By Devon Maylie

JOHANNESBURG-Phuti Mahanyele wants to bring Africa the Big Mac.

For two years, Ms. Mahanyele has overseen one of South Africa's most successful Black Economic Empowerment firms. After the country's first post-apartheid elections in 1994, the government enacted the BEE legislation, which compels domestic and multinational companies operating in the country to meet such benchmarks as black ownership, skills training and development in poor communities.

Shanduka Group, like South Africa's other BEE firms, has helped foreign companies meet the country's legal requirements for boosting black-owned business and training non-white employees. BEE legislation says companies need to have 25% black ownership by 2017, so many team up with businesses like Shanduka, making them investment partners. As such, Shanduka has forged ties with some of the world's biggest multinationals: McDonald's Corp., Cocoa-Cola Co. and Glencore International PLC.

Shanduka employs 65 people and has an enterprise value, a measurement of market capitalization, of 13 billion rand ($1.56 billion). While many BEE companies simply take equity stakes in their partnerships, Ms. Mahanyele has helped push her company to be an active manager in its investments rather than a passive equity holder. And while many investors have moved to the sidelines in South Africa amid uncertainty overthe country's plans to nationalize its mines, she has accelerated Shanduka's mineral purchases, closing a deal with partner Glencore this year to get a controlling stake in the country's sixth-largest coal miner, Optimum Coal Holdings Ltd.

Last year, Shanduka spent 2 billion rand on new acquisitions, including increasing its shareholding in the coal sector. Shanduka's growth strategy has added financial fire power-at the end of last year, China's sovereign wealth fund acquired a 25% stake in the company, a move Ms. Mahanyele hopes will open new avenues of funding to enable investment in things such as longer term, resource-related infrastructure projects.

But now Ms. Mahanyele not only wants to help her blue-chip partners at home-she wants to follow them into the rest of Africa. But to do so successfully will depend much more than before on Ms. Mahanyele's business acumen, rather than on her company's stellar political connections.

"As soon as they press the button we're there," the 41-year-old chief executive says of the group's partnership with McDonald's.

Ms. Mahanyele says Shanduka has had discussions with McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Glencore about expanding its partnerships across the continent. Right now, Shanduka has the franchise development rights for South Africa only but Ms. Mahanyele says there's "significant" scope to grow food and beverage in the rest of the continent.

Greg Solomon, McDonald's managing director in South Africa, says the fast-food chain's "immediate focus is to maximize the growth potential of the South African market." He adds: "There is no doubt that McDonald's and Shanduka will have their eyes on Africa, but at this stage we are not actively pursuing development north of South Africa."

That's not stopping Ms. Mahanyele, who says she will continue to push the Africa story. While the rest of the continent is generally growing faster than South Africa, she won't be content to stay at home.

Africa, as a continent, is seeing economic growth hovering above 5%, according to the International Monetary Fund-with rates forecast to approach 10% in growth hotspots such as Angola and Ghana this year. In addition, rising incomes have seen a consumer class begin to emerge. The African Development Bank projects Africa's middle class, which it defines as those earning between $4 and $20 a day, to increase to 1.1 billion people by 2060 and account for 42% of the continent's population.

"When we look at rest of world and compare it to growth rates in sub-Saharan Africa, you have to be seriously looking at sub-Saharan Africa," Ms. Mahanyele says.

She says the recipe for success in the rest of Africa will be partnerships with brands that have a good track record. "We see significant scope for the food industry and particularly McDonald's in the rest of the African continent," she says.

Shanduka-which has the majority ownership of one of four Coca-Cola bottling companies in South Africa-would also like to expand its partnership with the beverage maker elsewhere on the continent. Ms. Mahanyele says Shaduka would consider buying another bottling business in a country outside South Africa to serve Coca-Cola's vast pan-Africa network. The soft-drinks giant said it doesn't comment on prospective territories of bottling partners but said Shanduka is a "valued" partner, both in meeting its bottling needs and also its commitment to empowerment in South Africa.

Meanwhile Glencore, which also has many investments across the continent, said: "We look forward to further growing the Shanduka coal business."

But if Shanduka is to make inroads north, it will need to transform itself from a South African deal broker to an emerging-market pioneer. Founded by Cyril Ramaphosa, a onetime presidential hopeful turned businessman, Shanduka was formed in 2001 as a black-owned investment holding company with stakes in local banks and telecommunication companies. It parlayed those investment stakes into more management involvement that spanned companies in resources, food and beverages.

"BEE has been a catalyst for us. But as we move forward it's our track record, our management capability and skills, that have to drive us forward," Ms. Mahanyele says, speaking in Shanduka's offices tucked in Johannesburg's financial district of Sandton. "We cannot forever be relying on BEE. At some point you have to stand on your own two feet." She didn't specify countries where the company seeks to expand, but said Shanduka already has investments in Nigeria, Mozambique, Mauritius and Ghana.

Ms. Mahanyele joined Shanduka to run the energy division when the company was just three years old. She was appointed chief executive two years ago, joining a small group of black South African women at the top.

Previously, she worked for Fieldstone in New York and South Africa, an international boutique investment firm that focuses on energy companies. From there, she moved on to the Development Bank of Southern Africa, financing infrastructure projects. She has overseen Shanduka's partnerships with companies investing in Mozambique and South Africa.

While the company works to further expand north, Ms. Mahanyele is also getting heavily involved in South Africa's mines. Talk of nationalization has scared away many foreign investors from its resources sector, but Ms. Mahanyele has been powering ahead, snapping up mines that are, she says, undervalued.

"The market has taken a certain view and we are saying we believe in these assets," Ms. Mahanyele says, flashing a warm and confident smile. She notes, however, that South Africa's resource sector is becoming more challenging. "It is more costly to mine, the dynamics in the labor relations are changing, and of course we see volatility in the sector," she says, but adds that South Africa is what Shanduka knows best.

Ms. Mahanyele is one of a generation of South Africans brought up straddling different worlds. Growing up in Soweto, a black township on the edge of Johannesburg, she would make a two-hour bus ride to one of the country's few mixed-race schools. During apartheid in the 1980s, blacks and whites didn't live together. But eventually white friends helped Ms. Mahanyele's family buy a house close to her school-they acted as a front to enable the family to move into a part of town not demarcated for non-white residents.

She says BEE has helped redress some of the historical legacies that saw the majority of South Africans excluded from the country's economy and hindered access to good education, but the program is imperfect.

"Whilst we need people to be owners of equity and capital, not everyone can be a businessperson," she says. "We are still a long way away from where we would like to see the country, in terms of race relations."

Ms. Mahanyele went on to university in the U.S. at Rutgers University and got an MBA in the U.K. at De Montfort University. After working for a small investment bank and South Africa's development bank, Ms. Mahanyele chose to join Shanduka rather than work for a larger investment bank.

The company has grown from the days where the young team would sit around a table making "quick decisions," she says.

"We were young with business dreams… Now we are a lot more corporatized," Ms. Mahanyele says, adding the company has hired a lot more deal makers.

The year so far has been a busy one on the resource front. In addition to the Optimum deal, its resources division is also in the process of finalizing a deal to buy a mine from Harmony Gold Mining Co. for 1.5 billion rand through its 26% stake in Pan African Resources PLC, and some small platinum deals are in the works, Ms. Mahanyele says. Shanduka Group already has a stake in Lonmin PLC, the world's third-largest platinum producer.

Write to Devon Maylie at devon.maylie@dowjones.com ...

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