During a series of trips to Africa last year, Tim Solso had a realization: China was beating him at his own game.
So the chief executive of Cummins Inc., a maker of truck and machinery engines, vowed to catch up. He plans to quadruple the company’s sales in Africa to about $1 billion within five years, investing $15 million annually to train staff and build sales offices from Johannesburg to Casablanca. The company recently installed in South Africa an executive to oversee Africa operations, previously supervised from Europe and Indiana.
Cummins joins a growing number of U.S. companies vying for a stronger foothold on the continent. Caterpillar Inc., the giant maker of construction equipment, is selling more trucks to Mozambique and Zambia. Harley-Davidson Inc. is opening dealerships in Botswana and Mauritius. General Electric Co. has its first aircraft-leasing office in Ghana for Central and West African airlines. Google Inc., Archer Daniels Midland Co. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. are among the dozens of other U.S. companies moving in or expanding.
Until now, “Africa has been just a rounding error for us,” says Brady Southwick, Cummins’s new head of Africa operations.
U.S. companies’ game of catch-up shows the perils of waking up late to the next big frontier market, Africa. The continent’s economy is forecast to grow to $2.6 trillion in 2020 from $1.6 trillion in 2008, fueled by booms in mining, agriculture and development of ports, roads and other infrastructure, according to McKinsey Global Institute. The middle class is growing, and total household spending now exceeds that of India.
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