“I truly believe that Africa is one of the major players in the global economic future.” - APO Group Chairman Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard

APO Group is a consulting firm that operates with a primary focus in the African and Middle Eastern markets, and offers a broad range of services including media relations, press release distribution, event promotion, media monitoring, public relations and media intelligence services, among others.

Mr Nicolas Pompigne Mognard. Photo APO Group.

The Group as it is known now; is the brain-child of Nicolas Pompigne Mognard. The idea to establish APO came to him 12 years ago while he was working as a European correspondent for Gabonews, an online publication. In describing how he founded his company, Mr Mognard revealed in a previous interview with Forbes that he first identified how difficult it was to get hold of Africa-related press releases, press briefings and official statements issued by European-based institutions, NGOs, diplomacies and governments.

For him to access them, he had to subscribe to all the mailing lists and RSS feeds. He noted the biggest mishap by most companies, was publishing their ‘press releases on their websites, naively hoping that journalists would be constantly monitoring them all to see if anything new had been published.’ This made it problematic for journalists to get Africa-related press release content, leading to their continued dependency on Western media and press agencies. There was also an information gap, as most of the press releases issued by African governments and African institutions never reached the African or the international media community.

Mr Mognard admitted that what really did tip his hand to found the APO Group was a series of discussions, on how crucial the dissemination of news about Africa’s economy was to the development of the continent, with the President of the African Development Bank at the time, Donald Kaberuka.

In a few months, APO had signed agreements with a number of companies including Bloomberg, Reuters and Dow Jones Factiva. Over a decade later, APO group now boasts of a great network, made up of expert communications strategists, developing and supporting PR campaigns worldwide.

APO Group Numbers. Photo APO website.

In December 2018, the APO Group announced that it had restructured its senior leadership, having appointed Lionel Reina as its new CEO, while the former CEO Nicolas Pompigne Mognard took on the role of Chairman for the group.

In his first interview of the year, Mr Mognard shares with us some of his future plans and way of doing business; that has led his company to becoming one of the top media consulting firms and press release distribution services in Africa and the Middle East.

What drove your decision to step down as APO CEO? What does your new role as Chairman involve and where do you see the company expanding or focusing its efforts in the next few years?

As Founder and CEO, I have had operational responsibility for all aspects of the business ever since I created the company, from my living room – literally -back in 2007. The company is still growing at a very fast pace. We recorded 60% growth in 2018 and we have more than doubled our turnover during the last two years. As Chairman and 100% owner, I will be working alongside the company’s executive leadership team to shape and drive our growth strategy and also focusing on delivering high-level counsel for APO Group’s clients.

I believe now is the right time for me to step back from operations and bring in a new CEO with an objective focus. Lionel Reina has worked as a senior executive for Orange Business Services and Accenture – and has a fantastic track record in helping companies scale up quickly and break new ground. We have known each other for years and I couldn’t have dreamed of a better CEO.

There have been talks about you setting up an investment fund dedicated to Africa, what inspired this and how will it/ is it working if it has already been rolled out?

That is correct, I have a strong desire to give back to Africa and I think investing is the right way to do it. I have started working on the creation of an investment fund dedicated to Africa and I’m particularly interested in agriculture. As you may know, Africa will double its population by 2050 and will represent 40% of humanity in 2100. I truly believe that Africa is one of the major players in the global economic future. As for the setting up of my investment fund, it is like planting a seed: These things take time.

As the founder of APO, which works both in Africa and the Middle East, what would you say are the biggest differences in the work cultures and what would you say are the similarities and differences that news agencies in these regions are facing currently?

I’m afraid there is not a simple answer to your question. Africa and the Middle East represent close to 80 countries and the work cultures and media landscapes are dramatically different from one country to another. As a media relations consultancy, we provide a unique set-up that will enhance a client’s business productivity and accelerate their market penetration - after all you never have a second chance to make a first impression. But, I would say that, in 2019, all media organizations are facing few common challenges around content, monetization, digitalization and talent.

Could you describe your leadership style to us? And what does success mean to you?

Being a leader is about having a dream that the people around you can believe in as well. It is also about giving the talented people in your company enough responsibility, space and freedom so they can grow, both professionally and personally. Of course, you must also reward performance, always be supportive and establish a relationship based on straight forwardness.

I have the feeling most people measure success in terms of financial reward, which, in my view, is a misconception. There are many more rewarding things than simply getting wealthier. Watching your company - your baby – growing, for example. Hearing positive feedback from your clients.

What matters most is seeing my staff develop into successful individuals, thriving and succeeding in the work that they love. Watching them taking on greater responsibilities and learning every day. Taking initiatives. Being promoted. Being proud to tell their family and friends: “I work for APO Group, a consultancy which provides services to Facebook, Uber, DHL…Even the government of Dubai!”. Knowing that the company I created 11 years ago, when I had nothing, is now embracing equal opportunities and truly making a difference in the lives of our employees - I consider THIS the most beautiful reward. Compared to that, money is nothing.

If you create a company with the sole purpose of “making money”, you will most likely fail as a leader or entrepreneur. Because you are doing it for the wrong reasons. The drive must come for somewhere else. In any case, as you get wealthier, you will soon realize that there are a lot of very important things in life that money cannot buy.

Everybody needs something more. A purpose and a sense of place. I’m thankful to find myself in a position where I can add a little bit of my own “secret sauce” to the whole recipe of Africa Rising. That is success to me.

What magazines and books have you read recently? What do you do in your spare time and if you could have dinner with any person alive/dead who would it be and why?

I’m currently reading a lot about digital transformation and artificial intelligence. I’m always watching a lot of movies and TV series, I also love fishing and I have a 10 year-old son with whom I’m eager to spend more time in the coming years.

He is a big fan of mountain biking, so I guess I will have to find myself a good helmet - maybe even a GoPro to film our exploits! If I’m not already too old for this… If I could have dinner with any person alive or dead it will be with my grandfather, André Pompigne. Maybe you were expecting another answer. Somebody more famous maybe... But if I had only one dinner, it would be with my grandfather, without a single hesitation.