“Working on the government projects as a Grade One General Contractor” -- An interview with the general manager of a construction company in Ethiopia –
GIGA Construction PLC
Mr. Gebrehiwot Girmay (General Manager)
Many business people from abroad including the emerging countries have participated in AOTS training programs. Positions of the targeted audience vary with the programs, and there are some programs aimed for top executives.
This time, we interviewed with a general manager of a construction company in Ethiopia which carries out various construction works mainly under the government.
--Please tell us the profile of your company.
Giga Construction PLC was established in 1995, as a private limited civil construction company in Ethiopia. Since then, we have completed more than 43 projects throughout the country which have a total value of more than 1 billion Ethiopian Birr. Giga Construction Plc has grown to be qualified as a Grade One General Contractor* from its original Grade 7 position, and has built all kinds of constructions such as office buildings, schools, factories, roads, etc.
Currently, Giga Construction PLC has 242 permanent personnel and 500 to 1,000 temporary laborers. The average yearly turnover is Birr 200 million. While we have constructed many private buildings, our main client is the government. The Ethiopian government advertises bids in a newspaper to decide on a contractor for big projects.
I founded this company after having worked as a civil engineer and structural engineer. I could have chosen the structure design business but I chose the construction business because this market is greater in Ethiopia.
A *Grade One General Contractor is a company qualified to undertake any or a combination of all construction types, such as buildings, roads, bridges, airports, dams, railways, etc., of unlimited contract value.
--What aspects of corporate management do you put much value on? Please share with us your management philosophy, policy, or something considered important.
Our management philosophy is a participatory type in which decisions are made on consensus basis.
I, as the General Manager of the company, forward the case to the top managers’ team, which consists of four or five members, for their view on the case, because we need to see issues from some different angles. Then, I give a final approval based on the recommendations of the team. In my company, I would like employees to participate as much as they can and feel free to express themselves. My management philosophy is to believe in my workers.
--Do you think of any challenges that hinder your company business to grow and develop further?
I do not think there is any big challenge that hinders our business from management capacity, but the management has to expand and be restructured if our company gets bigger projects. We should be flexible to expand the management capacity depending on the size of projects. Management also has to be modernized to go in line with the technological advancement.
Our business environment might be considered as a challenge. Since we only have limited resources, we cannot compete with overseas companies, such as China, Korea, and India, coming to my country. To tackle these issues, we can form joint ventures with bigger international companies because they have greater experience.
--What kind of actions do you think need to be taken to address the above mentioned “challenges”?
We are working on obtaining ISO9001:2008 certification, now. We have already requested the certifying agency to audit us. Not many construction companies in Ethiopia have applied for ISO yet.
--Do you have any business relationship with Japanese or foreign companies?
Currently, we have a business relationship with foreign companies, such as UAE, Italy, China, and Japan (Komatsu and Toyota), for the supply of construction machinery and finishing materials for our buildings and road projects. However, we do not yet have a business relationship with respect to our core business.
--Are you planning to expand your business overseas including Japan?
There is a possibility. We can form a joint venture with a Japanese company. Once the agreement is achieved, we can send a proposal to the government. If any construction company in Japan is interested in us, they can tell us what area in the construction work they are interested in. We can find the best way to cooperate.
--Please explain the distinctive differences between your country and Japan in terms of business customs by sharing some episodes.
As Ethiopia is emerging from a centralized system, the business culture is relatively new and not well developed. The value of human resources in changing a company in a big way is not well understood. I think we have to go a long way to achieve a business culture like that found in developed countries such as Japan in terms of punctuality, diligence, and concentration on work. I believe this would make a great difference in the outcome of our work.
--What are the points that you have kept in mind to develop human resources in your company? How do you wish to improve them?
Our environment is one which has low technical skills and under developed personnel. Our workforce does not have exposure to techniques because of the undeveloped environment. The best way would be if our staff could visit developed countries or some professionals could come and work with our staff so that skills are transferred, hands on, and assist with problem solving.
--What was your impression about Japan and Japanese companies by attending the management program?
When I first came to Japan, in 2003, I was impressed by the quality of products manufactured in the Japanese companies, such as Toyota in Nagoya. I was also surprised that there was hardly any turnover of the work-force in the companies. The attention given to safety was also impressive in Yokohama Training Center.
On the other hand, this time as the second visit, I found that many Japanese people do not speak the default international language, i.e., English. I think Japan will be at a disadvantage in the future by not taking it seriously. The Chinese are integrating into the world and mastering the language. They even have western second names to make it easier for the non-Chinese. The world is fast becoming a small village. Foreigners should feel at home in Japan and Japanese people should feel at home in the rest of the world.
Thank you very much for your cooperation.