It’s been just on two years since specialist value-added distributor Networks Unlimited became the local arm of Exclusive Networks.
Kathy Gibson caught up with Anton Jacobsz, MD of Exclusive Networks Africa, to find out more about the thinking behind the move, and plans for the future.
Q: Please outline the thinking/events that led up to the Exclusive Networks acquisition.
A: Networks Unlimited was established in 1994 as a small systems integrator, evolving over 27 years into the value-added distributor it became. Over this period, there were several acquisition or merger approaches, but nothing that was the right fit for us at the time.
Early in 2020, we found common ground with Exclusive Networks, the global trusted cybersecurity group headquartered in France, and spent a large part of the Covid period in negotiations. In fact, we managed to strike a deal without any of us meeting face to face, which came to fruition in October 2022.
From the beginning, the alignment between the two companies was excellent. For instance, our alignment-focused product management style was an almost direct match.
We also complemented one another: they didn’t have an African footprint; and we’ve had an African strategy for 20 years, making for a very comfortable fit.
At that stage, Exclusive Networks was a E2-billion company and today it is closer to E4-billion; business has essentially doubled in just over two-year period, showing impressive growth.
Why was Networks Unlimited open to an acquisition?
As much as five years ago we realised there was going to be consolidation in the distribution market. Vendors were – and still are – looking to reduce the number of contracts and distributors they go to market with.
In this context, it made sense for Networks Unlimited to join forces with a global group, as it would help to fortify our position with local vendors and open us up for alignment with the group’s top vendors.
As Exclusive Networks Africa, our vendors now get to deal with an entity that has access to the whole of Africa, but one that is also listed and ticks the necessary compliance boxes.
What are the biggest immediate changes the acquisition brought?
The first change was the new name – from Networks Unlimited to Exclusive Networks Africa – but this was seamless and we did it as fast as possible to embrace the new brand.
One of the more significant changes was the fact that we had become part of a global organisation. This move has provided better access to funding, with a greater ability to expand and invest, and means that we can focus on the business.
At Exclusive Networks, there is strong leadership at group level, but decision-making is extended throughout the organisation. Regions are allowed to make their own decisions allowing the entrepreneurs on the ground keep running and building and growing business.
Another big change for us pertains to access to products. As Networks Unlimited, we had 15 brands in our portfolio, while Exclusive Networks had over 200. When setting up the African entity, we looked at the top Exclusive Networks products and listed 20 of those products to which we felt we needed to be aligned. Co-incidentally, we were already working with around 70% of these. Watch out for 2024 as we plan to add many more to our offering.
In addition, we took a decision to step away from several of the products we were carrying, which were responsible for thousands of invoices per year but contributed to just 4% of our turnover. This is another change we have experienced: as part of a big group, you can make more strategic decisions about what is good for the business.
Both Exclusive Networks and Networks Unlimited were strong on the cybersecurity focus. Exclusive Networks has a vision of a totally trusted digital world, and we have put together the cybersecurity offerings that are most relevant for the channel. This is a core focus for the group
The group organisation is also good at identifying new trends and technologies that will impact the market, meaning that we are strategically aligned to bring new products in to fill new requirements. For example, Ignition, a company that is part of the group, takes on and incubates new products, and helps them to establish a footprint.
All of these benefits deliver massive value-add in our region. We have access to information about growth opportunities by segment, with use cases and applications, we know which market areas are growing and to what extent. This helps us to understand where the next best thing is coming from, and where the sustainable growth is.
What has stayed the same after the acquisition?
As a French-listed company, Exclusive Networks did a very focussed due diligence process twice prior to the acquisition, and then had an external company carry out a third.
Through this due diligence, Networks Unlimited was rated as exceptional in our ability to execute, so we’ve worked hard to ensure that our teams on the ground have stayed the same to bring the same energy through to Exclusive Networks Africa.
How is the company positioned now in the South African and African market?
I believe we are on a springboard for massive accelerated growth. We are definitely a maturing business: and I believe that we will double business over the next three years.
In terms of reach across Africa, we have moved away from being a South African company operating in Africa. Exclusive Networks Africa now comprises four separate businesses – namely SADC (based out of Johannesburg), Indian Ocean Islands, East Africa and West Africa – each with its own country manager, operations and channel team.
We are also expanding into new territories, with offices set to open in Nigeria within the next few weeks, and have teams operating out of Ghana, Uganda and Madagascar.
As a result of this expansion, we are planning an imminent move to the group’s platform. This will allow us to offer the local channel additional functionality, with more value-add from a systems and logistics point of view.
Our team has grown by almost two thirds since I joined the business 11 years ago, now employing over a 120 people in Africa, with 78 of them in South Africa.
What are the big opportunities?
The cybersecurity market is growing significantly and I think it’s safe to say that we can expect another five years of good progression. Africa is in a particularly solid position as an emerging market, while other more developed markets reach saturation.
For these reasons I think that specialising within the cybersecurity space is a great opportunity for the local channel.
Our global partner ecosystem is made up of some of the world’s most trusted brands.
We partner with:
- >21,000 of the best VARs across the globe
- Top 20 GSIs
- Global MSPs/MSSPs
- Hundreds of MNOs/telco operators
- All the leading CSPs
- Global pro services organisations
- DevOps/SecOps consultancies
Exclusive Networks Africa has created a platform for the continent called ‘One Africa’, which enables all partners and vendors to access the continent via a single point of contact and be assured they are dealing in a compliant manner. We will facilitate all commercial aspects ‘as a service’, removing all risk for our partners and ensuring that all business is delivered on the best commercial level possible.
In addition, there is an opportunity for greater skills development in the channel. Using skills from EMEA is expensive, which creates opportunities for Exclusive Networks Africa and our local partners. As such, we are driving more training, creating more local presence and making services more cost-effective for African customers.
What developments can we expect to see in the near to medium future?
The next key development for Exclusive Networks Africa will be the founding of our new Nigerian office. We also plan to invest in more headcount across the continent, and will launch a GSI offering to help customers move into Africa.
Furthermore, we are looking to onboard new products; and will increase our focus on services and cloud offerings throughout the region.