How Godrej meets the talent challenge in Africa

Shyamal Majumdar, Business Standard, 23 April 2015

Shortage of talent is a global phenomenon, but it seems more so in Africa. A survey done by Bain & Company tells you why - for example, South Africa's education system is near the bottom in global comparisons - it ranks 138th out of 144 countries in maths and science education. Despite high levels of secondary enrolment, few students actually graduate from a tertiary institution. When companies are able to find and hire the right talent, these sought-after individuals tend to leave either the company or South Africa, a trend reflected in high rates of job switching and emigration, the Bain survey said.

South Africa is still better off compared to its neighbour Mozambique or other African nations such as Nigeria and Ghana in the western part of Africa or Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania in the east.

These are the countries where Godrej Consumer Products Ltd (GCPL) predominantly operates. And these are the countries that are expected to account for a lion's share of the $1-billion turnover that GCPL is expecting to achieve from Africa in five years - an over five-fold increase from the current figure.

Much of this rapid expansion will happen through aggressive acquisitions of local brands. GCPL already employs 12,000 skilled employees in Africa mostly engaged in hair extension and hair colour products.

So, the HR challenge before GCPL's Managing Director Vivek Gambhir and his senior management staff is formidable. Apart from the Bain report, they must have read what 75 per cent of CEOs operating in African countries said in a survey done by PricewaterhouseCoopers - that the lack of talent is a serious threat to their growth. There is rapid growth in Africa's economic hubs with the emergence of middle-class consumers who are willing to spend more on new products.

But only a limited number of local staff with management and specialist skills means that a growing number of companies are citing skills scarcity as a huge barrier. So, the key question for companies like GCPL wanting to strengthen their presence in Africa is: where will the talent come from?

Many multinationals operating in African nations have tried to fill the void by tapping the highly skilled diaspora by either transferring them from their branches in other parts of the world or through a fatter pay packet - a luxury very few Indian "multinationals" can provide.

That's the reason Aaron Radomsky, business head, Darling South Africa, says he has to repeatedly ask his boss to send more talent from India. Gambhir acknowledges the challenges and says he is getting used to such demands from Radomsky's peers in other African nations. But it's obvious Gambhir wants to make talent development and retention in Africa differentiators that can help GCPL outpace competitors in growth and profits.

On his menu is a programme that will enable select local managers in Africa to come down to India every year and work with their colleagues for some time to get used to the Godrej way of working and hone their skills.

GCPL's immediate priority, of course, is to put in place proper systems and processes in the local businesses that it has acquired. For example, even elementary things such as a monthly information system was an alien concept in many companies in Africa. Not any longer.

But the most significant step that GCPL has taken is to determine where the top talent resides and redeploy talent from around the company into critical positions in Africa. That basically means identifying people in its Indian operations who have the talent and drive to take on the challenge of steering growth in a new environment. "Fortunately, many of my colleagues are willing to go that extra mile to give a boost to their career," Gambhir says.

If you thought a long stint in Africa was still considered by many Indian managers as a not-too lucrative option, GCPL would help you correct that perception. Ask the following: Kapil Dev Pillai, business head, Godrej South Africa, Sanjiv Jetly, business head, Darling Nigeria, Deepak Varanasi, business head - wet hair, East Africa and Chirag Savla, chief financial officer, East Africa. The team is headed by 37-year-old Omar Momin who started as a management trainee in 2001 and is now head, Africa, apart from leading the group's M&A division.