Episode 78 Transcript

Okay we've got an exciting episode
coming up with another guest speaker Imad he works for international
corporations but he's very entrepreneurial and he helps them enter the north african market
he shares a bit of his journey and also
how the company has
pivoted and adjusted to the new normal
with covid19
and how he as a leader has managed the
team
even working remotely that's coming up
okay welcome to the Business in Morocco
Podcast
this is episode number 78 and we have
another special guest with us today
this is Imad Boulabat and he works with a
company called
Wilo Maroc and he's going to introduce
a little bit about what this company
does and how they've adjusted and
handled
uh the confinement and the lockdown here
in Morocco
so Imad thank you so much for being here
we appreciate you having you on
thank you for the invitation Ryan so can
you introduce yourself a little bit tell
us about
your background and uh the company
you're working with
okay my name is Imad Boulabat as you said
i am Moroccan, born in Casablanca i
had the chance to be in different
regions in morocco since i was born
i was born in casablanca my father used
to work for a navy
then we went up to larash which is the
north of morocco
and that's allowed me to be open to the
spanish culture a little bit and that's
how
we spent like five years there
then we went come back again to
casablanca
i did my primary school in a public
school
and then moved again to south of morocco
a city called tantan
then because he used to look after the
ports there
so again we spent a couple of years
there where i did my
i would say a part of the
primary school then come back to
casablanca so there was a mixture
of regions that really enrich
my background from the north to the
center
then to the south yeah so yeah
then i continue public school on
high school though i was really
craving to go to a private school like
my brothers
but my parents preferred me to stay in
the public school
then i finished my high school and went
to college
then i finished my bachelor then i said
i need to do really something for myself
and that's where i started to be
independent and i started
working as as freshly as i went
out from school so my background
was different from the normal
backgrounds because
i started my own company since i began
i wanted to be always an entrepreneur so
that's the
the i am an entrepreneur at that time
then i was approached by
certain i would say multinational
companies that they wanted to set
up their businesses in morocco and
that's how i started
giving them i would say consultancy
services and
then i left my entrepreneurship
adventure
and i joined them to work for them as
they were a uk based company they wanted
to de-localize a part of their
production
into morocco and which we have done i
stayed with them
10 years then i left then i joined
another
multinational company this time i mean
automotive
heavy industry and then again the same
story they wanted to set up their
subsidiary in morocco
then i took up the adventure and
i spent with them uh i would say
five years and then i got in touch with
my
employer which is willow s e willow is a
german brand that is speciality in the
manufacture
of pumps and systems for heating for
calling for water management
for industrial application as well so
this is the company that i started
i started from scratch in 2009
and then we start building it bit by bit
and
we founded the company we recruited the
people
we brought i would say the necessary
resources
to to give her a go and thanks god since
we started
we have been growing to our
double digits every year and that's
really encouraged and motivates
the i would say the corporates to invest
more
and which has given us a chance two
years ago
to to be the platform which is managing
north africa
including algeria tunisia and mauritania
countries
from morocco and alhamdulillah as we
said
we even with this crisis we are
surviving and we are
not really declining our growth i would
say a strategy
and i think that's that that's the
background if i go back to your
question ryan it's it's a mixture of
entrepreneurship but i always started
businesses from scratch
that makes the difference i never work
in a company where
everything is set up you look after that
now i have to build something
before really uh bringing it to the uh
to the truck what did you study in
university i did economics bachelor in
economics and
uh 10 years ago i was
i would say interested in really
diversifying my profile
because i am more sales and growth
and business growth driven into
financial
into corporate strategy into public
management i did after my bachelor
i did executive mba
and besides all the
outside the trainings and the the
studying that the
corporates invest in us while we are
really working
there has been a more interesting
corporate
training than the academic training
we have done our sams so those are
what attracted you to entrepreneurship
like when you finished your
your degree in economics why did you not
look for a corporate job what made you
want to start from scratch
when i was a student i really was always
i would say another in some holidays
mainly
i just like uh take my
my my backpack and i used uh
to travel a lot so i remember that time
we had in incarcer hostel youth
dejean and with the students card as
well
international students card and another
card called
antihai which gives you the right to go
into trains in europe
so with those three cars i was able to
travel around
europe and that's what really foster and
strengthened my
my my personality and at that time i
said well i mean
i was able to communicate i was able to
do something
and working for somebody i did not like
much really i said i want to work for
myself simply
i want to prove to my parents that i can
do it on my own
so so that that's what really encouraged
me to to be an entrepreneur
and even now ryan uh all
the business and the business units in
rocco or in algeria
in tunisia or the way we have we have
set the business everybody is an
entrepreneur
you have a business unit you look after
it
i give them flexibility i give them
freedom to decide what they want
in in compliance with the corporate
guidance obviously
but what encourage is you give them the
feeling and the impression
you are the owner of your business
please do something about it
so the that's what encouraged just to
motivate more people
to do their own job than really tell
them what to do
because i want everybody to do what what
what he is supposed to do
yeah that's a great uh point of view
can you talk a little bit about the
mindset of an
entrepreneur what does an entrepreneur
need to do
and what qualities are most important
for a successful entrepreneur
yeah that's a that's a good question in
in my nature
i hate to lose so when i used to play
soccer
or football with the key or any game
at the time of our youngs even in the
neighborhood
i never wanted to lose so so the among
the
i would say the qualities
of the uh entrepreneur is the ability
to uh foster a moron
that can be strong enough to overcome
all the difficulties
first it has to be he has to believe in
himself
and he has to believe in what he is
doing
and to set targets that are clear for
him
leadership he wants to do things by his
own so he makes sure
that things are working and and i would
say
a freedom to decide what he wants to do
and that's really makes the entrepreneur
more motivated
to go into uh his adventure as an
so sometimes yeah sometimes from the
outside
when people are looking at successful
entrepreneurs
and successful businesses all they see
is the success
but they don't see the mistakes the
the challenges the problems and one of
the things we like to do on this podcast
is to show that for every successful
entrepreneur or successful business
what you're seeing is someone who has
overcome a problem or
several problems or challenges could you
talk about some of the challenges you
faced
as a young entrepreneur and how you
overcame them
yeah i mean as you said ryan all that
glitches is not gold
and and yes people think that we or i am
having
an easy life but there are a lot of
hurdles and obstacles and barriers not
even challenges but i would say barry is
really
to be able to do what you want to do
be it i would say extending your
business
but i would say not only externally but
also internally
you have i would say you are a
protagonist
among a lot of antagonists and you have
to defeat that to overcome that
how by hard work
you have to always
walk the talk and if you do that the
business trusts you
and they give you that i would say uh uh
trust that really helps you to be
motivated more
i mean obstacles we talk a lot in
morocco
about financial obstacles which i don't
see it
as as an obstacle because it is not
an obstacle access to finance in your
businesses
and we have even i would say trying to
because among my work i am a part of
a an association that helps the young
to think differently instead of
directing themselves
into employment be self-employed first
so they know what about so we call we we
are incubators
and these incubators really
help the youngs what they are expected
to do and what they are expecting from
the market
give them that evaluation of their
business plan
what are the difficulties you may
encounter
while you are doing your own business
and how to avoid them according to our
modest experience
so obstacles they are always there
be it an entrepreneur or not
the only thing you have to do is how you
can solve them
and really get supported by certain
allies
and certain people that that would help
you
because there is always a solution for a
problem
and we try really to communicate and to
to to to to tell people do not really
concentrate on the problem because you
can easily overcome it it's just
a mindset that we try to work
there's no obstacle and there's no
problem if you fix that when you're
on your on on your mind
i'm sure that any experience as an
you would overcome it
and one of the things that's exciting
about your career is it feels like you
found
actually a blend between the corporate
world and entrepreneurship because
you were working as a consultant to all
these companies that wanted to do
business in morocco and then you've
you've been the one who
helped them enter the market here and
you were the point person you've been
the director
building the business from scratch here
but with the support of corporate
headquarters coming from the uk or from
europe
so you still have that independence you
still have to overcome all these
challenges and start from scratch
but you have some support coming from
overseas so it's it's quite a blend i
think that's uh
you found a real niche where your skills
are
are leveraged correct correct ryan
and and and and this is among
the uh i would say uh criteria of my
choice
of working for villain for instance was
during the interview
i mean 10 years ago i remember if you
leave me that mindset
as an entrepreneur with your support be
technical or expertise transfer or
but i'll do it my way and we will
succeed
and and they trust me as i trust them
and both of both of us are very happy
with what we're doing
and we are continuing our adventure and
i think as as as an a recommendation to
certain
multinationals that really
want to stay or to settle or to
establish
themselves in morocco is to go to this
route because we have so many young
talented people that really needs
this form of i would call it partnership
yeah we we with the entrepreneurs so we
are both partners and we help
each other and as long as the business
trusts you
yeah really you you can be on a good
track
so that's the mixture support from the
and the action that you are taking
locally
is responding to the corporate strategy
and the corporate i would say quench
for developing the business locally yeah
let's uh let's talk a little bit about
willow and
could you tell us who is your ideal
customer
and what problem are you solving
uh yeah my ideal customer
is the customer that works
closely and with all transparency with
me
the customer that really tell me about
what the problem he has that i can help
him because i am not here to help him
with the product but i came to help him
with the system
with the solution that would really
cover his uh
i would say his old issue in the
application
he wants me to help him for my ideal
that i'm trying to to i would say to
loyalize
to be loyal to me my ideal customer
he's the person that's the customer that
pays me on time
i would not deny that we all agree on
that we all want that
and my ideal customer who believes in a
partnership
between me and him and we developed i
would i would say
system and solution that really that
take his pain out of his head and that's
my ideal cosmic just
give me that opportunity to help
him and to be open to me i mean is it
to be more specific is it a a factory
owner uh the owner of a building or a
hotel
uh who who is buying the the products
that you're offering
i mean uh to because we are
as i always say you know what is the
pump of your body the pump of your body
is your heart
so that's the pump of your body that
helps you to pump yours
your blood to pump the air to pump the
water to pump whatever you want
so we are present in all industries
uh my ideal my ideal customer can be a
a hotel it can be a factory
a manufacturer uh in can be also
a mining industry there so all of them
together they are we are all present
with them
all the time so it can be any one of
these people
even one has got a residential house
he has a swimming pool in his can be my
customer as well
and he has a need to equip his
his house with a central heating or
cooling system and we're here to help so
we are presents
every every everywhere but my customers
are mainly
public entities that they are i would
providing water and wastewater
to municipals and to the major cities in
those are that i work with more
okay that's quite a variety you've got
you know huge government organizations
and then
for-profit businesses and then all the
way down to
an individual that just has a pool in
his backyard or wants central heating
exactly so so tell us about um
how you have pivoted and adjusted during
this
confinement i mean three three and a
half months ago
we had to lock down did everybody start
working remotely
tell us how you handled that situation
yeah i mean in fact it was a tough
situation really uh
to be honest i did anticipate the
confinements
because before our public or our
governments decided to lock down
i was only one week before it
because i heard about the europe and
what's happening then i asked everybody
to leave the office
close it and work emotionally so i have
anticipated
the what we were required to do remotely
we
we are not i would say used to it
because we as moroccans we
like the physical charge hug somebody
kiss him say hello
so these are some of our traits really
related to our culture
right and and and and it was not easy to
put a
process itself because you have to be
sure is the tech tools available
is the process available if somebody's
even
some of my employees did not have the
wi-fi or did not have an internet then
you have to help him
to get an internet at his home by
a landline or another device so
it was just to fix the first week the
tech tools
then then then work on the
morale of each employee relay because
they were just locked down some people
were happy
others they were not because they are
close to their families to their kids
everybody is at home but i gave
total flexibility on on on their time
please manage your time i am not here to
control you
or i'm not here to supervise what you're
doing but please
do what you are supposed to do so
we just meet like every week every
monday
8 30 we meet everybody to know what is
happening
and always tell them please fix your
camera so we can see you
yeah and then and then
everybody enjoyed it and then after that
and every we
we did a lot of i would say sessions on
on the net we did a lot of webinars with
customers as well
so we have kept in touch with customers
so we have not really
i would say stopped contact with anybody
so and really
give them i would say positive messages
and we have created a whatsapp group as
to keep contact not only with morocco
also with our neighborhood countries
so everybody knows what's what is going
on and then they can keep that contact
now as the lockdown has been eased
to delete the group and come back to
normal however
i have left the remote work for
everybody who wants to do it to continue
to do it
but most of them they have refused it
they said no we want to go back to the
office
okay i said you are free you want to
stay home
stay home you want to come to the office
you come to the office
you do what is best for you
yeah and it was an opportunity for us
really to get
to know each other more because the
colleagues were very busy
but we have created what we call
a task force to do certain jobs like
work mainly on the connection
make only on securing what has already
been delivered
make work task force for marketing
going digital uh share facebook or on
instagram or youtube or even links in
our activities because
even we were confined we did a lot of
activities
be it with physical presence or without
physical differences right
you mentioned that you mentioned that a
lot of your job
is sales and business development
and i imagine before coronavirus you
were having a lot of in-person meetings
you had
certain ways of selling and finding new
customers
do you anticipate a change in the future
based on coronavirus
yes correct uh good question ryan
because we
now are i would say customizing our
business model
a new one according to the new situation
new conditions are changing and we are
adapting ourselves to this
new business model which is less
traveling
less contact with customers but more
contact remotely
and through i would say sms
text messaging emails and telephones
the that's not only in morocco but
worldwide i mean
i've been traveling all over the world
and i've been traveling all around
north africa now i don't think that i
would continue doing that
customers are happy when we pick up the
phone and we talk to each other
what is happening we are
i would say more organized in terms of
planning
we give to our team the planning of the
month
not only of the week and we inform in
advance
our customers when we would like to
connect with them
either via a one of the tools that we
have
available we have zoom we have
micros hangouts microsoft
google made and we have our internal
enterprise as well so the new business
model will be shifted
from more a presence
to the customer than remote to the
customer and
and this is a fact so but
it doesn't mean that we will be absent
at 100 percent
we are with customers when he asked us
to be there
and we have already organized meetings
uh
even if the lockdown was there but with
i would say the precaution we took
yeah and are you able to use
technologies
to like view factories or
view some of the the plants and some of
the needs like have you done any of
those remotely where you're just
watching through video and asking
questions
or does that have to be done on site uh
yeah this is exactly what happened we
we have won some projects especially
with the
with public authorities and they are
supposed to go to the factory
and what we call it a witness test
a witness test is a test that the
customer has to be
there and compare his uh his order
according to the contract you sign so
this one was not able to be done
so we have remotely con
con contacted the customer via
uh web and they have physically
i've seen the the pumps being tested
with nobody's there it just we are just
like
like we have we have done that and they
were i would i would say
they were happy with it because they
have never experienced the witness test
on the web right and and we have done
that
and also we were supposed to participate
in certain exhibitions
in europe like the one in germany the
biggest fair for water management
it has been i would say not postponed
but it has been cancelled by the
authorities
but what we have done we have done a
virtual
exhibition it's a virtual uh
booth and we gave the link to the
and they were really navigating as if
they were in the booth okay
and they weren't even meeting people and
asking questions virtually
wow okay as a pioneer for for
digitalization
so we have tried to i would say adapt
ourselves to that so we have witnessed
i would say a good feedback from
who could not attend the witness test or
who could not go
for a the exhibition or or a physical
seminar
so i think the digital and tech
tools were very very useful and
important for us
yeah wow that's cool that's neat to see
how your business is adapting and how
you're pivoting and
doing things that maybe you wouldn't
have thought possible you wouldn't have
thought could be done
you know three or four months ago and
now it could become commonplace
could become normal exactly
after uh dealing with all these
challenges of confinement
and having to create new business
processes
and new forms of communication
what are your goals for the rest of the
year as we come out of confinement
as we sort of returned to normal so to
speak
what would you like to see the situation
be
in december for example
yeah it would be very hard to return to
norman
really because it has been an experience
that has
impacted everybody on this earth
i would love not to go back to normal
but
to improve what we were doing in normal
way
will be done now in a non-normal way
because we were doing a lot of mistakes
i don't deny that we have now enjoyed
really improve what we will not
the new normal is now will begin so
the past normal or the last normal uh
for me was
full of i would say certain uh
how do you call it a certain complacency
and this complacency now the customers
really are are really
very sharp they are they have certain
i would say requirements different and
we are dealing with that
if you ask me in the past what do you
want to see in the last of the summer
and last of the year
my my re my response would be different
but now what i'm saying is thanks god
everybody is safe from the team from
and all i want is a
i i have i would say also reduced my
ambition i was very ambitious
going into those double digits every
year doing 30
more than last year and i i have revised
that i have reviewed and
now i am i am more real than i am more
uh very ambitious so now
i am more not conservative but more
realistic
in in in my projections and
at the end of the year i would love that
everybody is on the right path that my
investment plan is still on route
that my invoices are paid
and i am paying all my payables i mean
my suppliers
and also safeguard the i would say the
the the jobs for every employee of fuel
in north africa that's important as well
yeah yeah that's great
well eman i just have one more question
um
seeing as morocco is on the safe list
for travel to europe
and for you it was such a powerful
and formative experience are you going
to let your son
travel around europe on the trains this
summer
i don't think so
not this summer but for sure next summer
he will be able to go and i hope that
he will be as well uh able to
build himself by himself yeah yeah
definitely yeah hopefully he absorbs uh
some of these characteristics you have
to
be independent and to love a good
challenge and to be willing to
overcome and build things from scratch
those are admirable qualities i'm sure
you're going to pass on to your kids
thank you thank you ryan thank you mod
really appreciate your time and sharing
your experience and talking about your
we're happy that things are going well
that you're making it through this
crisis
and we wish you the best of luck uh
through the end of the year
thank you very much ryan thank you for
your invitation i was i was very pleased
to communicate with you
and really share a part of my life and
my experience
with you thank you so much eman it's
been great
thank you all right
another great interview with uh moroccan
thanks again to ahmad for for coming on
podcast and sharing his experiences you
know
i love that we're building this trend of
moroccan entrepreneurs who grow up in
rather modest
uh beginnings i mean his dad was in the
military
he moved around a bit he went to public
school you know he went to
moroccan university and you know he
became an entrepreneur
and you know that's a story that that
any of our listeners they can
they can follow that story you know this
idea that
that you need to go to private school
you need to go to university overseas
you need
all this uh you know expensive training
and and help you know it's really not
what we're seeing when we interview a
lot of these founders and entrepreneurs
and business people
is that uh you know success here in
morocco is open to anybody
and i i really love telling that story
yeah it's true
it's true i i love uh emad's journey
and i imagine we didn't have time to go
into those early years
when he had just graduated but i imagine
it was it was tough
you know a young guy saying to
international companies yeah sure i can
be a consultant and have
help you enter the north african market
it would be a tough sell
i'm sure it was a bit of a zigzag
journey
but he knew he wanted to build something
himself he knew he didn't want to become
an
employee and he eventually found that
sweet spot to to merit
you know uh merge the two that corporate
and the the entrepreneurial side and
he's
he's doing it really really well and
expanding into other countries nearby so
it's also great to hear how they've been
pivoting their business
you know integrating more technology
reducing travel
makes a lot more things possible and i
love his uh
releasing leadership style you know
talking about he's directly responsible
for algeria tunisia mauritania
but he leaves them a lot of freedom and
a lot of space because he knows that's
what he prefers
from head office in germany and then
even with his immediate team
saying look you guys have your kids at
home it's a new situation
i'm not going to micromanage you as long
as you're getting done what you need to
get done
um we have a meeting on monday morning
the rest is up to you
and even when they can go back to the
office he gives them the
opportunity to work remotely if it suits
them better
so he's very very releasing uh very
empowering
leader and really trusts his employees
and that's what he wants so i
i love that that's a great example for
us
yeah i mean it's the quickest way to
figure out whether you have the right
person in the right position
if you micromanage somebody then
it's not clear whether or not they can
do the job
but if you leave them alone and you let
them you know succeed or fail
on their own then it you'll find out
fast whether or not uh they're the right
person
yeah um you know he talked a lot about
overcoming challenges and problems and
really that is the life of the
entrepreneur and the life of a business
leader is
you get up in the morning you solve a
problem whether it's an existing
operational problem or it's the problem
that you don't have enough customers
or that the customers you do have they
haven't paid you on time
right it really is a life of problem
solving
um and so for those listeners who are
still with us in this
in this episode who are still listening
you know to me that says you're
committed you want to learn you want to
grow
um you know again i say if you're
an employee or you're in school
it doesn't matter go get the auto
entrepreneur card
okay go do it and one of the things i've
learned
is that with an auto entrepreneur card
you can go and sell on jamia right away
you can set up a boutique you can start
selling items on jamia and i will tell
that some of our are sub-saharan african
neighbors right
so they live here in morocco they've
emigrated from cameroon cote d'ivoire
um senegal they've come to this country
a lot of them with nothing
and they buy things in the market and
they take them to jimmy and they sell
them on jumia and they make a profit
you know and if they can do it being
foreigners with very
uh modest means then anyone who lives
here morocco can do it
and so really there are no excuses
anybody can get an auto entrepreneur
card for free you can set up your batik
on jumia
for free and you can start selling so if
you don't have a job
and you don't have a lot of hope there
is an opportunity that is available to
you right now
and it just takes work you go into a
place like durb golif
you find something that's valuable
it's cheap maybe it's on sale you look
at it you buy it and you resell it for a
profit on jimmy it's not that
complicated
so you know if you have the
entrepreneurial spirit
it's a way to get started uh it's a way
to get experience
uh and then you build on it from there
so you know
that really is his story it's a mud
story
now of course it's taken place over a
couple decades
but uh you know again this this outcome
in this experience is available
to anybody who's willing to put in the
time and the effort to get it done
yeah i love it that's good good advice
mate

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