Shaan Kundomal, the CEO of Capital Horizons, is sitting on a leather chesterfield in the Capital Manor in Floréal, wearing a gray suit and a blue tie. With his feet crossed, he looks at his phone one last time, skipping through the questions Investor’s Mag shared via email. There is a long period of silence. He puts down his phone, and there he is, ready to tell us about the tenth anniversary and the journey of Capital Horizons, the company he co-founded and runs as CEO.
Featured in Investor’s Mag, 21st Edition, June 22 – Aug 22
You founded Capital Horizons ten years ago. Can you tell us a little bit more about the company and how it got started?
I co-founded Capital Horizons together with my partner, Tony Reddy, whom I met in rather fortuitous circumstances. I was a partner at the time in a renewable energy company, and we were looking for some land in the north of the island to grow a special type of grass that had very low lignin content and added high calorific value. So it would allow us to make pellets that could be burned for the production of electricity or exported. Through this deeper finding of land, I met a farmer I knew then, and he told me that his friend, who was working in a hotel on the East Coast, had met a rather interesting South African gentleman who wanted to do some business in Mauritius. So I met with Tony, who had recently sold Nomad, which was the biggest payment service provider in South Africa, to a consortium of banks in South Africa. We had a chat about different investment opportunities in Mauritius. I told him about renewable energy. At the time, we had the ‘Maurice Ile Durable’ concept that was being implemented, and I was telling him about how important it was for an island to go on a sustainable path. But that didn’t quite gel. So I told him, “Well, the other thing is, we can set up a financial services company,” and that immediately caught his attention. He told me, “Listen, let’s do this.” I said “ok,” and Capital Horizons was born. We took our first office in the Cyber City, applied for licenses, and started networking, using our network of friends in Europe and South Africa. And that’s how Capital Horizons was born.
What was it like to get to where you are now? Do you have any anecdotes to share?
I guess, like any nascent company, we had a lot of ups and downs. In the last 10 years, I think what we have seen is also the shift in our industry, in terms of compliance, regulations, and our markets, which have been constantly evolving. The industry started off thanks to a double taxation avoidance agreement we had with India, which was already under quite a lot of pressure. So we’ve seen the whole industry moving more towards Africa, and there was a period when Mauritius was deemed to be a gateway to Africa. This prompted us to visit the continent, and meet wonderful people throughout these years and learn about new industries.
We get anecdotes every day, but I think in terms of experience, being able to understand how companies operate, ranging from oil & gas, to mining, to real estate, to the equity market, and sovereign funds. I mean, having such a range of clients has been enriching. So, we’ve had the privilege and honor to welcome people from all walks of life into our office, ranging from dignitaries, to royalty, to celebrities, to Forbes billionaires. It has always been humbling and, at the same time, extremely rewarding, not just for me, but for our entire team, who was proud of this unique opportunity and exposure in terms of how global business really works, and how this is done at the highest levels.
Given that every organization is different, what is your management philosoph?
We’ve tried to promote inclusion and personal growth as much as possible, and not only within Capital Horizons, but today, we’re part of a rather diversified group. When I speak to colleagues in the industry, they always seem to have one issue about how people refuse to take ownership of their tasks and refuse to assume the consequences of their actions. I gave that some serious thought. Well, the reason why people do not take ownership is because they’re not owners. So we created a share scheme for our most loyal team members who have been here since the very first days and who have contributed significantly to our company, and we decided to make them our partners with my co-founder. So this, to me, is what a lot of organizations should look at. I mean, it’s law in certain countries. For instance, in France, it is entrenched in their Code de Commerce that listed companies should have employee share schemes and give ownership and board positions to the people working for the organization. I really feel that’s important. Today, the majority of board members of our holding company are employees from Capital Horizons. The board is not even composed, in its majority, by the original co-founders. I think this is how you build this as a sustainable organization. This is how you build a culture of inclusion and growth, whereby the rewards of the company are distributed in a more even manner.
How does your company approach sustainability?
ESG principles are very important for our organization, for Capital Horizons, and for the world. The first step is obviously to reduce our carbon footprint. So one of the things that we’re doing is to start reducing our electricity using PV cells. We have reduced our footprint in terms of going paperless. But there are more important sustainability criteria than just the removal of carbon emissions, or reducing our use of paper, such as the ability to include diverse people, the ability to give personal growth, as well as giving back to the community. We created a foundation that aims at doing precisely this—helping people who need money for medical needs to go and get treatment, helping people in terms of education needs. We have sponsored a number of projects already over the past year.Sustainability is also in terms of our business relationships. For instance, we do not entertain companies that would create products that are, we believe, bad for the community. We don’t onboard clients that engage in gambling activities or that engage in the production of alcohol, simply because we believe that such companies create more harm to the general public than good. So this is our internal sustainability criteria. I think sustainability starts with defining your values as a company and what you want to leave behind once we are dead, and it’s very important to be constantly reminded of what we leave behind. I think this is what sustainability is really about. It is being able to go in a way knowing that we did and what we had to do so that when the next generation comes, they don’t get a place that is more messed up than what we inherited.
“Today, the majority of board members of our holding company are employees of Capital Horizons…”Shaan Kundomal | CEO and co-founder | Capital Horizons
The Covid-19 pandemic, the FATF grey list, the EU blacklist…the Mauritian financial center has recently been hit hard. What is your interpretation of the situation? Has the Mauritius International Finance Corporation recovered from these setbacks?
Recovery means, by definition, that we have had setbacks. I’m not sure that we really had setbacks on any of the above. When we look at the statistics from the Financial Services Commission, despite us having been under the FATF grey list, we still had incorporations. We didn’t have a drain of companies. In fact, the banks also boosted profits as they noted growth in the global business segments. I am not quite sure that a recovery happened in the sense that there was no downturn in the financial services industry or in the global business space as a whole. In fact, this global business industry has proven itself to be one of the most resilient pillars of the Mauritian economy. I believe that it should actually get all the support from the government, and even from the public at large, in terms of how we can derive more value from this industry for everyone. A lot of times, you even have the media that writes a lot of things without much care or attention, and I think that they should realize that it is one of the pillars that actually helped Mauritius to get through the COVID pandemic. The government would probably not have been able to pay the Wage Assistance Scheme to support press groups without the resilience of the industry.
What makes Mauritius’ financial center so special?
It’s not…it’s not special. It’s a financial center, as they exist in many other parts of the world. We have certain advantages in terms of our linguistic capabilities and of our cultural understanding of different peoples. This understanding of different cultures, which we have had since we are kids, is one of our strengths. Now, are those strengths strong enough to make us extremely unique and able to create a unique selling proposition to the world? I don’t think so. We have to get better in terms of a lot of things we do. And the journey to getting better is a continuous one. We have a very long way to go to be able to compete with the financial centers in London, or in Geneva, or even Dubai. Dubai is still in its early stages, but it is attracting more wealth than ever before. The question is, why is Mauritius not attracting as many investors or as much bigger restructuring than Dubai is? Well, there are a number of things that we had to look at. First, whenever you have serious businessmen or people of global stature wanting to go somewhere, they’re attracted to Dubai as a brand. London is a brand. Geneva is a brand. Mauritius is yet to establish its brand in terms of what it is known for. Right now, a lot of it is perceived to be about beaches and sugarcane. Investors would not like to come to a country that has so much social inequality or where there are issues of poverty or even unrest. Recent events have shown that we’re not out of the woods yet. We really need to, first of all, take care of our own problems in the sense of addressing inequality.
“It’s about time that we start thinking about having a Ministry of Happiness”Shaan Kundomal | CEO and co-founder | Capital Horizons
This should be a concern, in my opinion, of national security. The biggest national security threat in Mauritius is not terrorism; the biggest national security threat is social inequality, because creating so much frustration can actually give rise to violence. We already have a fabric that is made up of so many different people and so many different cultures. We cannot weaken this fabric with social inequality. So, in my mind, this should be the priority of any government. Tackling social inequality, that’s the first thing we have to do. Once we do this, and once we start tackling poverty in a sustainable manner, then we can really start building a brand around our real strengths. If we can’t have a population base that is happy, we can not be very welcoming to others. First of all, Mauritians need to be happy. And yeah, again, I take the example of the UAE, which has a ministry of happiness. It’s about time that we start thinking about having a ministry of happiness. That would probably be more important today than certain ministries. You know, the issue is that we are sort of scared of doing things differently in Mauritius. We are so scared of not doing what was done previously, like reorganizing the whole way. My opinion also is that there are so many inefficiencies at all levels. If you think about it, do we really need municipalities? Do we really need district councils? We’re just a small city state. So we have to be able to demonstrate that as an administration, as a country, as a republic, we’re efficient, we’re professional, we’re focused. If we do this, only then can we start thinking about building an efficient international financial center.
Where do you see your company in the next ten years? What is the next step in terms of development?
We are also bringing some pioneering healthcare services, in terms of IV and gene therapy. We have partnered with a very well-known geneticist, who is a former MIT graduate based in India, and he is doing wonderful things, for osteoarthritis, diabetes, longevity, and a lot of very exciting things.
What we really want to be seen as is a company that is at the forefront of innovation, and that jives, and that sets examples. For instance, one thing that we did was the introduction of menstrual leaves for our lady collaborators. It’s very important for us to always ensure the welfare of the people that work with us, without the need to wait for a legislative framework for it. This is for greater inclusion, which, in the long term, sets the basis for a sustainable organization that remains at the forefront of technology and of being a better human being. I think that’s what we want to be as a group and as an organization