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Bob van Dijk of Prosus on the Future of Technology

Bob van Dijk of Prosus on the Future of Technology

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Many corporations have made modifications to outlive the pandemic. For expertise corporations, the modifications additionally concerned making the most of alternatives to thrive when life immediately shifted on-line. Few corporations have performed these dangers and rewards in so many industries, in so many international locations, akin to Prosus, an Amsterdam-based conglomerate that in 2019 was spun off from Naspers, the South African expertise and media large.

Prosus shares vary from e-commerce and promoting to meals supply, fintech and much more. The group is estimated at about $ 180 billion, making it one of many 10 largest corporations in continental Europe. It operates in additional than 80 international locations and has giant stakes within the web giants Tencent of China and Mail.ru of Russia. The businesses that management Prosus make use of about 20,000 folks, and lots of extra work as entrepreneurs or in corporations during which Prosus holds smaller stakes.

This breadth offers Bob van Dijk, the manager director of Prosus, a singular perspective from which to evaluate the fortunes of the expertise trade, notably in rising markets akin to Brazil, Russia, India and China. Will pandemic habits persist? Can regulators implement Large Tech? Have the markets had them earlier than? Van Dijk sat down for a digital interview to evaluate the prospects of the expertise world within the years to return.

Prosus did comparatively properly throughout the pandemic. Within the six months to September, with the newest outcomes out there, its revenues and earnings elevated by round 30 %. Its stake in Tencent alone added practically $ 3 billion to its fund on the time.

When the pandemic struck, the decline was not felt uniformly within the group’s portfolio. The revolt additionally mirrored how authorities stimulus, entry to vaccines, mutations within the coronavirus and a number of different components diversified from nation to nation.

Probably the most affected markets the place Prosus operates stay Latin America and South Africa, whereas Europe and North America have suffered preliminary setbacks of their economies adopted by restoration spurts. Asia has largely recovered.

Pandemic blockades have modified client conduct, forcing Prosus to adapt in ways in which Mr. Van Dijk believes they are going to be everlasting. “We now have no purpose to imagine they’re leaving,” he mentioned, including that the pandemic has “primarily sustained the long run for some years.”

In brief, it means higher automation and fewer human contact.

“In our e-commerce enterprise, we already had startup armies,” Van Dijk mentioned. “It is turn out to be very, very prevalent. We perceive that individuals prefer it. It is a contactless supply.”

Pushed by necessity, Prosus portfolio corporations have discovered different methods to streamline effectivity. “We discovered that extra of our enterprise might be automated than we thought,” he mentioned. “This was pushing us extra across the curve to make a really easy buyer expertise that has the fewest contact factors potential.”

For instance, its categorized enterprise, OLX, has begun asking clients to examine automobiles it sells themselves, decreasing social contact.

“When it’s pressured, you’ll be able to assume creatively,” Mr. van Dijk mentioned.

Meals supply, unsurprisingly, has been as sturdy a enterprise for Prosus throughout closures because it has been for Uber, DoorDash and others. However Prosus corporations like Supply Hero and iFood have taken steps to assist protect goodwill in the long term with their companions on the expense of short-term earnings. In Brazil, for instance, “we pay for eating places a lot sooner than we do,” Van Dijk mentioned. “From the perspective of money stream, it was really fairly vital” to maintain eating places of their good graces, decreasing potential tensions between eating places struggling throughout the pandemic and on-line supply purposes seeing that demand grows.

It was an analogous story in India for the classifieds. “We now have diminished the rights considerably, or now we have waived the rights,” he mentioned. “This allowed folks to protect the cash. When issues began to return up, there was a variety of appreciation round that.”

Even when Prosus emerges from the pandemic able of energy, Mr van Dijk mentioned the corporate couldn’t escape a worldwide push by governments to restrict the ability of tech giants in antitrust, labor and different zone.

It does not essentially battle with the brand new wave of regulation, and affords a historic analogy: “When the primary automobiles had been on the planet, there have been no guidelines. When there have been extra automobiles, it did not go properly.” Technological advances naturally require the regulation to reclaim itself, he mentioned, calling the development towards tighter regulation “an inexpensive transfer.”

One of many main priorities among the many expertise giants is the implementation of so-called digital service charges throughout Europe, geared toward amassing extra income from multinational corporations that do a variety of enterprise in international locations with out a big bodily presence within the US. its boundaries. These wouldn’t apply to Prosus, Van Dijk mentioned – “we make investments domestically and pay taxes” – however added that the costs may erode the trade’s revenue margins.

“I perceive the place it is coming from,” he mentioned, however “generally regulation is just a little blurry.”

What may harm Prosus, Van Dijk mentioned, are modifications within the live performance financial system, notably efforts to present drivers the proper to supply advantages to staff. Some drivers want the flexibleness of being entrepreneurs, he mentioned, and “attempt to pay folks appropriately, no matter what the laws is.” So far as he may keep in mind, Prosus by no means put stress on the classification of staff as workers, as did rivals like Uber.

One other space to be careful for is China, which has moved to curb a few of its home web behemoths. Though officers have centered largely on Alibaba, Tencent has not escaped its gaze: the corporate, which Prosus acquired in 2001, was a type of fines final month for violating antitrust guidelines. It’s Prosus ’largest funding, and a more durable crackdown may beat the conglomerate’s market worth.

Regardless of the guess, Mr van Dijk downplayed the risk. “Our impression is that China remains to be very supportive of its expertise giants,” he mentioned.

The large monetary safety plans put in place by many governments to battle the pandemic have unleashed a torrent of cash into the world financial system. A lot of this cash has made its manner into the expertise sector.

“Market assessments for the expertise have turn out to be fairly full,” Van Dijk mentioned. “There’s some huge cash in search of a return.”

Final summer season, Prosus was overwhelmed by the eBay itemizing exercise it went into Turned Norway for $ 9.2 billion. This defeat adopted a shedding effort to amass restaurant supply firm Simply Eat, which Takeaway.com purchased it for $ 7.8 billion.

Maybe surprisingly, Van Dijk mentioned Prosus hadn’t confronted a lot competitors from special-purpose buying corporations, or SPAC, which have raised practically $ 100 billion this 12 months and are very energetic consumers of corporations. technological. This can be partly as a result of SPACs are largely a U.S. phenomenon, though different international locations have tried to evaluate corporations over white management.

Van Dijk mentioned Prosus may finally discover itself in competitors with SPAC, notably for personal corporations within the subsequent section. In the meantime, Prosus himself has invested $ 500 million in an SPAC final 12 months when the shell firm merged with Skillsoft, an schooling expertise firm.

These days, Prosus has primarily invested in its current companies. “Placing cash in there’s at all times a good suggestion,” he mentioned. Van Dijk. And some months in the past the corporate introduced that it could repurchase $ 5 billion of its shares.

Issues appear to be simply getting extra measured as we speak, Van Dijk mentioned, with rankings falling “to way more sustainable ranges.” For a serial retailer, it means alternative: “It is simpler to make purchases in a cooling market.”

What do you assume? Can expertise corporations preserve the momentum they gained throughout the pandemic? Is the market cooling? Tell us: dealbook@nytimes.com