RENEW Strategies

A Day in the Life

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Matthew Davis, CFA
| July 19, 2013

It's 4:00am in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The sounds of the July rain hitting the metal rooftops across Gerji, an up-and-coming burrow of Addis, mixed with the call to prayer from the nearby mosque, can easily lull anyone back to sleep. Nonetheless, I get up and brew myself a strong cup of locally roasted coffee. The US team is winding down their day’s work and my inbox is full of questions, ideas and newsbytes. I triage, and fire off as many responses as I can before I begin working through the day’s priorities.

By 5:45am we are at the gym getting our morning exercise in. The gym, Maxview, is one of the largest gyms in East Africa, and another sign of Africa’s rising middle class. At 6am the gym is packed with Ethiopians and expats attending spinning classes, lifting weights and running on treadmills. Although some machines are broken, it’s not for a lack of trying by the owners: the parts are either stuck in Djibouti, or their letter of credit (“LC”) is waiting to be approved by the local bank. For Ethiopian companies, one of the biggest challenges is waiting for an LC to get approved so they can import raw materials, spare parts, etc. The names on the list for LC approvals can start piling up in developing countries like Ethiopia, where foreign currency shortages can bring a trading-to-manufacturing economy to a grinding halt.

By 7:45am we’re at the office. The team rolls in and we have our morning check-in. Dawit is meeting with three new companies. Bethel is deep in analysis on a coffee farm. Biruk is working on getting documents approved by the government…a full time job! Tom, who is normally in the US, but is here to help finalize the closing of an investment, is working through the legal documents that need to get notarized by the government. I am reviewing a term sheet that we’re in the process of negotiating with a local company and preparing for a Skype call with investors back in the US. Laura is following up on Kathleen’s emails regarding an upcoming investor trip, and then on the phone, calling the long list of businesses she’s waiting for documents from.

At 10am, I hop in the car with Dawit and we’re off to visit a company in Kality - an industrial stretch of Addis along the main (two lane) road connecting Addis to Djibouti Port, and the rest of the world. I yearn for the new four-lane highway that the Chinese are almost done building to open soon. Towns that happen to be positioned along the highway are already becoming cities. Places like Adama, which five years ago didn’t have much but some small shops, now has a car assembly plant, plans for a cable factory, commercial farms, lodges and hotels. Still, until the highway opens, Dawit and I, and what seems like the rest of Addis, are stuck in traffic. Huge trucks mixed in with small cars provide a nice image of true development; an exciting mess of moving parts, both big and small. Because it’s July, the shoulders of the road are lined with hundreds of Caterpillar graders, Scania trucks, bucket loaders, and all other types of industrial equipment that have been put up for the rainy season. Mechanics are busy fixing gears and wires. Once the dry season returns at the end of September, these machines will be back to work, building one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

Stay tuned for the second half of A Day in the Life....

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