Anton Godfrey, Executive Chairman of agxa Global, founded the company to improve how international trade worked. Two decades later, he is investing in technology for sustainability and growth.
When you founded agxa Global, you had a specific idea to build a totally unique Sri Lankan conglomerate. How has that journey been so far?
I founded AG International in my early twenties after I did a work assignment on international trade. I was intrigued by how global markets and supply chains worked, and how people in every corner of the world were connected in some form by this beast called international trade. However, at the very outset, it was not my intention to build a conventional corporate entity. I aimed to build a business that can contribute towards improving the linkages between global markets and international trade in a way that creates real value and benefits to businesses and end-consumers. So, the founding objective is harnessing global resources.
Today we are a multimillion-dollar revenue company with offices in Sri Lanka, Singapore, and Australia with a network of global principals and agencies. We specialise in offshore trading, resources, pulp & paper, global procurement, trade financing and logistics. We have covered the entire spectrum of international trade and recently included corporate consumer services. We are building exclusive partnerships with digital as a shared value proposition to drive growth across business functions in relation to innovation, marketing and finance as a new normal initiative.
agxa Global is also focused on developing its capabilities around technology – we have significant operations in data analytics and AI and exploring how crypto currencies will shape the future of international trade. Fintech is another area we specialize in with a specific focus on insurance, and we have developed capabilities around e-commerce as well. Our tech solutions are rolled out through exclusive joint venture partnerships we have established in key global markets. These global joint ventures envisage financial stability to all our business clusters, and this is a departure from conventional methods of expanding a business.
Over the years we have built and solidified lasting relationships with some of the leading brands in he resources trade, energy, pulp and paper, sugar, disposable hygienic products, technology, and outsourcing sectors from across the world including Asia, North America, and Europe.
Our corporate consumer cluster envisage “Fonte” as a growing brand within the technology space of Fontesia.com. We are probably the only company that can cater to the end-to-end corporate sector needs.
Private labelling and packaging are another important venture within the group. Our print, publishing and packaging resources dominate within the niche in their respective markets. Each new venture we added to the group over the years was deliberate: it was my vision to develop end-to-end solutions in international trade, and technology is a great enabler and leveler in that regard. Moving forward, we will continue to grow the business organically and inorganically, horizontally and vertically. We will continue to venture into new markets as a strategic option.
agxa Global is unique and there are few conglomerates in Sri Lanka with our level of breadth, depth, and focus.Our global efforts engage with multinational teams directly and indirectly at agxa and its many joint-venture partners worldwide. Global Joint Ventures envisage financial stability to all our business clusters surpassing the conventional investment approach.
Global Joint Ventures envisage financial stability to all our business clusters surpassing the conventional investment approach.
What advice do you have for hopeful entrepreneurs?
You must have a fearless conviction in your abilities and boldly embrace challenges with positivity by understanding the environment well.
A great entrepreneur must also learn to say ‘No’ to tempting opportunities to grow the top line and bottom line whilst confining to your core values and goals by mastering the required skills.
Having a unique vision is not enough. You need to acquire the skills to put your vision into action. You need the skills to manage people because, without them, you cannot hope to build a successful company. In principle, our team is of multi business disciplines and never being from the same industry. It has been a unique culture of agxa Global.
Next, you need to let go of certain things. Once you have the structures and processes in place, you need to develop a layer of leaders who share your vision so that they can scale the business. This will let you focus on the future and agenda of the company.
Building the right relationships is also important because you need capital to start a company. If you cannot afford to bootstrap your startup then you need to partner with people who share your vision. The sense of discipline and hard work is also essential.
When times are hard, like now with the pandemic, stick to the fundamentals and focus on your core objectives. Motivate your people and give them confidence first before you even think of your external stakeholders. Say ‘No’ to expedient fixes that may cost your integrity and brand value. Then, you will find success.
Steady hand in a storm
What was the impact of the pandemic?
The clusters I manage have performed admirably despite the global economic downturn and they remain profitable. I believe this is a testament to agxa ‘s culture and vision that enables people to be resilient and grow along with the business.
The unprecedented challenges caused by the global Covid-19 pandemic impacted businesses everywhere, including ours too. The priority for me at this time is to instill confidence in our team and our business partners.
Managing the expectations of our clients and delivering on our promises is a priority for us and helps maintain solid relationships even during crises. Global trade is shifting towards Asia while Europe and North America remain important destinations.
The South Asian region has become particularly challenging for freight forwarding but we ensure that the supply chains we serve remain open despite the region’s proclivity for unfavourable trade barriers, restrictions, and inhibitive freight rates. We made sure there were no supply chain disruptions and sagaciously booked freight space at favorable rates, so our clients benefited. By doing so, we have earned the trust and respect of our clients.
What about your job excites and challenges you?
I lead and drive the business clusters in offshore trading, PPP (print, publishing, and packaging resources), sugar – futures & options trading. Our offshore trading desk includes derivatives commodities. We have a network of leading principal sources across the globe including Australia, India, Indonesia, Europe and North America. AG International also specialises in trade financing & logistics. There are many challenges given the complexity of the business I manage, but this is what drives me! Despite the challenges, it is important for me to be unperturbed, stay cool and get the job done.
The technology bellwether
How do you view your role at agxa?
I view my role as a catalyst for digital innovation for the company and the industry we represent, ensuring that we exceed the expectations of all our stakeholders including our joint venture and strategic partners. My role requires me to introduce the latest technological innovations within the organisation, and help our teams keep pace with the rapid advancements of the digital age.
How do you invest in people and align teams with the group’s vision and objectives?
Mentoring team members is a critical role that creates a platform for sustainability and growth. It is essential to set clear expectations by formulating KPIs. Our industry needs continuous innovation. Hence, we have an extensive training and development programme to ensure we hire, retain, and align the best talent to agxa ‘s vision and objectives.
We have positioned agxa as a technology enabler that delivers growth to global businesses in leisure & travel, Fintech and eCommerce. While constantly honing our tech skills building relationships is critical. We achieve this by enhancing the consolidation of the best talent by retention and building exclusive partnerships globally. Our digital shared value proposition leads global market access with big data analytics.
What is the one leadership lesson you learned the hard way?
The biggest lesson for me was realising how crucial it is to build a strong culture with robust, transparent processes and systems, and policy guidelines in place and shared with everyone in the organisation. We use a system called TOM, Technology Operations Management, which helps us optimise resources, and it also contains our policies and guidelines. Even during the pandemic lockdown, we managed our teams and ensured seamless operations.
Making a mark in corporate consumer services
How do you view your role at AG International?
I like to think of myself as an enabler. As the Corporate Consumer Cluster Lead, challenges are constant because consumer needs are always shifting. We handle over 600 SKUs across six global sourcing centres and also provide services in domestic supply chain management.
To manage operations efficiently for better returns we use our advanced technology platform, fontesia.com that caters to the supply-side needs of corporates, institutions, and homes. We source some of the leading brands known for premium quality across a wide range of segments including office sources, copy paper, technology, facility sources, speciality paper, promotional items, kitchen and canteen, print management supplies.
What we have essentially achieved is to introduce the concept of Corporate Consumer Services to Sri Lanka for the very first time. Because it is a novel concept, we are currently creating awareness and familiarizing clients with our innovation. This can be challenging at times because most people are set in their ways and introducing something new takes time. We aim to enable and shape the future of consumption with technology. This is also why I devote time to mentor and keep my team on their toes about honing their skills and keeping up to date with shifting market and technological trends.
What is the toughest part of your job, and how do you deal with it?
Being in a leadership position is not an easy or comfortable task when you are responsible for delivering outcomes and also taking care of the needs of your team. But it is an exhilarating experience all the same. Leading by example is probably the hardest lesson I had to learn.
Building an enduring legacy
What is your vision for the future post-pandemic?
While COVID-19 has posed complex hurdles to our supply chain operations, our pool of clients in the global offshore trade, (resources) and technology space continue to grow. Developing solid interpersonal communication has been pivotal to maintaining client relationships during these adverse circumstances. COVID-19 has further strengthened this resolve by highlighting how quickly markets can take a turn for the worse.
Adaptability is paramount given these dynamics. In the coming decade, technological innovation is likely to fundamentally shape the way businesses operate. agxa has noticed these growing trends and is looking to capitalize on this situation by developing a strong technology cluster.We want to build an enduring legacy for ourselves in everything we do.
Cryptocurrency is one such technology that has garnered significant promise over the past few years. Envisioning a world where peer-to-peer transactions are the norm while traditional financial intermediaries lose prominence is likely, but of course, not for certain. Regardless, agxa’s foresight of these developments will certainly benefit us and our strategic endeavours into the future.
How do you view your purpose?
As a representative for agxa’s Australasia initiatives, we are continuing to make headwinds in today’s ever-changing business environment.
Given the receding of the pandemic this year, agxa is looking to expand its strategic endeavours in Australia, New Zealand, and Africa as part of a broader expansion initiative. Our products range in partnership with industry-known brands and principal networks in Europe, Asia, and North America, provides customers with a significant abundance of materials catered to their needs. It is our mission to preserve as well as expand this outreach well into the future to ensure a diverse client portfolio versatile in the face of changing environments.