Interview with Eng. Msuega Tese, Executive Director, Integrated Solutions Angola
Prisma Reports (PR): Africa is becoming an increasingly attractive destination for foreign investment, both for advanced and emerging economies and, as Barack Obama stated, Africa is the continent with the greatest potential. What has influenced these changes and what is making Africa more attractive these days?
Msuega Tese (MT): In my opinion, it is very simple. Africa has plenty of natural and human resources but also a lot of gaps in its state of development. The gaps represent enormous opportunities for business, which is making the continent such an attractive place for investments. Also, African governments have realized they can’t do it alone—they need others, they need the private sector. They have recognized the importance of free market and are making the reforms necessary to attract investments.
(PR): Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund said that the 3 major challenges Africa faces are to build people, build infrastructure and build institutions. How do you evaluate the progress made in Angola?
(MT): I agree with Christine Lagarde. These are critical challenges. In Angola, I believe it is work in progress in all the three major areas. Since the end of the civil war, Angola has made remarkable investment to rebuild its infrastructure. It did very well generally. However, the progress is being reversed by deterioration due to inadequate maintenance. For example, many of the roads built not so long ago are no longer in good state. Like most African countries, there are still many cities, towns and villages that electricity is still a huge challenge. Even where it exists, present ways generation and distribution are expensive.
It is difficult to tell if progress has been made in creating skilled labor-force. The main reason is that for a few years now, the economy has slumped and the demand for labor has gone down. So, it is now slightly easier to find applicants to fill vacant positions. But I think when the economy will resume growth the challenge of finding skilled labor will come back. I believe Angola can make more progress by giving incentives, such as tax breaks, to the private sector to participate actively in human capital development.
Also, I think the educational system needs an overhaul to create adequate learning environment for all ages. I don’t think you’ll get the best results from kids who go to school in the evening or at night. Campuses for resident students and fulltime professors are needed for academic excellence. Also, educational institutions and business organizations need to work together closely to make sure that the content in schools meet the requirement of the workplace. I believe all these challenges are great opportunities that are attracting others to Angola and other African countries.
(PR): We are facing a new era in Angola, under the leadership of President João Lourenço, the first change in the head of state in almost 4 decades. One of its promises is to implement the much-needed economic diversification of the country. Which sectors have the greatest potential in your opinion?
(MT): Actually, the first deliberate change since independence. My observation is that Angola is handling the transition very well. This is an important factor for any economic activity. In my opinion, all sectors have good potential for investors. Everyone will have to choose where to focus. At Integrated Solutions, we are focused more on technology. We see great potential in this area. There’s so much you can do with technology. It enables growth in all the other sectors of the economy. India is a shining example. Information Technology generates USD150 billion annually and employs 3 million workers. I don’t expect Angola to be able to reach that overnight, but it is possible to make significant progress if it is considered an important area of diversification.
(PR): In his inauguration speech, President Lourenço expressed his commitment to support the private sector, which he identifies as the engine of growth of the economy. It is true that the private sector faces difficulties, but there has already been an improvement in the Ease of Doing Business Index 2018 compared to 2017, having improved 7 spots. What is your overview of the current business environment?
(MT): It’s true that the new government is taking steps that are yielding positive results. I must admit that there are still significant challenges for businesses in Angola, challenges that are mainly linked to the lingering foreign currency crisis. It makes perfect sense to prioritize certain industries such as food and medicine. However, in a modern interconnected economy, ICT (Information Communication and Technology) must be given very high priority as well, as nothing works without it. That not withstanding, the future of Angola is very promising for business and that excites me.
(PR): Angola Cables is working to connect Southern Africa with Latin America, and the Angosat-2 satellite will be sent to space in the coming months. What impact do you expect these developments to have on the sovereignty of Angola’s telecommunications and its socioeconomic development?
(MT): For us in the technology sector, this will be a huge step. We expect that the cost of connectivity will become cheaper. The connectivity issue is very important for most businesses. Just to keep your IT equipment running you have to have a generator on, and that is very expensive. When we solve the issue of connectivity, most SMEs will adopt cloud solutions to run their businesses. In fact, all sectors will benefit from it. It will be safer, easier and cheaper. We are eagerly looking forward to that moment.
(PR): Founded in 2005, ISA has an impeccable track record of implementation, maintenance and support of complex IT systems. What milestones would you highlight in your 13 years of operations?
(MT): There are many important milestones in these 13 years. We have focused on being a world-class enterprise whose professionals stand tall anywhere in the world. I’m happy that dream is being achieved, as we have received two awards so far from NetApp, as Reseller of the Year for SADC region in 2009 and 2018. Moreover, CIOReview nominated us as top 10 companies worldwide in 2018 implementing storage solutions. The second aspect is our dream of becoming a business that is mature and resilient. The economic crisis hit everyone hard, but we continue to function at full operational capacity. Many companies had to let go of many employees because of the crisis. I’m proud to say, we didn’t do that. We are fighting it together as a team and are winning together. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel. And most importantly, for more than a decade, we have served many of the topmost entities in Angola, making sure their critical systems are up and running all the time. I believe we are making a significant contribution here. Also, we have created a management culture that is very conservative with cost and always focus on long-term sustainability, rather than short-term gratification. That has helped us survive a perilous economic crisis. These achievements are made possible by our team that is made up of mostly Angolan professionals. Many talk a lot about local content, but we do it for real. Also, people ask me, why do you have so many women in the company? Why so many in management positions? About 60% of our company is made up of women. We are a service company and we cannot compromise on quality of our service. Right from the recruitment process, we focus on individual performance, holding everyone to the same high standards. Well, it turns out that women are in the majority right now at all levels. I believe that if organizations focus strictly on performance, just like us, they will not need a separate policy for workplace gender diversity.
(PR): How do you invest in your people?
(MT): We invest in people in several ways. We make sure they are grounded in the basic concepts through self-paced individualized trainings; we create an environment where they practice what they are learning; we coach and mentor them; and most importantly, we give them challenging responsibilities and support them to great achievements. For us, a good professional has the competency of performing the job at hand and is a trustworthy person. For these reasons, even though we are focused on technology, we took the FranklinCovey franchise in Angola. We wanted to make sure our people and others have the right sort of training. The competency is only one aspect; the other very important component is character. You don’t want a good engineer without character touching your critical systems. You need skilled professionals with good ethical standards as your contractors. The bottom line is that, with our unique approach, we have successfully trained Angolans to world-class professional levels in business management and Information Technology. Some of our major clients have used our unique methodology to train their staff also.
(PR): You are the chosen ones by big brands such as Sonangol, Banco Nacional de Angola, Total, Banco Millennium Atlántico, BP, ConocoPhillips, etc. What are your competitive advantages, what is your value proposition?
(MT): These organizations have chosen us because they trust our professionalism. We do our work with the best possible technical and ethical standards. With us, they can get the top-notch service even in their remote operational locations. We’re not box droppers. We design, implement, and support complex technologies. We have been serving many of these organizations for more than a decade—basically, since the beginning of our company.
(PR): What are your diversification strategies at Integrated Solutions?
(MT): Though we started out in the Oil & Gas, we made sure we are in different sectors of the economy such as banking and telecommunications. In fact, it’s something that has helped us survive the recent crisis in the Oil & Gas industry. In terms of products, we started out with a clear focus on data storage solutions, made sure we were several steps ahead of others, and now have gone into IT security and are making significant strides. Right now, we are looking at Renewable Energy solutions.
(PR): President Lourenço said that Angola will give priority to important partners such as the US, marking 2018 a quarter of a century of diplomatic relations between both countries. In what areas would you like to see closer collaboration?
(MT): I would like to see closer collaboration in the technology sector. Specifically, Renewable Energy is of interest to our company. Many cities, towns and villages have sunlight 365 days a year. There’s plenty of water and wind. Yet, electricity generation is still very low. This an excellent opportunity for renewable energy and I would like to see Tesla or other big players take on this opportunity.
(PR): Are you also open to further partnerships with US companies?
(MT): Yes, absolutely. We are very open for new partnerships. We are uniquely positioned to bring value to new entrants into the African market, as we have deep knowledge of the market and are providing services to many multinationals as well as the other top entities in the country.
(PR): As Steve Jobs said, innovation is what distinguishes between a leader and its followers. What would you say is your leadership style?
(MT): The most important thing for me is to have everyone in the organization properly engaged. It is not enough to have a few stars in the organization. What I have learnt is that you have to create a system that gets everybody onboard. This is more sustainable than just focusing on a few individuals. I believe that character is key and that I have to lead by example. I need to live by the principles I believe in. My Christian faith is my anchor and that is also what drives me in business. I don’t want to keep my Christian values in the church or at home. I bring them to work also. I think that some of the challenges we have here in Africa – corruption, for example—would be dealt with more easily if people live more integrated lives.