Ivor Ichikowitz interview: Vehicle for growth

Ivor Ichikowitz established South Africa-based defence and aerospace firm Paramount to help boost the country’s skilled labour force and create investment opportunities. Now he’s hoping the Middle East will provide the company with its next significant opportunity

Shortly after Jordan’s King Abdullah Al Hussein took over the throne in 1999 he approached several western governments with the aim of building a strategic military alliance to boost economic growth and reduce the country’s military expenditure.

“He spoke to everyone before scratching the bottom of the barrel and approaching us. At that stage, Paramount was a minute company and we didn’t have much to offer but we helped them create an industry,” says Ivor Ichikowitz, executive chairman of South Africa-based defence and aerospace firm Paramount.

Less than fifteen years later, both Paramount and the Jordanian defence industry are two very different beasts. Paramount is now Africa’s largest privately held defence firm and well on its way to becoming a $1bn business while Jordan’s KADDB Industrial Park is on target to provide 15,000 local jobs with investment volumes of $706m by 2015.

Jordan’s defence industry may not be as large as other markets around the world but Paramount is hoping to expand on the experiences it had in Jordan and its home market and grow its alliances in the Middle East, most notably the oil-rich Gulf states.

“Jordan’s industry is not huge but what it has achieved is very admirable considering today that the capacity we transferred — and all we had to transfer all those years ago was skills — exists to a very large extent because of the collaboration we created with them,” says Ichikowitz.

“Today, we are a different company; we can transfer a lot more than skills. We can transfer technology and 20 years of experience so now imagine the opportunity we have to present,” he adds.

Much like the situation in Jordan, Ichikowitz established Johannesburg-based Paramount to help Africa not only reduce its reliance on foreign defence companies but also boost employment levels and help create a skilled, local labour force. Today, the firm has around 2,000 employees, operates in 46 countries and manufactures a range of armoured vehicles including the Maverick, Matador and the AHRLAC, a long-range reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft which was the first aircraft to be designed and built from scratch in Africa.

“I developed a passion for Africa at a very young age and I felt I wanted to do something to create an environment for investment in Africa but I realised that many Africans were not investing in their own countries because they didn’t believe those investments would be safe,” explains Ichikowitz.

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