Having been operating in DRC since 1936, Hasson Africa has become a reference point in the country’s business community, initially focusing mainly on the import and distribution of a wide range of items and commercial activities, and now involved in other sectors such as industry, real estate and food & drink. Its “exemplarity performance” representing renowned brands protects not only the reputations of its partners, but also its own, and allows it to build on quality, as General Manager Robby Israel explains.
The private sector creates jobs and wealth and is essential foundation on which to create a dynamic and competitive economy. What kind of support is the government giving to national industries in order for Congolese entrepreneurship to really bloom?
First of all I would like to highlight that the Hasson Africa Group, formerly named Hasson & Frères, is celebrating its 80 years of presence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We have done business in DRC since colonial times. In 1936, the Hasson & Frères Group began this great business adventure that is still very active today. Like any other group we have been through ups and downs, but we are still here and actively developing new business, and have become a company of reference in this country.
Getting back to your question, it is true that during the current president’s first mandate, a program called “the five working areas” was initiated. Those five fields consist of infrastructure, health, education, energy and employment. They form the ideal context for the promotion of entrepreneurship in DRC, and we are growing in step with this program.
Over the last decade we have been observing this “modernity revolution” and supporting the country, the government and mostly our clients with our large offering of products and services through which we provide this “modernity” that I refer to. We focus on two client categories: the middle class and mass market, providing mainly items of basic necessity.
As highlighted in various international media, in Africa we are beginning to see the emergence of a middle class. We are lucky to witness this phenomenon in DRC prematurely in comparison to other African countries, and we managed to take advantage of it before many of our competitors.
Important infrastructure projects (road, rail, air and sea) are in progress around the country, and involve the rehabilitation or construction of key infrastructure. What impact will these projects have on your operations in terms of trade and competitiveness?
The infrastructure projects that are about to be finished are essential to our activities: importation of goods will be facilitated, since many time-consuming problems will disappear. The new infrastructure will increase the speed and security of our operations; distribution networks will be optimized and become less expensive.
In the agriculture sector, harvesting activities will be greatly impacted by the new infrastructure. We had to put some of these activities on hold because of the advanced state of disrepair of some infrastructure in certain provinces. Once the infrastructure is modernized, our agricultural business will be fully operational again and we will have the opportunity to initiate an important re-dynamization plan for our various activities throughout the country.
You recently started offering two new and unexpected products: Italian and Spanish wines. Can you tell us more about your group’s short and mid-term strategy regarding future investments and products you intend to offer Congolese consumers?
Our group is in constant development and has never stopped investing. This reflects our vision, since the absence of development would mean withdrawing from the economy. We don’t see stagnation as a good thing, and this is why we constantly search for new products, projects or concepts to offer. This vision has been materialized with the implementation in the capital city (Kinshasa) of different malls, supermarkets and shopping centers. We were the first to offer the citizens of Kinshasa a large variety of products with attractive and competitive prices.
Of course, to achieve these results we created several partnerships with important foreign companies in order to negotiate directly with producers and large-scale suppliers. Our group is hence respected and trustworthy.
In DRC, many importers focus on very localized markets. Hasson Africa is now positioned as a leader in mass distribution. In your opinion, how does your group differentiate itself from the competition to be considered as privileged partners by big international brands who look to enter the Congolese market?
Imports in the Congolese market must be divided in two sub-categories: the mass market and the middle class. We stood out by aiming for the middle-class market, despite the skepticism of others. The Congolese middle class is interested in international products. New communication and information technologies now allow this middle class to satisfy their aspirations and we must provide solutions that respond to those needs.
We have been chosen to represent renowned brands. These brands work with us because they know of our reputation and unique longevity in this country, as well as our transparent management style. We have long-term relationships with brands because it is a profitable deal for both parties. This representation calls for exemplarity performance on our side because we manage their image, and therefore the loyalty of consumers to the brands, whether they identify with a specific brand or not.
It goes without saying that we do not distribute products that are counterfeit or unfit for human consumption. Like for any other company, our reputation is the key to our success, and it is the last thing would like to put at risk.
During your 80 years of existence, your company has diversified its activities many times. Formerly in industry, you have now chosen to focus on new developments in real estate. What can you tell us about that?
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, every company looks to diversify. New and promising sectors often emerge, and so staying within the comfort zone of your principal business could harm your prospects. We were able to bet on different horses in order to counter-balance the losses in some less-productive fields.
As you can see, we focus on promising sectors, this is our motto and we are very open-minded to new projects in every sector. We are flexible and open to new market trends.
What do you find are the biggest challenges that you face on a daily basis in your operations?
Let’s face it, what we really need is for the Congolese people to increase their buying power. A reorganization of the federal government would allow us to have a more efficient relationship with the authorities. However, work is being carried out in this area, such as the implementation of a new, digital customs system and the payment of government official through the banking system rather than cash, etc. But the hardest part is yet to come. Stricter regulation of the private sector must be put in place in order to create a healthy business environment.
How do you overcome challenges surrounding human capital development?
Human capital in DRC, in other words the Congolese population, is very important to our operations. The Congolese are hard workers, loyal, and generally in a good mood, so it’s always a pleasure working with them.
For example, some of our employees have worked with us for 40 years; this shows the level of their commitment. Today their children are joining our company, if they are not already working for us. Hasson Africa is a true family. We take care of our co-workers in their professional and personal lives. By joining our group, regardless of the education level of a new worker, we expect them to have the following three qualities:
1. Loyalty: no matter the candidate’s expertise, without loyalty one cannot serve the company long term;
2. Dynamism: the will and motivation to work;
3. Professional expertise: We are willing to help any loyal and motivated co-worker develop a real expertise of their own.
In our group, we have two types of training programs: internal training programs and training programs performed by external consultants. Our suppliers also play a major role in our training programs. This is why it is in our best interest to keep our co-workers with us as long as possible, because we invest in them continually.
How would you describe the international perception of DRC, and what impact could it have on investment?
First of all, the international community sees DRC as a country the size of a continent and full of opportunities. The quantity and variety of resources in DRC can be found nowhere else on this planet.
However it is true that the country’s image is often tarnished by incomplete, inaccurate or false information, displaying an impression of lack of security.
It is crucial to report objective information coming from the national authority in order to change the negative perception of this country. The hard work being carried to modernize this country deserves media attention, but it is also important to show that many private companies in DRC continue to grow, and, as is our case, show an exceptional longevity.
Hasson Africa’s motto can be explained in two words: Expertise and Integrity, two notions that are essential to our vision. We want to deliver one message to our potential partners, “Come and see, try and adopt.”