In conversation with
Mr Ian Collard
Chief Executive Officer | Namib Mills (pty) Ltd
FDI Spotlight: You have been the CEO at Namib Mills for seven years; how has the experience been for you?
Ian Collard: I have been part of Namib Mills’ senior management for 13 years and up to when I was appointed as CEO the only part of the business I was not involved in was marketing and sales; therefore, I had a good background of the company and experience with how it worked.
Within the marketing space, I was more familiar with strategic marketing. Our team worked on developing the company and evolving from being only a manufacturer into the services sector. We communicate and do business with two categories of people: the consumer and the customer; the former is the person who buys the product to consume it and the customer is the retailer. Therefore, the way we looked at it was that we do not only talk to the consumer through the customer, but rather from the moment we manufacture the product.
That point of view highlights where it all starts: the quality of the product. We then made sure we always provide the highest level of service possible, almost to where we surprise our customers and consumers. In Namibia, this is not too difficult to achieve, as service levels are normally not that good.
Our main marketing campaign was to create a hype around our product, which we achieved. For example, we hosted a colour party, which seems strange, but it created the excitement around our sugar category.
We are also placing a stronger focus on the millennial generation. The staff here are getting older, which means we have work to do to learn how to market to the younger generation, but we are getting there. Our electronic footprint is getting stronger and we are increasing our social media followings. Our main aim is to add value locally and to create jobs. Importing goods as opposed to manufacturing them locally is equal to importing people and jobs. When there are locals who are able and willing to work it is our duty to look after them, especially through giving them the opportunities that are available.
Our logo is changing and we are modernising our systems and marketing platforms. Recently we also invested in poultry in order to do import substitution and align with Government’s policy of “Growth at Home”. There is a sense of protectionism we want to keep within Africa and the SADC region. I believe this will make the region stronger and help it develop and grow, and we as Namib Mills want to make sure we do everything we can to protect Namibia and Africa’s growth areas.
Could a greater emphasis on intra-Africa trade help improve economies of scale for Namibian manufacturers or is it more reflective of the saying ‘big fish eat little fish’?
Ian Collard: Organisations such as Southern African Customs Union (SACU) are attempting to level the playing field within certain industries. The Infant Industry Protection mechanism has been a success, especially with pasta manufacturing. If you import a product outside of SACU’s area you pay a 35 percent levy; however, if you import the product from South Africa, you pay another levy of 40 percent to get the product into Namibia. This was done to protect Namibia’s pasta manufacturing industry, which gave us the time to grow stronger. This mechanism normally comes to an end for that specific industry after 8 years.
The hope is that the current trade barriers are not taken down. It would be detrimental to the Namibian economy, because our economy is too small compared to stronger economies in Africa. Namibia cannot compete with large economies such as South Africa, and economies of scale would be the biggest barrier for Namibia to compete with them.
How would you communicate your comparative advantage for your strategic growth to investors?
Ian Collard: In terms of growth strategy, Namibia has Vision 2030, NDP 4 and NDP 5, which still have to be implemented. To date none of the Development Plans had been very successful.
If you consider South Africa, the policies in place regarding agriculture in Namibia are ahead of them. However, they have had a stable agriculture industry which helped them to survive. Their farmers are also very hard working and quite robust, making them good businessmen.
In comparison, the rest of Africa and to a certain extent Europe comes from a more social welfare background. That social welfare burden is now catching up with them. The fact is that no economy in the world can sustain a system where the people are not working and paying for their livelihood themselves; it is unproductive.
I believe the intentions with social welfare were good at the start, however, the cost is proving to become too high. In Namibia, a protective measure in terms of maize and wheat is in place which gave the Namibian agro-producer a captive market in the country. It made sense given we are a nett importer of those products. The local maize and wheat must be sold first before any could be imported.
It is a good system. However, the government has placed certain policies in place which allows them not to subsidise any of the locally produced food; the consumer instead subsidises the system. This has worked quite well.
Namibia needs to create a more conducive environment for investment and for growth to occur locally. Agriculture is a great starting point to address the current policies and regulations in place that prevent outside investment. Unlike mining, for example, agriculture is a regenerative industry due to the resources you are working with.
What challenges do you believe Africa and the SADC region need to address to become the global investment hub, with strong industries, that many believe it is?
Ian Collard: The debate around land needs to change; that is the first obstacle. There seems to be an emotional connection to the land, which crosses over to what is done with that land, which impacts growth and development.
Further, we need to address the development of infrastructure and the state of infrastructure within Africa’s individual countries. Namibia has a fantastic infrastructure system across the board; however, we need to address how we can develop this into the rest of Africa. The only concern we have is the maintenance of the infrastructure; this is definitely something we need to keep an eye on.
In Namibia we also need to look at the role government plays and the role the private sector plays in the country’s development. Namibia is doing fine, but we can do so much better if we look at how we can work together better and assist each other. Government should create a platform for the private sector and not be involved in business; the private sector cannot compete against the public sector.
Namibia has so much to offer Africa and the opportunities for investment and above that positive returns on that investment are incredible.