In his function as Sika Africa Area Manager, Jean de Martres has overseen the company’s expansion on the African continent from five national subsidiaries to 18 since 2015. In this interview, he discusses the challenges and opportunities to address in order to pursue the market penetration.
The population of Africa is expected to double from one billion to more than two billion people by 2040. As a consequence of urbanization, the need for infrastructure and buildings will become greater. Is Africa such a big growth market for Sika?
There’s no doubt that exponential demographic growth is a major challenge for the African continent. Governments have to anticipate the local need for infrastructure and residential buildings in the most efficient and sustainable way. An additional element to consider in Africa’s megacities is their very young population as well as the needs in terms of health, transport, education, power, and water supply, which are critical. This offers huge potential for the construction sector. Sika has invested and expanded its presence based on that perspective. You are consciously building up a local workforce.
"One of Sika’s strengths is to be courageous and take long stand view towards country, customers, market and people. This turns challenges into opportunities where many others would not have the same approach." Jean de Martres, Sika Africa Area Manager
Is it difficult to find qualified specialists locally who share Sika’s values and principles?
From the beginning of Sika’s development in Africa, the primary focus has been on recruiting and training our local employees. We pursue clear priorities: we are looking for people who think in an entrepreneurial way, who are committed and who enjoy sharing Sika’s values while being respectful of the cultural differences. Finding the right people, developing, and retaining them is a clear commitment from the management. Maintaining this approach is key to ensure the future success.
Sika is keen to offer solutions that are tailored to the local needs of its customers. How do customer needs in Africa differ from those of mature markets?
The needs of African markets and customers are very diverse, but we observe that overall, the markets are evolving towards higher quality and more sophisticated solutions. Many projects are specified by European and American engineer offices and architects which require state-of-the-art technologies. There is a clear correlation between the technical maturity level of a market and the GDP per capita in that country.
Growing deficits, high unemployment, political unrest, a lack of basic infrastructure, drought – Africa faces number of challenges. Isn’t it somehow a concern to invest in Africa despite all these challenges, and how do you deal with them?
One of Sika’s strengths is to be courageous and take long stand view towards country, customers, market and people. This turns challenges into opportunities where many others would not have the same approach. At the same time Sika is assessing risks and takes measures to mitigate them with processes and people in the 18 countries Sika is present. In order to accelerate the development, build-up expertise and support in a proactive way the expansion, we also put in place a strong and multi skilled Area Support team that has become familiar to African culture and business environment.
Water desalination plant in Morocco, Dakkada Towers in Nigeria, Kipeto wind park in Kenya: Sika has been involved in numerous impressive projects in Africa. Are there any you are particularly proud of?
Sika has been involved in many of the landmark construction projects in Africa in recent years. We can be very proud of that and we also work on many more projects benefiting from our historical references, for example the Sebeta Coca-Cola project in Ethiopia where Sika was the only supplier capable of offering the wide necessary range of products. Sika has also been selected to technically support and bring the best solution for the renovation of the Ashton Arch bridge in South Africa.
As you mentioned before, Sika encourages its local organizations to develop an entrepreneurial spirit. What are the advantages of this leadership principle?
Entrepreneurial spirit is a value which we extensively spread and develop in Africa. This is a leadership skill that attracts and motivates talents, to innovate in all aspects and to focus our energy on achieving excellence every day. Initiatives, ideas, and innovations are encouraged everywhere – our first Africa Innovation Contest and Award illustrates this. It was celebrated last December. The winners are invited to Sika’s headquarter in Switzerland next March 2022 to present their projects. We want to encourage our employees to come up with innovative ideas that focus on providing our customers with new solutions that bring clear added value.
What are your strategic projects and growth targets?
Our Africa strategy involves strengthening and expanding our current market leadership and market share on the African continent over the next five years. We will continue to invest in our employees to achieve this target. This will strengthen local organizations and bring us even closer to market needs. We need to work even more intensively on improving the level of service we offer. The Sika brand stands for excellence, and should be perceived as such – by the smallest craftsmen through to the largest construction company.