What was your background before you came to Bühler?My father had a big flour mill in Africa, in the Belgian Congo where I grew up. Being a Swiss native, I found it very interesting and enriching to grow up in Africa. I started to work for Bühler in 1978 in the Swiss apprenticeship program where I learnt the millwright profession.
What happened then?After completing the apprenticeship program, I was appointed as an installation supervisor working mainly for Bühler in Africa. I attended the Swiss Milling School after several years of practice in and outside of Switzerland, followed by studies at MBA level. In 1990 I was delegated to Morocco where I spent 10 years in the Maghreb region before I went to Paris to take on the milling division where I stayed for four years. Next I headed to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I was in charge of South America's five southernmost countries. Two years into that assignment I took over the responsibility for the entire continent.
How is business in South America for Bühler?It’s a very important market for us reflected by our huge market share. We have a lot going on with soya plants in the vegetable oil business, flour milling, port terminals for cereal export and with the biggest feed plant in the world in Brazil.
Recently, we opened an additional factory in Joinville, Brazil – where the head office of the South American region is located – to respond to local needs
How do you see the flour milling market developing in Africa?The market requirements for finished products are very different for different parts of the continent.
Understanding the ethnic and cultural diversity is a challenge for us all. Our vision is to be as close as possible to the market to understand the requirements of our customers. Based on their requirements, we develop specific solutions. Two of those solutions, for example, are a compact maize mill and ‘instant maize flour’.
We have developed a compact maize mill that comes in the form of two shipping containers and we named it ‘Isigayo’. It can mill two tonnes of maize per hour, and is very easy to transport and install. The mills are manufactured in South Africa for the Maize-consuming market. This solution is more for small-scale millers and it provides affordable and flexible processes to sustain the small rural food production in the region over and above the traditional industrial high capacity mills.
The Instant Maize solution was based on research conducted in the Southern African region, where the nutrition often consists of pulped and cooked maize flour and takes about 30 minutes to cook. After much research on how we can simplify this process, we developed an innovative milling process solution to reduce the cooking time to two minutes. This is what makes it instant. The solution was introduced to the markets earlier this year, so it is still very new.
It is important for Bühler to know how the traditional foods in a typical village taste and also to recognise the importance of food and energy in Africa. When we started the Instant Maize Flour project, it was imperative that we remain true to the authentic taste and feel of traditional dishes, especially with new innovative techniques of preparing them.
What particular challenges does Africa pose?One of the biggest challenges in Africa is to find skilled people – both as industry leaders and as Bühler staff. For this reason we facilitate training directed to our clients to help them use their machines optimally, and also to expand our customer care services.
We offer different courses at our training centre in Johannesburg to improve human resource skills, building competence to serve our customers’ needs.
Furthermore, there are many mills in eastern and southern Africa that require expert millers; hence we are currently building a milling school in Nairobi, Kenya. This will offer young people the opportunity to learn the milling trade from the very beginning. The school will be operational at the latest by the first quarter of 2015.
How important is customer service to you?At Bühler, the customer is always the main focus of everything we do. As mentioned above, our vision is to be as close as possible to the market in order to understand the requirements of our customers. My regional team all share a vision – which is the key to measuring what we do and how we do it. We only have one yardstick: “Is the customer experiencing excellence in dealing with us?”
We are committed to making the customer happy and to learning from our mistakes. This is a continuous learning process and as a result we have developed a strong customer support base, helping us deliver solutions much closer to our clients.
This year, for example, we launched customer service stations in Kenya, Zambia, Mozambique, and two stations in South Africa.These are additional to our 12 well-established sales and services hubs in the Middle East and Africa region. On a regular basis, we conduct training and share new learnings from each other’s site visits. This way we are all on one page and can offer the same standard of service to our clients. We have also recently launched a Test Bakery in Johannesburg where flour correction services are conducted.
People buy from people. All our efforts are so that we can know our customers well and to have that burning question answered regularly – “Is the customer experiencing excellence in dealing with us?”