-and-coming entrepreneurs on a pro-bono basis.

Global mentors include the likes of Linda Rottenberg (Founder of Endeavor), and Reid Hoffman (Founder of LinkedIn), while local mentors include Herman Bosman (CEO of RMI Holdings), David Frankel (Co-founder of Founder Collective), Margaret O’Connor (Adventure Capitalist) and Nkateko Khoza (CEO of Dzana Investments).

BizcommunityDo you have any role models?


No specific role models, however there are many leaders who have inspired me. Stand-out leaders for me include Nelson Mandela, who was an icon of democracy, social justice and forgiveness, and Roger Federer who is a wonderful example of excelling, doing what you love and remaining humble and kind. I’m very grateful to my parents for the values they instilled in me growing up – integrity, respect, empathy.

BizcommunityYou have a successful career spanning over 20 years. Tell us about your journey.


Over the past 20 years, I’ve lived, studied and worked in many countries and on many continents. I’ve experienced life working for global corporates, startups, NGOs and investors. Seeing all sides of the table and being exposed to many cultures opens your mind and enables you to see first-hand the value of diversity in a team.
After graduating from UCT with a Business Science degree, I joined McKinsey as a consultant working on FMCG revenue growth opportunities in Nigeria and Egypt amongst other African countries. I went on to complete an MBA at INSEAD while living in France and Singapore. After spending time overseas, I was keen to bring my learnings back to South Africa and moved to Johannesburg and joined SAB Ltd.
I served in various roles at SAB Ltd including Strategy, Trade Marketing and M&A projects amongst others, gaining a broad understanding across the business’ operations.

I was very fortunate in my timing as SABMiller started globalising its functions in 2008 and given that I’d worked closely with the SAB Ltd MD who had moved on to run SABMiller’s supply chain globally, I was asked to prepare the business case to establish SABMiller’s Global Sourcing Office. The Business Case was subsequently approved and I then had the opportunity to be one of the first employees to establish SABMiller’s Global Procurement Office, and with this I moved the UK and then onto Zug, Switzerland where we set up the new global office.

Being part of the SABMiller Global Sourcing founding team and growing this operation from three people to over 150 people three years later was an incredible learning experience. We hired the best talent from around the world and the team delivered exceptional results, we grew faster and delivered more value versus the plan and had loads of fun doing it. From there it was time to move back to South Africa, and I joined a few friends to take Cape Town-based beverage startup BOS Ice Tea to Europe.

I spent the next four years leading BOS’ international launch and expansion in Europe, setting up European manufacturing and distribution partnerships, hiring European teams, listing in the largest European retailers and delivering record sales in the Netherlands and French markets. Through this, I learnt the value of a powerful network of mentors to support and accelerate an entrepreneur’s growth and specifically the value that the Endeavor network had on accelerating BOS’ European expansion. Receiving sage advice from entrepreneurs that have gone before you, avoiding pitfalls, being connected to the right parties in new markets are all invaluable in accelerating your growth.

From there, I moved on to lead projects for the US AID Gates Foundation, improving the delivery of chronic medicines across Africa, and more recently, led Unilever’s global procurement excellence team from Singapore. This included leading the digital transformation of Unilever’s procurement function and pulling tech start-ups into Unilever’s global supply chain. Lots of wonderful lessons and learnings in all this work where I was fortunate to work in business development and value creation roles, identifying and delivering increased revenue opportunities.

BizcommunityAre South African women getting enough of a chance to shine in the startup ecosystem?


Yes. There are incredible South African women in the startup ecosystem who are delivering phenomenal results. Looking at the businesses Endeavor supports locally, 30% of these are led by female founders, namely Candice Roberts (Call Force), Stacey Brewer (Spark Schools), Aisha Pandor (SweepSouth), Cynthia Mkhombo (Masana), Julie Mathieson & Ingrid Osborne (Saryx) and Kirsty Chadwick (TTRO). These four women through their businesses have jointly generated 4,000 jobs over the past two years.

BizcommunityCould you list a few, if any, specific challenges females face in this industry? How do women overcome these challenges?


To me, the main challenge as a female in this industry is having your voice heard or someone taking a risk on you versus a male peer. Once your voice is heard, the numbers, performance, value delivery etc, are there. However, as a female, you have to work harder or deliver more, to be seen or heard. That being said, we females are sometimes are our worst enemies – as we need to speak out more and be more confident in how we pitch ourselves and the value and expertise we offer.

BizcommunityYou're a successful businesswoman. You've been instrumental in taking BOS to Europe. How do you keep a work-life balance?


Work-life balance, this comes with experience and I’m sure we have all had stages in our lives when our work-life balance wasn’t where it needed to be. I am definitely still learning.
This is one of the (few) down-sides of being passionate, driven, and hard working. You need to understand your and your team’s capacity and limits, know where you get your energy from and ensure you make enough time for this.
Set boundaries and stick to these, be sufficiently confident and comfortable to say no. If you are insecure or looking to please everyone, it is very difficult to achieve work-life balance.

BizcommunityHow is Endeavor SA empowering women entrepreneurs in building successful businesses?


Endeavor proactively recruits female mentors and female entrepreneurs to the network. The mentors in our network are 60/40 male/female and we proactively support increasing diversity, as do many others in the ecosystem such as SAVCA, Future Females etc.
Endeavor’s successful female entrepreneurs actively share their stories with other females and are wonderful role models for South African men and women.
As shared earlier, the female founder-led businesses in Endeavor’s South African portfolio have delivered incredible results, creating more than 4,000 jobs over the past two years. The female founders are all incredible business leaders and phenomenal people who go the extra mile to support and uplift South African females in their teams and in the broader community.

BizcommunityHow do you think South Africa can help in the fight against GBV?


This is a very complex question and I’m not sure I am going to do it justice.
As a start, we need to continue to put this subject in the spotlight, and extend strong support and protection to the survivors so they are confident to speak out.
The media must continue to focus on this and share the stories of these women who are successfully recovering and through this, encourage others.

BizcommunityWhat advice do you have to share with the future generation of female entrepreneurs?


Find great mentors, proactively build your network and form strong relationships. Your network is your net-worth. Give back to others and through this positive cycle, doors and opportunities will open to you. Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask – if you ask you might get a yes, if you don’t ask it’s the same as receiving a no.

BizcommunityAs we celebrate Women's Month in South Africa. Do you have any words of encouragement for all the women out there?


There is an incredible group of mentors out there ready to support you and cheer you on – reach out for the support and ask for advice and assistance - doors will open!

About Evan-Lee Courie

Head of Content for Entrepreneurship and Group Editor overseeing the content mix for the ICT and Automotive industries.
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