First in Mind First in Choice

For nearly a century and a half, Atlas Copco has been a leading provider of solutions for sustainable productivity around the world. With a global reach that spans around 180 countries, Altas Copco has been present in Kenya for the last 77 years. As the company celebrates 140 years, the African Business Journal interviewed Atlas Copco’s Lawrence Githinji, the General Manager – Construction at Eastern Africa Ltd, to learn more about the history of this formidable company. We asked about its involvement in Kenya’s booming construction industry and about the unique products which give Atlas Copco a distinctive edge in the market.

Can you give us a brief history of Atlas Copco Kenya? How is it operated and what does it provide to the marketplace?

Atlas Copco Eastern Africa has been in Kenya for the last 77 years, having been incorporated in Kenya in April 1936 under the name of Craelius East Africa Drilling Company Limited. The company’s core business then was water-well drilling and gold exploration covering Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Ethiopia. In the 60’s, the company withdrew coverage from Tanzania, Uganda and Ethiopia as sovereign independence across Africa created new political and economic realities. Atlas Copco then concentrated on efforts to meet Kenya’s growing industrial production requirements. In the 1970’s, the company made a strategic decision to exit the contracted water-well drilling business and devoted its full attention to selling Atlas Copco products in Kenya, changing its name first to Craelius Terratest, later to Atlas Copco Terratest, and  then to Atlas Copco Kenya Ltd in 1978. In 2006 the company changed name to Atlas Copco Eastern Africa Ltd reflecting the regional market responsibility covering Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Madagascar, Burundi, Rwanda and the North Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

How active is Atlas Copco in the Construction Industry in Kenya and the surrounding region?

Our region has numerous opportunities in infrastructure development. There are many inhabited places that are not interconnected via road or railway transport. The transport network needs to be expanded in both quantity and quality in order to meet the growing demands in the region. The economies in our region are also experiencing relatively better growth than the rest of the world; the middle class is growing and putting pressure in the demand for housing. This also comes with increased energy demand.

Atlas Copco has contributed immensely in Kenya’s infrastructure growth since Kenya’s independence. Atlas Copco focused on becoming the supplier of choice to East Africa’s construction segment covering road projects, aggregate quarries, new building construction, water well drilling, standby and prime power supply, etc. With this focus Atlas Copco became a dominant player in the construction segment providing portable compressed and related products that were always visible in all construction sites. Atlas Copco Dynapac has featured predominantly in road construction in the region. Many contractors prefer Dynapac equipment due to its wide range of products, durability, high performance standards and low operation cost. These products include compaction rollers, pavers and planners. In Kenya, Atlas Copco also offers a wide range of portable compressors and jack hammers which have been widely used in rolling out the fiber-optic network with many contractors preferring Atlas Copco as their ideal provider of portable energy.

What makes your company unique? What gives your company a competitive edge?

First, Atlas Copco is a strong global brand supported by very strong values. We are an Innovative leader in construction with 140 years of experience.  Atlas Copco is a leading provider of sustainability solutions and has a dedicated global service network in more than 170 markets. There are various other reasons that make us stand out in the region but I will mention just a few. Atlas Copco is present everywhere in the East African region either directly or via dealers. Our strong dealer management program ensures that products & services received through our dealers are of high standards.  We try to be as close to our customers as possible irrespective of where the customers are located. Some parts of our region are in difficult to reach, remote locations but even in such places you will find Atlas Copco equipment in operation. We ensure that service support is also available in such places for smooth operation of the equipment. Our direct presence in the region also ensures that we are able to roll out new products promptly, provide sufficient training to our staff and have world class services near the customer, something that our competitors cannot provide as most of them do not have direct presence in the region.

We are a customer centric organization with very committed people across the different functions.  For us, listening to the customer is crucial to our success.  Meeting and exceeding our customers’ expectations is one of the driving forces.  Let me explain with an example. Our sales people are mostly engineers and not just pure salesmen or women and so they serve as consultants to our customers.  What this means is that when we go to our customers, we look at their operations, their current and future requirements before even recommending a solution. We then recommend the best solutions that would enable them to increase productivity, save energy and reduce risks. When talking to our customers we look at the complete picture from the initial investment, the running costs, the maintenance costs, to the economic life of the equipment in order to ensure that the customers benefit from the lowest cost of ownership possible. We also ensure that each machine purchased from Atlas Copco is commissioned by our service engineers. This commissioning is usually accompanied by user training to ensure that the equipment operators perform their jobs effectively and efficiently. One key point is that all our service engineers receive training both locally and internationally enabling them to provide all levels of support to the equipment within Kenya and the entire Eastern Africa region.

Atlas Copco has a dedicated global service network in more than 170 markets with thousands of highly trained personnel. Unlike many organizations, we consider equipment service as a key aspect of not only ensuring that the equipment is in good running condition but that the lifetime of the equipment is prolonged. We have different levels of service plans aimed at ensuring equipment reliability and productivity. In fact, within the construction industry you will find that Atlas Copco equipment has very good resale value on used equipment. When customers in our region purchase Atlas Copco they know that whenever they need to expand or buy larger equipment, their existing equipment will fetch good resale prices.

There is a long list of what makes us unique which is hard to exhaust but I would also like to mention that Atlas Copco provides financing though the Atlas Copco Customer Finance. Customers looking towards expanding their equipment fleet can therefore have good use of their cash across their projects while at the same time acquiring new Atlas Copco products.

You also sell power generators?

Yes we do as I mentioned this earlier. Atlas Copco offers reliable, quality and clean power for all types of applications. The power supply in our region is still not adequate and the demand is on the increase. We therefore supply power for both standby applications and prime applications. Our generators are very sturdy and are actually built for outdoor conditions making them suitable for construction sites as well as any other applications. They are also silent. We also have large generators that could be used in combination to supply complete sites, for example, mine sites in remote locations. Users of Atlas Copco generators enjoy high production up-time thanks to long service intervals that also reduce the cost of ownership.

What can you say about working for Atlas Copco?

You will be surprised that Kenya has very well educated people in most fields, contrary maybe to what the outside world thinks. We deal with engineering products and there is a good supply of engineers in the region. Continuous training is a key for us and therefore we do not think twice whenever we have to send someone for training locally or overseas.  Actually, we plan the training every year and ensure that each person receives sufficient training to enable them to execute their jobs properly. We are also strong on promoting diversity within the different teams. I can confidently say that Atlas Copco is one of the companies in Kenya that will offer a rewarding career. This I can say from personal experience having worked in different functions within Atlas Copco in Africa and in Europe.

Are there any green components in your construction equipment?

Yes indeed and this is best explained by examples. The engines fitted onto our road construction equipment, portable compressors or generators produce minimum emissions that exceed European directives. Our products observe and exceed minimum standards on emissions including noise pollution.

How about sustainability within Atlas Copco?

In addition to what I have said above, sustainability is a core value right from product development. In Kenya and in the Eastern Africa region we strive to promote products that will contribute to the infrastructure development in a more sustainable way and are safe to the environment. Globally, you will find that Atlas Copco is included in the Dow Jones Sustainability index. More information can be obtained from the Media Relations Manager, Atlas Copco Group (media@se.atlascopco.com)

How do you see the future of Atlas Copco in Kenya and the East African Region?

This year Atlas Copco turned 140 years and has been present in Kenya for the last 77 years. This shows you the long term commitment that Atlas Copco has for the region. We will together with our business partners continue to engage in the infrastructure development in the region. We see a bright future and would like to have Atlas Copco associated with every construction and energy project in the region.

Atlas Copco has a vision to become and remain First in Mind—First in Choice®.