US-AFRICA Business Forum – Robert Wolf on his business of drones in Africa

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USABF – Interview Transcript Hans Nichols interview Robert Wolf, 32 Advisors 08.05.2014

Hans Nichols (HN): Tom, I am joined by Robert Wolf, someone who has a bazaar marketplace. What are we going to get today at the U.S. Business Africa forum?

Robert Wolf (RW): I mean listen, it’s incredible excitement you have 45 of the 50 plus presidents are here of the African countries. You have the who’s who of the business side from both sides of Africa and the U.S.. The panels are always good. They are interesting to listen to, but the truth is it is what happens in the hallway, in the private rooms…

HN: how many cards are you going to give out today?

RW: I probably bring more cards to this event than I had on my 30 years on Wall Street.

HN: That much opportunity here?

RW: Yes, that much opportunity. I was recently in Africa, and you know — pick a country, there is opportunity, whether it is in the energy, infrastructure business, or in telco, media. Everything is about helping develop their GDP, so you obviously enhance their education and their health care, but you can do good work and do good.

HN: So china obviously has a big presence. Are we late to the game?

RW: We are not late to the game. It is not us vs. China. There is enough opportunity for both sides. China is at least a decade plus ahead of us there. There are some countries that they are incredibly engaged with. So they are incredibly engaged with, but there are also countries where we have incredible opportunity; that we are building good partnerships with. But let’s be clear — of the 50 plus countries, you know, 50 plus all need work, and it is no different than the United States. We need infrastructure, we need public-private partnership, we need inbound investment. They are going through a thing exponentially greater.

HN: Do they need drones? We talked about this a little but off-camera. Tell us what your plan to bring drones to Africa.

RW: We have a company called Measure as we talked about on Bloomberg recently and our company uses drones for both industrial and commercial use. We are scalping out incredible opportunity in Africa. Precision agriculture, we’re looking at places in Uganda, Zambia, we’re looking at border security and facility security, we are looking at mining, energy, pipeline capability. For us, it is a way to really cut costs, have a better return on investments, and it is better for the security, statistics and data. And we’re working right now with a couple of NGO’s on the possibility of anti-poaching capability.

HN: So a ranger flying a drone and game parks in Tanzania, they see some untoward activity come of radio ahead — how does it work?

RW: You kind of gave me the whole sale point. We’re looking for business development, by the way. [laughter] For example, it will be midnight, which is where a lot of times the poachers go out when it is dark, the rangers cannot see as well, and there are drones that have infrared capability that will go out at midnight, do a two-hour run. You will know based on taking a map where the elephants heard or the rhinos or whatever it may be, whatever species you’re looking at and you will have someone at a datacenter that will be able to see on video and scanning where there’s capability — if you see obviously a poacher, you will immediately be able to know the coordinates that poacher is at, and you will be able to get there. But we are also looking at places — border security for trafficking or deforestation. There are so many opportunities for our company Measure right now. We are less than two months old, and we have 50 different opportunities in Africa.

HN: Talk about opportunities, we talk about the business community. You are often cast in the role of defending President Barack Obama against his sometimes harsh comments on the business community. He just gave an interview from Air Force One to economists. He had harsh words for the business community saying they are whining, complaining. What have you heard from your old pals on Wall Street?

RW: I have been called the fat cat with president’s ears. Other than being a little heavy, I cannot say I love that adjective. The rhetoric has been up-and-down for five or six years –

HN: What do you mean, you mean critical and then nice?

RW: There are things they agree on, things they totally disagree on. They agree on immigration reform, they agree on free trade, they agree that they want to corporate tax reform, you know, — they want corporate tax reform, you know, they may not like the recent comments on inversion. You can take any given day which way the wind is blowing. You can only look at the facts — the economy is booming right now in many areas versus where it was. Overall, the economy you can say is half-full, half-empty, but where we came from — because remember, I was there that Lehman day. Our eyes were bulging because that is how nervous everyone was. Where we are versus six years ago is a lifetime away, but we have a long way to go.

HN: Is the business community basically working the rest, is the business community working the rest for favourable cause?

RW: I will say — let’s make sure we do not define Wall Street as the business community, but there is opportunity everywhere. Manufacturing is growing. What we are doing in the media space is just second to none, so I would to say that yes, Wall Street has their views on over regulation and doesn’t like the rhetoric, but Wall Street is doing fine. You have seen the recent earnings. There’s a good come back going on.

HN: Wall Street is doing fine, you’re doing fine with your business, thank you very much for joining us.

RW: Thank you, Hans, thank you so much.

Transcript courtesy of Africa Practice.

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