Michael Bartlett-Vanderpuye discusses the latest M&C Group news and expansion plans
Interview with Michael Bartlett-Vanderpuye, Chairman and Chairman of M&C Group Global
What is the most strategic of your many projects?
The most important are gold mining, trade and export, then real estate. Everyone knows that minerals are a safe haven for an investor. Minerals increase in value, so we are looking to grow our mineral trading platform. We take an end-to-end look at where we mine, refine and supply to our customers. Customers will have the option to get refined gold, or maybe a minimum cut of around 22.5 where they can also have it refined to get the remaining minerals. Enough for trade or jewelry or storage for banking purposes. Right now, central banks are trying to build gold reserves because it helps them fight inflation and boost their currencies. M&C wants to provide a one-stop-shop where we mine and commit at a minus, produce and refine at our end, then export to any of our customers around the world. We want to be a household name in Africa because we have seen from experience wherever you go to trade; people burn their fingers. But interestingly, most of these people don’t like to do research before getting into an industry. People actually think we have what we call an African gold price. A gold price is formed by the LME (London Metal Exchange), so most people who start a new gold business know that you can’t find someone who offers you huge discount on gold. You only get a limited amount once in a while, then you have to refinance to get it. If the price of gold is $60,000 a kilo today, it’s the same price everywhere in the world. It doesn’t change. The industry is very difficult, but we try to establish good credibility and make customers feel more comfortable. Customers who have done business with us in the past and listen to us have no problem. Those who don’t listen to us and go for the lowest prices and are blindfolded by greed, are being fooled. They turn around and blame the African, or whoever the supplier is. We want to be a household name for gold globally, so we have decided to expand our structures to meet buyers or clients from the comfort of their homes. For example, if we have a client in Dubai, he can come and visit us in our office in Dubai for local transactions. When I do business with a company Ghana, in the event of a dispute where you have different legal traditions, you must go to the ICC (International Criminal Court). But if it’s a buyer buying contracts, it becomes a local transaction. Same with the Hong Kong and China offices. We are looking at Europe, we have settled in the United States, so our American clients do not have to come to Ghana. They can visit our office in the United States and have that kind of local feel when they make payments to this company, which is here, and we’ll take it from there.
You also have a food business. Tell us more.
Everyone needs consumables, so we talked about it and decided to create our own brand of food products. We applied for an international trademark and after two and a half years, this year we got an approved name, Levan Foods. We are developing our own food chain aimed at most African countries of course, and we will specialize in fast moving commodities like rice, sugar, cooking oil, sardines, canned tomatoes , toiletries, etc. Because it is our own brand, we not only focus on Ghana, but we also focus on other African countries, and then based on the standards set by Europe, we will go global. The advantage is to have our own brand which is going global, and we hope to launch it in December. We had a soft launch with Ghana rice, and we’re also looking to do packaging and make it attractive. Of course, in terms of health, everything must be healthy with the best internationally accepted standards.
And with your real estate division, how do you stand out from the competition?
We don’t do what everyone else does. We carry out special constructions made to measure for our customers. We build small communities; we build off plan and can sell quickly. We focus on the main areas. Our real estate is very unique. We focus on entities. For example, we can collaborate with the army to build bungalows for them, we can collaborate with universities to build hostels and for the private sector we carry out certain forms of tailor-made projects. Someone has the land and we step in as partners.
What are the examples?
We have completed two 16-unit projects, Deen and Zak, and we have another lakefront project called Xylis, which is eight four-bedroom townhouse units that we are working on. For clients outside the country, we have land where we build tailor-made projects for them. We make communities smaller, secure and gated. Most of the people we build for are outside of Ghana and they want to put something in place before they go home. We give them advice on what type of houses to build so they can have their house and use it for Airbnb to generate income when they are not in the country. We build as apartments with adjoining rooms, so when they’re not there we lock a room. If it’s a three bedroom unit, we lock one bedroom and use the rest for Airbnb.
What are some of the successes within your group in different sectors?
Everyone has their own way of defining success. For me, I succeed if my client is happy. It is not about recognition of having been rewarded because I have won many international prizes. I am humble and appreciate it. Among the awards was Soft Metals’ Most Respected CEO last year. We won Trading Company of the Year last year and this month I won CEO of the Year for Trade and Logistics. We have won the Energy Trading Company of the Year award for the past two years. I won the Young African Icon award in the United States for my business. But all of that means nothing to me unless my clients are happy, satisfied and give me referrals. Most of my clients think I’m too strict in business because I like to follow procedures. Most of them feel like I like too much paperwork, but from my financial background, I always follow the audit trail because when something goes wrong, you need it. For example, I don’t do business on WhatsApp where you just make a deal about it. I want you to email me so there’s an audit trail. My documents are very detailed and very demanding because you realize that sometimes when the transaction begins everyone is happy, but if something goes wrong they point the finger at you saying that you may have been colluding with someone to do A, B or C. We give you all the paperwork to know what you’re signing. We even translate them into your language if it is difficult to understand. If you don’t speak English very well but speak French, we make the contract in French or Arabic. There’s no perfect system, and we’ve had our challenges, but in it all there’s your paperwork, paper trail and audit trail to back it up. Opinions are formed and you can’t remove them from people’s minds, but you let your good work speak for you. We’ve had clients who didn’t listen to us, they lost money and came back to us because they realized that if they had followed what we told them they wouldn’t have been caught. in default. When you come to M&C, we don’t force you to do business with us. We advise you on the steps to follow in any business in which you wish to venture, which falls within our domain. When you enter for a gold business, we advise you to pay attention to the prices, we advise you to check with the regulator and if the person you are dealing with is authorized.
What is your international reach?
In Asia, we have a company registered in Hong Kong, we have an office in Wanyu, China. In the United Arab Emirates, we are based in Dubai. We are in South Africa, and we are soon settling in Liberia. In Europe, we are trying to establish ourselves in Switzerland and then in Madrid because we have customers who wish to have an M&C franchise there. We recently moved to the United States, Oklahoma, but we will be setting up the same in Washington. This is our global reach right now. It’s not just about opening offices in different countries, no, it’s an added value to go to a market where you are needed. Someone wanted us to move to Portugal, but we said no because it’s not centralized.
What is your medium-term mission for the group over the next three years?
My dream is still ongoing. I’m about 10% of what my potential is to achieve, and I’m only 41. My vision is to have a one-stop, end-to-end verifiable source to finish for gold. I have my refinery license and started building a 100kg capacity gold refinery under the name M&C Gold and Precious Metals Refinery. The idea is to have gold from our mines, refined in our own refinery and exported under our own license to our customers abroad. To be #1 in authentic and credible gold sourcing and trading. In the food chain, yes, we are new, but in the next three years, I want Levan Foods to be a household name. Everywhere you go there should be Levan products. We have done extensive market research by analyzing the competition over the past three years to know what we are up against and what our competitors are doing so that we have the edge. This is one of our big dreams because food products can pass from generation to generation. I’m not building M&C for myself; I’m building it for the next two generations to come. The same with our real estate segment. We are open to any form of business opportunity that comes our way. During the pandemic, we have shifted from manufacturing general product types to selling PB. We have taken advantage of our office in China, not only for gold, but also for general supplies, because China has the lowest labor cost for production, and you can send it to any market. We are also looking at the Istanbul market, but we have not set up distributors. Globally, we plan to launch M&C affiliates and be the number 1 one stop shop that will take care of everything for us.
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