Ethiopia, also known as Abyssinia, is bounded by Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, Northern Sudan and South Sudan. Historians believe the beginnings of mankind may be traced to this land: the oldest human emains – such as those of "Lucy" – were discovered here. But beyond that, Ethiopia is the second biggest economy in sub-Saharan Africa in population terms and the fourth biggest in terms of economic output. It is also important politically and has huge potential for development. We talked about all this, and more, with Petrisor Grindeanu, General Manager of Sika  Abyssinia.

You left Europe to manage Sika Ethiopia. How are you coping and what surprises have you experienced so far in Addis Ababa?

It's almost three years since I accepted this challenge and came to manage Sika Abyssinia. Actually, the company in Ethiopia was a startup and I was the first  employee. I think Sika Abyssinia was a different sort of start-up compared to other  Sika companies. Why? Because normally when Sika Abyssinia decides to penetrate a new market the story starts with imports and resale. In our case, due to the  country's laws and specifics, a foreign company cannot import and resell. So the  only solution was to build a factory from the beginning and start up the business  afterwards.

Before moving here, I knew a few things from the research I had done and short  visits here. But that was not enough. The culture is extremely different, and even  now cannot I say that I know all about the people here – about their approach to  everyday life, and so on. I’m permanently learning something about Ethiopia, how  things work here and how to adapt.

I think the most appropriate word for my experience here is "different". Different from everything I knew, although I travelled a lot over the years. The first  impression was a nice one, because Ethiopian Airlines – the country’s national airline – has very modern airplanes and highly trained staff. The airport is modern one, but the picture changes when you leave the airport and meet with a cordon of  soldiers. I come from a country where we do not see the army on the streets, but  I've been given to understand that it’s just a matter of security, as Addis  Ababa is the capital of the African Union and there are many diplomats here.  Beyond that, Ethiopia is recognized as a hub of peace following widespread conflict  in Africa in the last century.

Now, after three years, I see Ethiopia as a pleasant country with huge potential for
the construction industry and I can say that coming here was a very good decision.

The biggest personal win in managing the team?

When I came to Addis Ababa to start building Sika Abyssinia’s team – now 20 strong – I already had considerable experience in managing teams. But of course, it was a challenge to adapt all my knowledge to the local culture.

In my opinion, leadership is both an art and a science. The leader is the one who,  through his personality, can inspire others to improve their efforts to meet a  common goal. But clearly anyone can be a leader anywhere. It depends on your  native skills and on the ones you acquire. It doesn’t matter what colour your skin is  or which country you come from. What matters is how much you know, and how  you can show your team that you can support them regardless of the situation. Of course, the transfer of trust and knowledge also counts.

I consider myself a leader because I see this through my team. We are a united  team and my employees follow me when I take decisions for the company.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about working at Sika Ethiopia?

“We did it!” I'm thinking that because I am very proud of my team – of what we  achieved in Ethiopia given all the difficulties we had to overcome during the  incorporation of the company and when building the factory. In fact, many of Sika’s competitors came to Ethiopia, analyzed the market, the conditions and the  difficulties of starting up a business and decided not to take on this challenge.

Of course, Sika had the support of the Group and the Sika sister companies, but it was still a challenging process. I had to find equipment that would perfectly fit the raw materials I could find in this country, and equipment that can be easily installed  and maintained. We also encountered difficulties in obtaining production licenses  because of the bureaucracy in Ethiopia. Finally, Sika Abyssinia has a production unit  that will host four. Now I know that we have done a very good job and, step by  step, we can grow in this market that offers Sika huge potential.

For more than a decade before 2016, Ethiopia grew at rates of between 8% and 11%. It has the lowest level of income inequality in Africa and one of the lowest in the world, with a Gini coefficient comparable to that of the Scandinavian countries. Yet despite progress toward eliminating extreme poverty, Ethiopia remains one of the poorest countries in the world, due both to rapid population growth and a low starting base. Where do you see the country`s greatest opportunities?

Ethiopia is the second most populous country in Africa, with 102 million inhabitants  and an annual growth rate of 2.5% in 2016. It has become one of the fastest-growing economies in the world for the past decade, averaging 10.8% per year to 2014/15. Its market is mostly characterized by consumer demand. Moreover, in  2014 Euromonitor International identified Ethiopia as one of the 20 markets of the future that will offer the most opportunities for consumer goods companies  globally. The construction sector here grew by 23.7% in 2014 and is expected to grow at a two-digit rate annually.

Regarding the construction material market in Ethiopia, most of the products to  be found on the market are of low quality, so I believe there is a great deal of  potential. Furthermore, Ethiopia needs a lot of investment in infrastructure and  in the residential, commercial and industrial markets. This is why we strongly  believe that Sika Abyssinia will see strong growth in the next years.  

Ongoing Ethiopian infrastructure projects include power production and distribution, roads, rail lines, airports and industrial parks. Where exactly does Ethiopia profit from Sika?

That’s true! We can see a lot of infrastructure projects in Ethiopia right now. The knowledge we have is the most important thing we can offer the local market – from the project phase to implementation, and also in the operational phase. More than this, we can offer solutions reduce costs. We are working here solely with  local employees and offer them training courses held by specialists from other Sika companies. Moreover, we support our employees in attending training abroad, mainly in Europe. Our local employees will then transfer their know-how to clients  and partners.

The most important role that we play is offering our clients products that are suitable for their projects. Beside the production facility, as mentioned, Sika has invested in Ethiopia in an R&D laboratory and training facility. These were established both for our employees and also to support all our clients (director indirect ones). In our laboratory we can test all the products we are delivering for an infrastructure project and so be sure that they can solve the project's  challenges.

Another important benefit of our presence in Ethiopia is the fact that the local companies can buy from us in local currency instead of importing from other markets. This is extremely important for the country, because Ethiopia has a 4:1 foreign currency deficit (imports versus exports), and the deficit is worsening by  the year.

Sika is the pioneer, but all the other international players are sure to come to the market. This means competition, progress and higher quality.  

What is your personal outlook?

Ethiopia is a country with a lot of natural resources. I think the importance of this
will gradually be understood, leading to sustainable growth in the next decades.

As already mentioned, Ethiopia needs a lot of investment – and also a more stable
political environment. But over three years I've seen the country develop  continuously and I am sure that this trend will continue.  

And the construction market?

Every day I see more and more new buildings. It's important to note that in the  center of Addis Ababa the construction of buildings with less than 12 floors is not allowed. For me this is a sign of development. Also, in my meetings with clients, architects, and contractors I notice an increasing demand for special products and solutions.

What are the immediate goals for Sika Ethiopia?

Our most important goal at present is to complete the new production line in our factory in Addis Ababa. For the moment we are producing a full range of admixture products such as accelerators, retarders, water reducers, plasticizers,  superplasticizers and waterproofing. We also produce a full range of silicones and  epoxy flooring systems. The next step is to start production for mortars, a business line we think will be a big success on the local market.

Beside this, one of our immediate goals is to steadily increase sales and market share, along with winning big new projects.  

Trekking 3000m above sea level, visiting the lowest place on the African continent, the source of the Blue Nile, 25% of Africa’s active volcanoes, fabulous wildlife and some of Africa's most fascinating people. Does that come close to what Ethiopia is about?

Yes, of course! As I already said, Ethiopia is a very nice country. I haven't done too much sightseeing because the last three years were very busy, but during my  business trips in the country I couldn't help noticing that the scenery and wildlife  are fabulous. Axum, Gondar, Harar, and the Lalibela churches are landmarks in the north of Ethiopia. The Omo Valley in the south features tribal and nomadic  communities and spectacular landscapes, plus the chance of watching wildlife. The Danakil Depression is one of the few places in the world where you can descend below sea level to the active lava flow of a volcano.

I really hope that one day I will have enough time to visit all of these sights!

What is it that you personally enjoy the most about life in Ethiopia?

For sure Africa and Ethiopia is one of the adventures of my lifetime. What I like  here is that time has a different meaning, another dimension: everything happens in a different rhythm compared with Europe.