Cover Story

Agile Angola

Luanda, night

In 2015, GAC Angola was running at a loss. The following year, they broke even. In 2017 and now 2018, the company recorded a healthy profit – something which looks set to be repeated for 2019.

“The company’s transformation has been quite remarkable. The main reason for this turnaround has been excellent management by General Manager Kumar Ganesan. He focused on reducing costs in the right ways and improving operational performance, and showed a great commercial drive to sell and secure new business.”
Thomas Okbo, Group Vice President for Africa

Kumar Ganesan

Here’s the story of that turnaround, in Kumar Ganesan’s own words:

What was your company’s situation 5 years ago?

To be honest, not good. We were facing some chronic issues, and the economic downturn had already begun. The company had been making a loss for several years and there were various challenges such as lack of visibility locally, lost customers, operational deficiencies, penalties, large outstandings, bad debts, a long list of completed jobs waiting to be invoiced, demotivated staff… the list goes on. Basically, every stone had something underneath to be taken care of.

Where do you stand now?

We’re in good shape. A firm foundation has been laid that will enable us to embark on new projects without that lingering pressure of turning around a loss-making company. No more skeletons in the closet.

How did you get there?

Lots of hard work. We had to get back to the basics, clean up the backlogs, raise operational standards and open our imaginations to find out how best to achieve profitable outcomes.

Then came multiple customer visits scouting for new business, enhancing existing customer relationships, more candid talks with the teams to bring a change in their mind set, motivating them to perform better. Spending wisely and cutting unnecessary expenditures were also there to help us get on the path to recovery and eventual growth.

What was your priority when you took over?

Luanda, Marginal

When I started in February 2016, the SWOT analysis showed there were just too many priorities. My first tasks were making sure we had the right people, training staff to gain operational efficiencies, customising our service delivery procedures and making those difficult yet crucial changes needed to align the team to pursue and achieve operational and commercial success.

Who have been your key allies in achieving your goals?

I received a lot of support notably from HQ and our Group Vice Presidents. And of course, the local staff whose teamwork has been vital.

In a difficult location like Angola, it was great to be able to have open talks, discuss challenges, and get different perspectives to help me make the decisions and take the actions needed to achieve our goals. I was also fortunate enough to have several good customer connections from my previous role in the Hub that paved the way for many more jobs.

And I had my family with me. Vidya and my two boys kept me anchored and motivated.

How did you get your team on board?

Bringing about a change in people’s mindset is never easy. I believe that transparency is the key to gaining people’s trust and confidence – and after all it’s people that are a company’s core assets.

Through monthly town hall meetings and information sharing, the team was kept up to speed on the company’s situation, challenges and fortunes. They have responded by being fully on board, knowing that we either work hard and do what needs to be done to survive, or perish.

The Delta 21 strategy gave us the initiative for a ‘champion for change’ challenge. Many colleagues accepted that challenge and performed well, and we now have a solid group of people in Angola with the potential to be future stars of the company.

WaterFall Malanje

What were the most important contributors to the company’s turnaround in fortunes?

Commercial success was achieved via new contracts in Shipping, Husbandry and Oil & Gas along with innovative offerings and good use of G2G opportunities. All in tandem with frugal spending and cost control.

What part did luck play?

Fortune favours the bold. We need a bit of luck in everything we do but at the same time, you must do the job to the best of your abilities to get the desired result. We won contracts at the right time to put money in the bank and boost morale and one success always seemed to breed another. Good luck and hard work both played a role.

What is the best thing about working in Angola, and the most frustrating?

A simpler lifestyle that makes you appreciate everything more. Other highlights include forming new friendships within the close-knit expat community and the year-round fantastic weather. For me, the most frustrating aspect has been the language barrier.

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