South African companies making their global mark

Three South African brands – Nando’s, Bidvest, and Investec – have achieved massive success both locally and globally.

All four of these companies were started in South Africa and have made their mark here. However, their overseas expansions also proved as successful as their local operations – which is not an easy feat, according to David Aaker and Erich Joachimsthaler in Harvard Business Review.

“As more and more companies come to view the entire world as their market, brand builders look with envy upon those that appear to have created global brands – brands whose positioning, advertising strategy, personality, look, and feel are in most respects the same from one country to another,” they said. 

“The problem is that goal is often unrealistic. Managers who stampede blindly toward creating a global brand without considering whether such a move fits well with their company or their markets risk falling over a cliff.”

Aaker and Joachimsthaler explained that this is because economies of scale often prove elusive, forming a successful global brand team can be difficult, and global brands cannot be imposed on all markets. 

“For all those reasons, taking a more nuanced approach is the better course of action,” they said. 

“Developing global brands should not be the priority. Instead, companies should work on creating strong brands in all markets through global brand leadership.”

Despite the difficulties, many companies have managed to expand their brands globally, including these three South African companies –


The world-renowned Portuguese restaurant Nando’s opened its first restaurant in 1987 in Rosettenville, Johannesburg, South Africa.

In 1990, Nando’s expanded to four outlets, with one in Portugal and the other three in Johannesburg.

“Nando’s African initiative began with an outlet in Swaziland in 1991,” explained a case study from Wits Business School. 

Later, the company opened outlets in Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Mauritius. It continued to expand internationally as more requests came in from new operators.

In 1995, Nando’s International was formed to leverage the company’s international success.

“Nando’s South Africa, the flagship of the organisation, had its own strong management structure, and it was considered necessary to do the same on the international side,” the case study explained.

By 1997, a mere decade after its opening, Nando’s South Africa had grown to 117 stores, and 46 Nando’s operations had been established in eight countries outside the South African monetary union, including Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Israel.

Today, Nando’s has 1,186 restaurants in over 20 countries, and the brand also sells its own product ranges in supermarkets. 


Founded in 1988 and listed on the JSE in 1990, Bidvest is a leading industrial group with over 250 individual businesses in South Africa, the UK, Ireland, Spain, Australia and Singapore.

The company made its first acquisition in 1988 with Chipkins Catering Supplies, followed shortly thereafter by Seaworld.

The group continued making new acquisitions in subsequent years, including Afcom, Safcor Freight, and Steiner Services.

In 1995, the group took its first steps toward international expansion, acquiring interest in listed Australian food service business Manettas, which it took control of and renamed Bidvest Australia Limited two years later.

In the years following, Bidvest continued to grow its Australian market while also expanding into Luxembourg, New Zealand, France, the UK, the Netherlands, Dubai and Mumbai.

The company’s expansion continued throughout Europe, Asia, and South America, most recently acquiring rental hygiene services in Singapore this year.

The company has many well-known brands under its belt, which include Waltons, Plumblink, King Pie, McCarthy, and Toyota.

“Our strategy over the years has remained true to our diversified offering,” the company said.

“We have developed businesses that align to the concept of providing goods and services with a focused B2B philosophy. Our diversified portfolio operates in two segments – business services and trading and distribution – through seven divisions.”

“We continually seek to maximise our portfolio by broadening our offering, expanding internationally in niche hygiene and facilities management services as well as plumbing-related wholesaling, and we allocate capital efficiently, including on bolt-on acquisitions and long-dated assets.”


Investec is an international organisation listed on the London and Johannesburg Stock Exchanges. In the Global 100 Index, it is ranked as the most sustainable bank in South Africa.

The company, which offers a range of financial services, including banking, property, and investment, started as a small finance company in Johannesburg in 1974.

It acquired a banking license in 1980, which allowed it to expand into corporate and professional banking, treasury, corporate and project finance.

The company expanded its business through strategic investments and alliances, acquiring Allied Trust Bank, its first international acquisition, in 1992.

In 2002, the company implemented a dual-listed structure with listings on the London and Johannesburg Stock Exchanges. It currently operates in two principal markets – South Africa and the UK – as well as certain other countries.

“Today, we are a simplified and focussed business well positioned to pursue identified growth opportunities, supported by our One Investec strategy,” the company explained.

In its latest results for the 2024 financial year, Investec’s revenue increased by 20.9% in rand terms from £1.99 billion (R40 billion at current exchange rates) to £2.09 billion (R49 billion).

“The group has delivered strong financial performance notwithstanding the uncertain operating environment that prevailed throughout the financial year,” said CEO Fani Titi following the release of these results.

“This performance demonstrates the continued success in our client acquisition strategies, which underpinned the increased client activity and loan book growth, which was supported by the tailwind from the high interest rate environment.”


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