Geir Fuglerud – Maritime Area Manager (Middle East and Africa) and Ingvild Tolo – Country Chair (African countries, including South Africa), DNV GL
Geir Fuglerud, Maritime Area Manager (Middle East and Africa) and Ingvild Tolo, Country Chair (African countries, including South Africa), for DNV GL, shares their insights on the significance of South Africa as DNV GL’s African hub, the great potential for new industry developments like digitalization for the continent, and DNV GL’s commitment to investing in local talent and capacity-building.
Geir, having added Africa to your portfolio as Maritime Area Manager in January 2018, and Ingvild, you became Country Chair in October 2017. What are your impressions on DNV GL’s position in South Africa?
“For DNV GL, South Africa is very much our African stronghold”
Ingvild Tolo (IT): While I recently became Country Chair, my previous position was business controller so I am very familiar with the organization here. The focus of what I do on a daily business is definitely changing because I now have exposure to different parts of the organization and also the continent. My new role is more related to statutory and legal compliance for the organization as a whole. Personally, I find it very exciting to be here as there are so many exciting developments.
For DNV GL, South Africa is very much our African stronghold. While we are not very involved in oil and gas within the country, South Africa remains our hub for the African organization and we use staff from here to cover the other parts of the continent. This is also the case for our renewable energy, business assurance, and maritime businesses.
Geir Fuglerud (GF): Even though we have large offices elsewhere on the continent, South Africa remains an important regional hub for the global DNV GL organization. This stems in large part from the long-term competences that have been consistently developed in South Africa over a long period of time – and in particular, local competences.
In general, we do not have many expatriates on the continent. There are a couple in Cape Town given how cosmopolitan the city is inherently, but we have had a strong focus on utilizing local resources and building local competences, not just in Africa but globally.
Our oil and gas clients have been particularly reliant on expatriates in the past but with the dramatic decline of the oil price and the increased scrutiny on costs in the past few years, as well as stronger local content requirements in many African countries, many companies are now investing heavily in local talent. This is crucial to building sustainable business operations, so DNV GL is quite proud of having invested heavily and systematically in developing local talent, particularly as it does take some time in our industry.
How exactly does DNV GL build up sustainable local operations in this way?
GF: As a quality-driven organization with a commitment to delivering the same quality across all our locations, this is definitely not an easy task. It requires us to exchange our people and share competences across all our affiliates, for instance, bringing people from Ghana and Nigeria to Dubai and the UK for longer-term training programs.
Expatriates are a natural part of this process, but we are proud that we have since built up so much strong local competence that we have scaled down the expatriate presence in our African organizations significantly.
Another advantage of these efforts is the development of DNV GL’s internal networks, which reinforces the strong company culture that DNV GL has – and this is a huge external differentiator for DNV GL as well.
IT: For instance, we are 100 percent Nigerian in Nigeria, 100 percent Ghanaian in Ghana, 100 percent Moroccan in Morocco, and so on.
Another priority has been building regional capabilities and cross-continental networks. For instance, the manager in Angola is a Nigerian who has been trained both within Nigeria and internationally, and moved to Angola as an expat.
DNV GL has global trainee programs that recruit internationally, where employees go on six-month rotations before returning to their home base. What is really important is that we provide the same opportunities here for our employees as those in other locations.
With regard to the DNV GL company culture you mentioned, this is strongly evident across all the managers we have interviewed globally. How do you adapt that strong global company culture to local realities?
IT: I started with DNV GL over six years ago and one of the clear strengths of DNV GL for me has always been how upfront the company was about their values. DNV GL is a very values-oriented company, so it is easy to find your space with the organization if you believe in those believes. It also becomes a very strong motivator to stay with the company.
As a foundation, DNV GL obviously needs to remain financially sustainable but that structure allows us to invest in the long-term competences and capabilities of our employees. The company takes a long-term view, not a quarter-to-quarter focus.
GF: Culture is so important because DNV GL’s business is not based on products but our brain power. This requires first and foremost a highly educated base. Around 87 percent of DNV GL employees globally have an academic degree, either a Bachelor’s degree, Master’s, or PhD.
Given that Africa is a relatively new region under my management, I have travelled around for the past few months to various affiliates on the continent. What strikes me is that no matter where I go, DNV GL offices feel like a family. People really relate to each other. The sort of transactional and demanding corporate culture many oil and gas companies have may drive performance in the short term, but long-term success is driven by the sort of values-driven culture we have at DNV GL.
My philosophy on this is that we should not treat regions differently. While there are of course cultural and communication differences, the company culture comes first. I expect exactly the same standards in the Middle East as in Europe as in Africa as in Asia. While this might be more challenging in some countries, that should not be an excuse to lower our standards.
This is in fact DNV GL’s strength. We want consistent quality and fairness in how we treat our people. This is also what we take pride in. If our people have passion and take pride in their work, they will also be more willing to go the extra mile for our clients, which in turn reflects positively on our reputation and brings more business in. It all comes together.
On that note, what is the strategic significance of the African organization to DNV GL?
GF: For many companies, Africa has been a learning story. Having tested the waters previously, we have seen major opportunities on the continent, and DNV GL now has a much firmer, long-term focus on Africa. We are in the middle of our five-year 2015-2020 strategic plan.
A very important area of focus in Africa is the offshore class, including jack-ups, FPSOs, floating buoys and so on, which is a massive business opportunity. Around 15 to 20 percent of the offshore class globally operate in Africa and we expect this to grow over the next few years.
Business confidence within the industry has also grown recently after a few slow years. We do see investment decisions speeding up with many new entrants into the continent. Having been established on the continent for so long – and witnessing a number of cycles, we do have the expertise and knowledge to help our clients here.
What we do need to consider is the fact that key decision-makers for the continent are often based elsewhere, in company headquarters. This means that it is really important both that our local affiliates provide excellent and consistent service on the ground, and that we are good at coordinating across different affiliates. I would like to further strengthen the capabilities of our coordination networks.
Given the synergies between the various areas DNV GL work in – oil and gas, renewables, maritime and business assurance – what is your strategy for improving this internal coordination?
GF: Communication is the obvious solution. Any company operating across different industries risk working in silos. This is also where Ingvild’s role as Country Chair is important, because we have quarterly Country Chair coordination meetings across our oil and gas, maritime, renewable energy and business assurance divisions to discuss common issues and brainstorm areas for collaboration.
For instance, the maritime, and oil and gas businesses in Africa are the most established segments for DNV GL. With the rise of renewable energy on the continent, we see opportunities and the responsibility for us to help develop that area for DNV GL in Africa.
This is another strength that differentiates us from our competitors. All the industries we work in are evolving very quickly so we need to have people that are able to grasp new developments and adapt to changes very quickly.
IT: In these coordination meetings, we provide the opportunity for each business area to talk about their strategic focus. Part of the dialogue concerns the potential overlap between business areas. We also share comments on regulatory and structural changes within the country. We organize workshops that are not necessarily industry-specific but that deal with common topics of interest.
Like any large organization, DNV GL has also seen numerous organizational changes over the years. The maritime, and oil and gas business areas have merged and de-merged a number of times, which means that people in both areas have that cross-knowledge and experience. Within Africa specifically, DNV GL has merged its maritime, and oil and gas operations, to be managed within the same organization, which requires a lot of cooperation on the business development side.
What are some of the key industry trends you see on the continent?
GF: Many of the developments rapidly taking shape elsewhere still lack some momentum on the continent. Many industries are still run quite conservatively in Africa, so I believe the impetus for change will come more from company headquarters. But it is precisely for this reason that Africa has the opportunity to take a giant leap forward.
DNV GL has been a huge proponent of digitalization. We have invested a lot, for instance, into interface-type software used to relate to our clients. Our shift to digital certificates has been relatively smooth and we have issued over 50,000 digital certificates already.
We do not see digitalization as an end in itself – it is a tool to add value and make our working processes or our clients’ working processes more efficient. Looking at ships, for instance, we are probably on board the vessels more often than the owner is! How can we utilize that opportunity to collect more data and present that data to the owner and manager in a useful manner?
This is an even more important opportunity in Africa because of the huge logistical challenges and the size of the continent.
DNV GL as an organization invests 5 percent of our revenues in research and innovation. We are also working on programs in partnership with our clients so that we can come up with solutions that solve our clients’ problems, for instance, through our Joint Industry Programs (JIPs).
South Africa is the regional hub for DNV GL, as you mentioned. The country also has huge maritime aspirations. How well-positioned is South Africa as a global maritime hub and how can DNV GL contribute its expertise to the country here?
GF: DNV GL was involved in a 2017 report titled The Leading Maritime Capitals of the World in collaboration with Menon Economics. We interviewed around 500 CEOs and experts in the maritime sector to shortlist 30 maritime capitals. The only one in Africa was Cape Town – but Cape Town was at the bottom of the list. A number of factors are very strong in Cape Town, including the legal system and the education system, but where it lags behind compared to other global maritime hubs like Singapore and Hamburg is the long-term planning and vision.
Singapore is a country that has really identified a 20-year vision and put in place the right incentives and measures from year one in order to reach that. While this is not present here in South Africa yet, we hope that the recent political changes will bring about new momentum.
South Africa is extremely strategically located, whether we are talking about Cape Town or Durban, but you cannot be a fantastic maritime capital with only a few strengths. South Africa needs to build the full package, which means working very systematically over a sustained period of time.
DNV GL is certainly committed to sharing our expertise with the country. We contribute significantly on the educational front – in South Africa as in globally, in terms of lecturing at universities and collaborating with government initiatives.
IT: We work with maritime academies, as well as the Norwegian embassies and Innovation Norway. As an example, we recently organized an industry breakfast on the topic of digitalization where we gave presentations on industry developments.
Going back to the consistent standards we uphold everywhere in the world, the most important thing we can contribute to the maritime success of any location is the guarantee that we provide quality services to the vessels that stop there.
To begin wrapping up, where would you like to see DNV GL in Africa in five years?
GF: Having built a large and sustainable base of primarily local employees in Africa, we not only have sustainable but also scalable operations. Over the next five years, we will continue investing in our people, with a focus on the younger generation, because typically in a downturn, an organization ends up with its more senior staff. Focusing on the next generation of talent is a priority now.
From a business development perspective, staying close to our clients in Africa is also very important. We want to demonstrate that we are part of their journey into Africa from day one.
What is really exciting about Africa is that there are new markets opening up all the time. We have Ghana turning into a hotspot in West Africa for instance, because of its relative political stability and new oil and gas developments. Senegal is another example, and so is Mozambique, which now has huge gas prospects. We need to stay on our toes and follow the trends and scale according to our client base.
After all, DNV GL has over 300 offices in 100 countries: we know how to run an international business on the base of the right opportunities.
IT: The opportunities here are very attractive but companies need to be prepared. Africa is a continent where you need to look at, and plan for, the long term. Having been around for 154 years, DNV GL is not playing the six-month game. We are here to stay.