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Businessexcellence ACHIEVING




The go-get-it


spirit David Horsey tells Andrew Pelis about the rise of Civicon, one of the architects of Africa’s improved infrastructure


hrough the eyes of David Horsey, Eastern Africa represents a proven world of opportunity through a series of emerging countries that kick the term ‘Third World’ firmly to the road side. And the chances are that the road side in question may have been built by the company that David, and his brother Horace founded back in 1975. It’s quite a journey they have been on—one that has seen Civicon build roads, bridges and power stations and provide transportation for food convoys in sometimes troubled regions. “Unlike the rest of the world, we try to do all segments of a project for the client,” Horsey says. “It is an unusual business model and probably wouldn’t work in more organised countries, but in regions that are not so well set-up, this system is the ideal way to deliver service in remote areas like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia or Rwanda. “We essentially control all aspects of the chain on a construction project; so for example, we collect any equipment or materials from the ship, transport these to our workshop in Mombasa, carry out any assembly or engineering work and

then transport to the construction site, where we will carry out the construction as well. “We operate our own fleet of vehicles and if the road or a bridge needs to be built or repaired to reach a remote area, we will undertake that too. To give you context, some of the sites we work at are the equivalent distance of London to Moscow from our headquarters; we will deliver the plant all the way there; you also have to remember that the roads are much worse! “We are effectively using a version of the old Japanese just-in-time inventory system as we control all aspects of the chain of events needed to complete a project. In Africa any one of those links can easily break, meaning the project is held up and not completed on time, so by taking responsibility for all areas, we then ensure this does not happen. We see this as a key to construction in some of Africa’s complicated areas and we spotted this niche in the market,” he explains. This is an approach that has given Civicon’s group of companies a competitive edge and equally importantly an outstanding reputation across the continent and beyond. Headquartered


in Mombasa, Kenya, the company has bases in Uganda and across Eastern Africa and works for some of the world’s best-known organisations including the United Nations, Finnish powercompany Wartsila, Diageo and major fuel companies like Chevron, Total, Shell and Mobil.

a new gravel road from Wau to Abyei, a creation that will officially link the North and South of the country. It will be an historic moment when this road opens as the two halves of this huge country have been effectively separated for over 20 years. Horsey suggests that distributing food is

“Some of the sites we work at are the equivalent distance of London to Moscow from our headquarters; we will deliver the plant all the way there” The company recently completed a road building project for a mining company and has played a key role in the construction of eight power stations, acquiring specialist knowledge that has enabled it to complete projects on time. The building of factories is another specialist area where clients include Coca-Cola. This is all a far cry from the world the two brothers were accustomed to in the early 1970s. Raised and educated in Kenya, both had left school by the age of nineteen and were working as farmers. “We were originally farmers and all that has been accomplished since has been through learning on the job and talking to other engineers; we had no formal training,” comments Horsey. “Back in the early seventies work was taking place to construct a cement factory in Mombasa. There were lots of German engineers but there were communication problems as neither the Germans nor the local workforce spoke very good English. “My brother and I then became the vital link, as the Germans knew what they were doing, but were struggling to explain. We therefore began to learn how to construct and quickly grew from a five-man operation to one that employed sixty people. We were simply in the right place at the right time.” Horsey says that one of the major breakthroughs for Civicon came back in 1985, when the business began to help transport food aid into Ethiopia. “We upped sticks and ran a transport company there. Because we were prepared to go to a difficult place we won the contract and ended up moving around 66,000 tonnes of food during the famine crisis in Ethiopia.” Today the company has a well-established link to food aid programmes, including emergency road repair projects for the World Food Programme in the Sudan. Of particular significance is the effort to build

more than just rewarding, it is a discipline that is inherently corruption-free. “There are some sectors that may be subject to corruption, such as the movement of minerals; but by contrast working for the food agencies is a very genteel business,” he states. “Moving food aid in a truck you are everyone’s friend. Our first food convoy into the Sudan was in 1995 at a time when the country was ravaged by war. We were naturally concerned at the risk but we encountered no real problems as everyone was grateful for food.” At present Civicon employs roughly 2,000 staff across Eastern Africa. Employees travel to wherever work demands; at the moment Horsey says approximately 30 per cent of the work is based in Kenya but that situation can change overnight, with the award of a big contract elsewhere. “We think that the Kenyan worker is one of the best in Eastern Africa,” he asserts. “We run continuous training programmes that cover health and safety and also how to handle equipment. One of our biggest wins has been the ability to reassure our foremen that they can train staff with the knowledge that their own jobs are safe. We take the view that if a guy is a rigger on a crane, he will hope to be the crane driver one day, so we encourage the driver to teach the rigger the skills.” Horsey describes Civicon as very entrepreneurial and says that all workers are openly encouraged to come up with ideas, with varying degrees of success. “Design is one of my pet subjects and we love innovative design. Take our trailers for example; we make trailers that are superior to any trailers you can buy in England. “They are better because they are lighter and a trailer (or truck) that is 1000 kgs lighter is able to carry 1,000 kgs more. Our trailers are over 3000 kgs lighter than those in the UK and that puts an extra

“We don’t have a five-year plan or even a one-year one; we have a plan for the next month. Our most important strength is our go-get-it entrepreneurial spirit” 12,000 dollars in our pockets per trailer, per year. “Our people offer all sorts of ideas and we always listen to them and try them. It may mean that a trailer breaks in the middle of nowhere, in Sudan, but we learn from that breakage. We are lucky to have more freedom with our innovation than perhaps in England where there may be tougher restrictions from the Government, whereas here we have greater freedom to try things out.” With a fleet consisting of 29 cranes, 200 trucks and 45 low loaders, Horsey unsurprisingly puts an emphasis on the importance of maintenance. “Our strategy is one of preventive measures and everyone of our workshops deploys fullon maintenance. We must have in the region of 300 maintenance people and each site takes ownership of the equipment.”

An integral part of the process is the use of IT and Horsey says that this is vital in running operational schedules but also permits the maintenance teams to diagnose equipment issues from a different location. The procurement of new machinery is a constant process, with new pieces of equipment replacing old equipment that is either sold-on or sent to scrap. “So far this year we have invested in around 40 new bits of machinery and our latest acquisition has been a 260-ton crane. We decided that the market in Kenya is not yet ready for this but it will probably become so when it arrives here—it is a little bit of a chicken and egg scenario,” Horsey explains. “This has been roughly a two million dollar investment and we already have one or two bits of small business as a result.”


Source China Source China’s founder is Pete Toms, British, living in China, speaking Chinese and with Chinese staff fluent in English. They solve the problems associated with China procurement. Their focus is supplying machinery and prefab-houses, with back-up spares / technical services. They recently supplied technical staff to build a 260mt crawler crane (Kenya), Chinese staff to erect tower cranes (Zambia),






houses (Angola).

He adds that the global economic downturn had less of an effect on investments and projects given Africa’s “old-fashioned banking” approach – which he says makes it much harder to borrow money from the outset. “I get the feeling the banks

will come around to the concept of emerging nations in Africa like Uganda (which is rich in oil), Kenya (for its workforce) and the Congo (rich in minerals) and the Sudan (which has oil and mineral reserves).” Horsey suggests it is hard to pin down Civicon’s future, indicating that each opportunity is assessed on its own merits. “We once spent a year building a hotel in Juba, Sudan. We built it in four months and it was full but we only kept it for 13 months and are unlikely to return to hotels anytime soon. “We don’t have a five-year plan or even a oneyear one; we have a plan for the next month. Our most important strength is our go-get-it entrepreneurial spirit—we have great problem solving ability and a great contact network throughout Eastern Africa and our focus is to maintain these.”


Civicon AUG10 emea broch  

Civicon AUG10 emea broch