There is no “Genghis Khan” out for world domination in Sika’s Mongolian site. That’s because the team of eight know that in order to be successful in a place so cold, remote, and culturally unique, they must do business with grace. The one doing this perfectly well is Baigalmaa Naidan, TM Manager. Based in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, her team specializes in the technical support and services to the KPM projects and the mining sector. She was one of the very first employees to joint Sika Mongolia LLC back in 2012.
Dreams of a Better Infrastructure
With an area of 1.5 million square kilometers and a population of 3.3 million, Mongolia is the least densely populated country in the world. “There’s no major infrastructure development,” she said. Part of this is due to the country’s extreme landscape. "We only have a six-month construction cycle. The other six months, we live in freezing temperatures, and construction is suspended."
While this provides opportunities for firms like Sika, psycho-barriers from the former communist regime still limit ideas about what’s possible. “When Russia helped us build the cities for the first time, we thought, ‘this is normal,’” she said. “ As a result, the Mongolians don’t know any better. They only think, ‘it’s a cost.’”
After the transition to democracy in the early 1990’s, many Mongolians went from living nomadic lifestyles to city businessmen overnight. As a result, Baigalmaa says, there are “big quality issues. They want cheap and fast. Nobody talks about quality or durability like we do.” This means that sustainability is lagging. “We can’t really sell the high-priced, sustainable products. The major mining customers are open to it, but not domestic construction.”
"We are focused on doing it right. This helps us build a good relationship with big clients."
Extensive deposits of copper, coal, tin and gold have driven a huge economic boom there over the past 15 years. Hence, most of the site’s revenue comes from the mining business.
Baigalmaa’s team supports clients with everything from a small waterproofing job to huge underground construction projects. They are trusted for advice, “because we are not salesmen. We are focused on doing it right. This helps us build a good relationship with big clients.”
Baigalmaa’s customer focus shows that – even in far-flung places – this Sika virtue is omnipresent. Like a 5-star hotel concierge, the trick to her success amid blizzards and supply shocks is to anticipate the problems of her clients before they have them.
"There is a more myopic way of thinking here. That’s why we need to put a lot of effort into planning resources in advance."
This skill has been particularly useful recently as supplies ran scarce due to geopolitics. “We can’t bring anything through Russia because of the sanctions. And we only have two neighbors – Russia through the back, and China through the front.
There are lots of lockdowns in China due to the ongoing Covid. So, obtaining the supplies we needed over the past two years has been really challenging.”
"Education is a big part of my job. I always tell my clients, they do need to waterproof. They don’t have to be cold all the time."
Land of Nomads
Although the country is modernizing at an incredible pace, almost 40% of the population is still nomadic today. It’s this mental tug-of-war: tradition vs. modernity, or drifting vs. stability, as a way of life, which poses the greatest barrier for a company which takes pride in offering the most durable building products around.
“The biggest cultural difference between here and the West is because we are a nomadic country, we follow our animals, the seasons,” she says. “We don’t have this town or city life.” After all, why should a nomad build something that is going to last? Ultimately, old traditions die hard.
But that doesn’t stop Baigalmaa from trying to evangelize clients about what could be, with a nurturing approach that feels more like mom than Genghis Khan. “Education is a big part of my job. I always tell my clients, ‘You do need to waterproof. You don’t have to be cold all the time.’”