Boris Ivanov Comments on 20 Years of Doing Business in Africa

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Boris Ivanov Speaks on Opportunities in Africa
Boris Ivanov has led an extraordinary life and shares his experience with the next generation of Russians coming to make their mark in Africa.

Boris Ivanov is the Founder and Managing Director of an exploration and production company, GPB Global Resources B.V. He has worked in Africa, South America, and the Middle East throughout his long and storied career. During the Cold War, Boris Ivanov served in the USSR’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

This article chronicles his time in Africa, based on a collected summary of Ivanov’s own words, combined with relevant details about his life.

Why Africa?

“While Russia had reinvented itself, so did Africa. After the powerful continent-wide independence movement and many regional conflicts, African nations have come to embrace modern approaches to development, attracting foreign investment and expertise. Africa transformed itself into a continent of opportunity — it has unexplored natural riches, a growing, young population and many governments with a keen interest in developing energy and infrastructure, starting new job-creating industries,” according to Ivanov.

Before going to Africa, Boris Ivanov helped to rebuild his country following the dissolution of the USSR. Capitalism was new to Russian businesses, following decades of a state-run economy, and those entering business had to secure new international markets. Ivanov found himself right in the middle of a period of trial and error where creative solutions were needed.

From the start, Ivanov felt very welcome in Africa. He first came to the continent two decades ago to sell jets. Later, he became interested in the energy sector, seeking mineral and oil projects. Russians were welcome in Africa, and Ivanov joined a wave of Russians who would pursue careers on the continent. Throughout the 20th Century, Russians served as military advisors, diplomats, engineers, doctors, and other specialists, partly driven by Cold War logic and out of competition with the United States.

Read: Gazprom Finds Gas in Algeria, Eyes Africa

Seeing Africa Beyond the Headlines

The international news coverage of Africa tends to focus on wars, humanitarian crises, and a lack of transparency. The post-Soviet break in official contacts led to a lack of information about new opportunities arising for savvy Russian businessmen. Boris Ivanov feels that’s very regretful.

The secret of doing business in Africa is to come and see it with your own eyes. The truth will be very different from the alarmist media image. As a Russian, you feel welcomed in many countries where generations of specialists studied in the USSR and you can still speak Russian with them,” he said.

Born in Moscow, Ivanov feels he has lived through very interesting times. Part of the official Soviet intelligentsia, his mother was a history researcher while his father was a scientist. This gave him access to the best schools, underscored by intellectual conversations at home. Ivanov inherited his parents’ love of learning and expected to follow in their footsteps.

Despite the unanticipated changes in the world around him, Ivanov brought the same excitement of discovery to his endeavors in Africa. Fortunately, there was a long relationship between Africa and Russia, which was never a colonial power in the region. Although Soviet diplomats and representatives of the Czar had ideological motives for pursuing a relationship with the continent, it never took on a predatory turn.

Quoting his own experience, Ivanov believes that there are still many mutually beneficial opportunities for Russian businessmen to elevate the local economies and profit from their efforts.

His career as a diplomat and the positive atmosphere encouraged Ivanov to stake his career on succeeding in Africa. It has paid off in droves. In the past decade, GPB Global Resources B.V. has launched successful projects in a handful of African nations. Ivanov has broken 10 finance and infrastructure programs that benefited his African host communities. Two examples of GPB GR’s interests in Africa include a discovered  uranium field in Niger and mineral exploration in Ethiopia.

“Mineral exploration is not an exact science and not every project has yielded economically viable discoveries, but at no time can I say that we had been prevented from trying. The governments of Angola, Mali, Chad, Ethiopia, Niger, Congo, Mozambique, Burundi and many others deserve gratitude for their proactive support kindly extended to us,” Ivanov said.

Ivanov’s Life Today

Boris Ivanov is a long-term resident of Monaco from where he still oversees the strategic path of his company. He looks back on his transition from a USSR government official  to a businessman to the owner of a global energy company.

Being an owner, Ivanov says, gives him a new perspective. He still personally oversees most of the business development. This includes keeping up relationships with key stakeholders in Africa. In an introspective moment, Ivanov credits his personal growth to the demands of building and running an international business. His own self-realization grew out of stepping up as a businessperson.

GPB Global Resources B.V. still operates as a venture-capital firm due to the risky nature of the oil exploration business, which takes the Russian entrepreneur all over the globe. Currently, the company is focusing on oil projects since there will be a high demand for it for many years to come. Outside of GPB Global Resources Ivanov also has interests and ventures in in mineral exploration and production and oil-extraction technology.

He hopes to serve as a role model for a new generation of Russians welcome to build a career in Africa.

Advice to Those Seeking Success Abroad

When asked for words of wisdom for the next generation of Russian entrepreneurs and professionals, Ivanov advises them to break out of their comfort zones.

“So, my message to the younger generation of Russian businesses is simple: Get on the road, come to Africa, find your niche, and capitalize on the opportunities. They are there. Waiting. And so are the many wonderful people who will become your friends and partners, as they have become mine. And if you do not know where to start — ask those of us who already did and we’ll show you the way,” Ivanov said.

GPB Global Resources B.V. employs professionals with practical experience and welcomes technological disruption that helps the firm maintain a competitive edge. Ivanov shares a keen interest in emerging trends such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and IoT.

For now, the oil industry is still about building relationships. Boris Ivanov emphasizes that business people must always remain cognizant of how their operations impact geopolitical, regulatory, and social development. This means giving back to local communities that make a business successful. With 620 million people in Africa living without electricity, innovative energy companies are likely to be welcome on the continent for a long time to come.

However, Ivanov would urge Russia’s young people not to hesitate.

 

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