In our series of videos focused on private businesses and entrepreneurs, founder and Chairman of Blue Skies Holdings, Anthony Pile, talks to us about the foundation that they set up alongside Waitrose and Albert Heijn, which allows the villages, farms and towns that they work with to request what they’d like to have in their areas.
Blue Skies has been cutting and packing consistently high quality just-harvested fruit products and delivering them to supermarkets across Europe since 1998. Employing over 2000 people in Ghana, Egypt, South Africa and Brazil, this multi-award winning social enterprise is committed to building long term partnerships, and fostering sustainable development in Africa and South America. By nurturing this culture and forging global partnerships Blue Skies has become an ethical model for development to governments all over the world.
In this video, Anthony tells us how Blue Skies contribute sizeable sums to the communities with which they work and provide long term support for projects like schools, electricity, corn mills, etc. with appropriate training for the locals to make them sustainable for the long term.
Blue Skies is a company which manages to get 20 to 30 tonnes of fruit salad by air into the markets of Europe every day. Ensuring sustainability is really one of the biggest challenges for anybody who is leading a business of this sort. We are a very high risk business as any of our bankers will tell you and the reality is that a business that has got a range of factories dotted around Africa, supplying retailers who have got hungry consumers who don’t expect the shelf to be empty when they go to it, and we are served by the banking world who don’t expect you to do anything but produce something positive at the bottom line and we’re being looked after by airlines who don’t expect actually to have ash clouds as happened in 2010 or mysterious things as happened to that unfortunate Malaysian aircraft the other day, happen to them in the middle of a journey. All these areas constitute risk and of course putting another layer over the top of that of Geo-political challenges in West Africa, there is no shortage of them in Nigeria at the moment, have been and look at Egypt where we have a factory at the moment. Certainly there is plenty of interesting political colouring there to be sorted out. So how do we manage to actually ensure that we have got legs and longevity. Well I think one of the ways actually is not to have a horizon. There is no way that an entrepreneur can say well I’m going to sell this business in three years’ time or four years’ time. You actually have got to have a horizon which is beyond your sell by date so that rather like your garden, you are planting trees for the next generation rather than actually regarding the something that you started as a nest egg which is going to reap wonderful golden rewards for you. That’s my particular interpretation, maybe others will have different views, I will understand that in the entrepreneurial world, but I think that’s the mindset that you need in order to ensure sustainability but you’ve got to be on your toes, you’ve got to keep your little grey matter, those little grey cells within that grey matter, really, really pinging because you’ve got to think of what’s going to happen next, it might be the collapse of a retailer so read their reports, it might be actually a Geo-political situation that’s bubbling up so read your Economist or the information that will be brought to you from the International Press. You’ve got to stay on the ball and stay ahead and it’s up to you to make sure you are.
One important area about what we do, and an answer in many ways to the difficulties which we had with the ash cloud which stopped us flying over Europe in 2010, was developing the local market. That’s become an important dimension, and important aspect, also for a social reason, because an enormous pride comes from seeing the Blue Skies name on very, very high quality, freshly squeezed pineapple juice, mango juice, guava, pomegranate, all these sort of juices which appear, orange juice, the highest quality orange juice in Woolworths which is like the, dare I say it, the Marks and Spencers of South Africa, is iconic and is recognised as a sort of national treasure, so developing the local sales from an image point of view, from a pride point of view has been very, very important in Africa, but of course it’s important to us too because it escapes some of the difficulties like flying by aircraft to a market and importantly escaping the difficulties that emerge from any exchange rate complications. So very, very important indeed and of course it helps to spread the risk - from a strategic point of view you are not reliant just upon 15 or 16 retailers which you may say is enough in itself, but how much better to actually then have a large portion of your business in the local region, might be Nigeria we’re stretching into now, in Ghana for example or Senegal where we are hoping to develop business or South Africa where we have already developed business, or Brazil where we have had tremendous success in the local market. All these places actually enable us to have a better balanced business.