Mabati Rolling Mills (MRM) has been in business since 1961, ensuring they are at the forefront of growth through innovation, technology and sustainability. ANDREW HEYCOTT, Chief Executive Officer, talks to SAMMI NDERITU about their success journey.
1.How has the recent electioneering period in Kenya affected your business? Have you had to re-organise your operations to cushion yourself from the current economic slowdown?
Like most manufacturers in Kenya, we have experienced a challenging environment during 2017 both due to the electioneering but also other macro econominc factors. We anticipated some of these challenges during our planning processes and have had to manage the business accordingly. We are extremely fortunate that our partners and Kenyan consumers have remained positive about the future and in fact we have launched new products this year, opened new service centres and ramped up our new colour coating line at Mariakani.
2.What informed the decision in 2015 to embark on the USD25 million (Sh2.5 billion) colour-coating complex at Mariakani and where has the project reached so far?
As the Kenyan and East African building and construction markets develop and mature we have continued to see the consumer demanding greater product diversity and quality. This is especially true of colour steel roofing solutions and hence the decision to expand our colour coating capacity. This was to provide both greater diversity in product solutions and also to encompass the latest technology with a state of the art colour coating line from Korea, who are recognised world leaders in the field. With our new facility we will continue to lead the way through new products and solutions for many years to come. We oficially commissioned the line in December 2016 and it is currently being ramped up to capacity.
3.What are the major challenges that MRM is facing and how are you dealing with them?
If you look globally, the rate of change is unprecedented. Be it markets, technology, urbanisation, regulatory environments, product solutions or competition. Coupled with this the consumer, through digitisation, is now demanding an experience as opposed to simply a product purchase. It is critical that big businesses stay nimble, fast paced, flexible and capable of adapting quickly.
Of course, business would not be exciting without challenges and our industry is no exception locally. For MRM, it is paramount that we operate on a ‘level playing field’ across the region when it comes to competing products. This means relevant authorities need to ensure imported products comply with Kenyan standards and on this front we work closely with the authorities to achieve this. Ultimately this is beneficial to the consumer who ends up with a longer life roof.
We are commited to keep our products at world class standards even when we see an increased proliferation of substandard material in the market.
The other key challenge is ensuring we can manufacture in a cost competitive environment and we encourage the government to continue its drive to improve power availability and lower costs as well as continuing to drive infrastructure development to improve and reduce logistics costs.
4.You have over 25 years in senior leadership roles across Asia and Africa. Where did you start in your career journey and how did your previous jobs prepare you for this role as CEO?
I’ve been in the steel industry all of my career, with Kenya now being the ninth country. I started out in Australia where the industry is quite technologically advanced and I must say the standards in Kenya (and especially at MRM) are comparable to the best in the world. Since then, I worked across Asia for 20 years in senior roles prior to moving to Kenya with my family almost five years ago. The biggest challenge for large and complex businesses these days is to stay nimble, flexible and consistently improve value propositions to meet future market expectations. I believe having a broad breadth of experience across many countries and cultures gives one a bettter understanding of this need and the development needs of our people.
5.When you were appointed into this position, what was your first order of business? What were the quick wins you needed to realise within a short time?
I firmly believe the best time to transform a company is before it gets into trouble. Joining a market leading company like MRM gave me the opportunity to take a great business and make it better. My first order of business was understanding the leadership capability within the organisation and having the right leaders, with the right skills in the right positions. Once you have the right team with an absolute focus on the customer then a business becomes unstoppable. In terms of quick wins, I spent a lot of time focusing on improving our customer experience through better quality, a broader product basket, a wider geographic presence and a better service experience. Having people operate in a safe way and safe environment is also key and a lot of work was done to help people realise they need to go home every day in the same shape they came to work.
A lot of focus has also been placed on improving our cost base, technology, internal operating efficiencies and ultimately making the business more ‘bullet proof’ and therefore sustainable in the long term.
6.How would you describe your leadership and management style? How do you encourage creative thinking within your organisation?
I think my team would say I am tough but fair. I hold myself accountable every day for the successes and failures and try and ensure through a robust vision that my lead team and in fact the entire workforce are empowered to deliver that vision. We operate in a relatively strong collaborative leadership environment internally and I like to see people continually challenged to reach their own potential but also to stretch themselves for their own development.
If you consider that successful businesses will need to reinvent themselves every 3-5 years, then innovation and creativity are key traits to develop in the organisation.
7.What characteristics do you believe every leader should possess?
The famous actress Lupita Nyong’o said that “all dreams are valid” to which I agree, but a vision without a plan and the right people to execute it is simply a dream. Have ‘the dream’, have the right people empowered and plans in place to deliver the dream and most importantly communicate. Leaders these days need to be tenacious, passionate, 1000 per cent focused, thick skinned and most importantly flexible with an intuitive sense to understand risk and reward.
8.What behaviours or traits do you see derailing professionals in their careers?
Knowing is the easy part but doing is the hard part. Many young leaders are full of passion, good ideas and confidence but if they don’t have the tenacity and communication skills to drive their vision and their teams they may become unstuck. I live by the mantra ‘never give up’ and young leaders need to realise that it takes hard work and resilience to be successful in the current complex business environment.
9. What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?
Listen. Remain focused, remain passionate, have a dream, be prepared to fail and of course never give up. Recogniye your own weaknesses so you can ensure you can have the right people around you to ‘bridge the gaps’.
10. What are you doing to ensure you continue growing and developing as a leader?
We live in an age where information is at our finger tips so I spend a lot of time following, reading and learning from great global leaders. It is important that senior leaders have strong networks and forums to share, learn and bounce ideas. Feedback from my peers and young MRM leaders also keeps me on my toes.
11. Tell us a few things you like and dislike about your current position.
Seeing young leaders develop into confident senior seadership roles always excites me. We have a fantastic talent pool here in Kenya and I really enjoy watching my management teams run the business and address the challenges each day. One of the challenges of senior leadership roles is making tough decisions and sometimes making those decisions can be emotionally draining. The other challenge of course is that people assume you will always know the answer but we are all human – no one can always know the answer.
12.Outside your CEO role, what are you passionate about?
I care about animal welfare, education, environment, health, human rights and poverty alleviation. Having worked across many countries where basic societal needs are not always met I feel compelled to try and improve the lives of the less fortunate in whatever small way I can. To this end, both personally and via the Safal Group – MRM, we are passionate about giving back to the communities in which we live and operate. We operate four CSR pillars around health, education, shelter and the environment across Kenya. In Mariakani we operate a fully integrated medical centre treating 40,000 patients per annum and a technical training institute educating more than 600 students each year. I am involved closely with both and am extremely proud of what they achieve in improving the lives of young Kenyans.
13. How do you want to be remembered when all is said and done?
We believe a business is built ‘brick by brick’. I hope that the bricks I lay will provide a strong and resilient MRM with a talented and dedicated leadership team to thrive for many years to come.
Sammi Nderitu is a writer, photographer and digital media expert at KIM.