In recent times, manufacturing seems to have recorded quite a boom across the African continent with factory work taking front row. Though farming and services are still dominant and backed by the export of commodities, the emergence of new industries in many African countries has begun to give a boost to the gross domestic product (GDP) of the African economy.
With about 3,000 employees and significant interest in plastic, packaging, manufacturing, consumer goods, coca-cola bottling, agribusiness, and real estate, Sumaria Group, an East African Industrial Conglomerate, has contributed to the economy of Tanzania and the manufacturing industry as a whole.
In this exclusive interview with African Leadership Magazine’s Eruke Ojuederie, the Managing Director of Sumaria Group and Chairman of the Young Presidents’ Organisation Tanzania Chapter, Ankush Shah, speaks on the contributions of the group to the manufacturing industry in Africa and proffers solutions to the existing challenges. Excerpt:
To what extent has your company contributed to the growth of the industry?
Our business is a conglomerate operating across several industries in multiple countries in East Africa. Over the years, we have both created and grown entire industry sectors and product categories. For example, we created the entire category of plastic water tanks in Tanzania; we created and subsequently sold the largest pharmaceutical manufacturing company in East Africa which was larger than the rest of the sector combined; we have been pioneers in the use of Private Equity to grow our businesses and our industries (3rd incoming investment was signed this week, 2 already exited); we created the first manufacturing of washing detergents in Tanzania (quickly taking 60% market share from Unilever)
What changes do you think can be incorporated to improve the industry?
For manufacturing: reliable power supply (even for a slightly increased cost), getting rid of red tape/ bureaucracy, improved infrastructure (roads, rail, and ports), and improved vocational education for the workforce. For real estate: reform of land laws and title registers. For Foodservice/ restaurants, streamlining approval processes for food items from the current multiplicity of agencies to one overall body.
Leadership in Africa is said to be one of the continents’ weaknesses. How do you think leadership qualities can be improved?
The example given by President Magufuli in Tanzania is great; no tolerance for corruption, absolute integrity, and looking at the longer-term/ bigger picture rather than concentrating on what may be short term issues. A greater level of trust between the public and private sectors is needed to really engender great leadership in both arenas.
Entrepreneurship is one viable tool for growth and development. In what ways have your company encouraged entrepreneurship among young people?
For many years, we have been providing day to day financial support to run and educate the children in an orphanage for street children in Dar es Salaam, several of whom have gone on to become entrepreneurs in their own right. Many of our consumer products have been sold through and by entrepreneurs, ranging from coca-cola products to washing powder to pens to water tanks, amongst others. We have also been involved in several awards and sponsorship events for entrepreneurship and innovation.
How would you describe your company’s culture?
We are a family-owned business but with a large component of professional management. Our culture is, therefore, values-driven but efficient and professional, relying on our core values of trust, respect, integrity, passion, humility, excellence and teamwork. Since we are family owned across several generations, we tend to take a long term view which is essential to investing in East Africa.