Shaun Battlemann, the chief executive officer of African Access Holdings.

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Entrepreneur does it for Africa


October 12 2011 at 09:30am

DURBAN'S Shaun Battlemann has received three International Business Awards at a gala ceremony at the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi.

Dubbed "the Stevies" - for the Greek word "crowned" - the awards is a global, all-encompassing business recognition programme that honours leading companies and businesspeople.

Winners are selected from more than 40 nations across the world.

Battlemann took top honours last night as executive of the year, while his burgeoning group, African Access Holdings, won the award for company of the year. Both awards were in the diversified services category.

The firm was also recognised as a distinguished honoree for corporate social responsibility in the Middle East and Africa region.

Before his trip, I chatted to Battlemann about the International Business Awards' honour at his La Lucia offices.

A former teacher turned corporate executive and now entrepreneur, he is remarkably optimistic about the future economic prospects of South Africa and the continent.

"We will build this African continent into greatness, even if we have to do it ourselves, brick by brick," says Battlemann.

That maxim is also proudly on the group's website and when you speak to him, you get an indication of how determined he and his partners are to play their part in making it happen.

On the awards, Battlemann said it was a proud global achievement for the group.

He said it was particularly significant because African Access Holdings was a burgeoning but relatively new black-owned company.

"We are thrilled to be recognised with these exceptional awards. This is our greatest honour yet..." said Battlemann.

African Access Holdings was established by Battlemann and fellow founding partners Thabo Mpama and Mateli Mpuntsha in 2003.

Today the diversified services group has eight shareholding partners who actively run the business with 28 subsidiaries, which employ about 1 000 people.

It has offices in Durban, Cape Town and Joburg as well as in Germany and Abu Dhabi.

The holding company has interests in education; IT and communications; property development; agriculture; earthworks; marketing and events management; travel and tourism; security; financial services; and office automation.

"It all started off with one company and R1 million we borrowed," said Battlemann.

"I was a director at the MyOffice@CNA division of the stationery retailer in 2002 and identified an opportunity for distribution of textbooks and other material to government schools. So I went out on my own and together with my partners we started our company.

"It was a time of changes in the South African education system with the revision of the schooling curriculum.

"The education department under former minster Kader Asmal was looking to transform the education system, which included its suppliers."

Battlemann said that when the three founding directors started out, they never imagined they would own a group with 28 subsidiaries within less than a decade.

"But as the opportunities to invest in various companies and industries came up, we looked at each one as an investment and business decision. With the growth of the company, we also realised opportunities to create or buy companies that provided services to us.

"For example, we realised that we were spending a lot of money on travelling and security for our various businesses... So we invested in a tour operating and security company. Today, we even have an executive boat charter company that operates to Robben Island.

"We want to build this continent - both its people and the economy - so that more benefits from its rich resources are accrued here," said Battlemann.

In recent years African Access Holdings has won local acclaim in several awards campaigns including being named a "Top 200" company, a BBQ Award and an Olivier Empowerment Award.

This year the group also won the Black Management Forum's entrepreneurial company of the year award.

Besides its directors, Seth Phalatse is the group's chairman. He was previously executive director of BMW for 24 years and non-executive chairman of Ericsson-Marconi in South Africa.

Battlemann said that while the group was seen as an empowerment firm, it offered opportunities to South African from all races.

He said the group was very strong on corporate social investment and was involved in several projects, including sport sponsorship. On Mandela Day this year, it sponsored 100 laptops for needy pupils as well as laptops for KZN's top matric achievers last year.

Battlemann said the group was also in the process of establishing a South African branch of the CEOs Club - touted as the world's oldest and largest international non-profit business association for CEOs and entrepreneurs.

"This exclusive club has its head office in New York. We want to bring this valuable network to South Africa and open it up to the opportunities not just in our country but in Africa," he said.

Source: The Mercury (

Entrepreneur does it for Africa

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