"At this stage, I do not believe that anybody, from private to public sector, has the capability to understand the magnitude of what is going to happen in Mozambique moving forward. Once things start moving, everyone will have tremendous difficulty in keeping up."
What were the circumstances surrounding the creation of Ascending?
In 2010, I was invited to join a company called Capital Outsourcing Group which was part of Adcorp – a JNB listed company positioned amongst the top 10 staffing companies in the world. I became country manager for Adcorp in Angola and then became regional executive manager covering Angola, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. Until 2017, the company strategy was one of growth, but a slump in the oil and gas industry and new staffing legislation in South Africa caused Adcorp’s stock price to plummet by approximately 50%. The company then decided to change its executive structure and shift from an investment strategy to a containment strategy, disbanding all its non-core assets. My business partner and I saw this as an opportunity to do a management buyout of the Angolan and Mozambican assets. Ascending was thus created in 2017, experiencing steady growth inside its client base and creating a foundation for sustainable growth.
How was the transition from being part of a large corporation to starting your own company?
We all know the entry level is high in African countries, and it was thus a great advantage buying assets off a company that had over five decades of accumulated experience operating in the region, a recognized track record and an enviable client base. We were guaranteed a smooth transition into the operations where clients would continue to rely on the same structure and workforce. We could also now bring in our flexibility as a smaller, more agile business, and we got significantly closer to the companies in the countries we were operating in.
Can you provide an overview of the services Ascending provides to the mining and oil & gas industries?
Ascending is an HR service provider focused on workforce management solutions. We try and assist clients in all their HR needs and provide them with local workforces that can help develop their businesses. Ascending’s operations in Angola are very much oil and gas industry focused. In Mozambique, the mining industry was originally our core focus, but when the oil and gas industry started growing significantly in 2011, we started servicing this industry as well. We realized that Mozambique had an extreme skills shortage and thus decided to start offering training programs to be in a better position to supply the right skilled workforces for our clients. Today, we manage two training centers in Pemba and Maputo which are fully equipped to prepare artisans in technical, mechanical and soft skills training. The training centers are ISO certified and are running ECITB, MQA and MERSETA standard training. Having invested over the past two years, we are totally prepared for the impending gas boom in Mozambique.
How do you think Mozambique will cope with the increasing demand for skilled workers?
I have doubts on how the Mozambique will be able to accommodate the demands. We are seeing that local content advocates and policy writers are facing huge challenges during negotiations with the operators regarding what exactly is going to be classed as local content. Ascending, as a service provider, is still being kept apart from what the reality of these negotiations are. In this context, it is difficult for the service industry to decide on investment strategies, as we do not know what part of the bone will be left to chew on.
Do you believe that a gradual increase of local content year on year might make sense for both industry and government?
Having seen a significant amount of local content programs being implemented across Africa, I believe that a clearly defined working model is imperative in order for it to be followed and not to allow wrong interpretations of what must and must not be done.
Mozambique has the same ministry for mining and energy. Do you think that these sectors will be separated in the future?
Separation of the mineral sector and the energy sector is inevitable. There has been a lot of hype surrounding the oil and gas industry and currently the mining industry has become somewhat of an afterthought. At this stage, I do not believe that anybody, from private to public sector, has the capability to understand the magnitude of what is going to happen in Mozambique moving forward. Once things start moving, everyone will have tremendous difficulty in keeping up. This is when I think the government will realize that it needs to create a separate body for the oil and gas industry.
Considering the scale of industrial development that is expected in the coming years, industry collaboration will be required. Does Ascending work hand in hand with other companies?
It is essential for smaller national companies to adopt collaborative models to not lose business to big international companies. It is important to understand what exactly is expected from us so that we bring our skills together to be able to provide the required offerings to the market. I believe that we do not have to compete, but rather team up to achieve a shared goal. We have been approached by companies wanting to collaborate, but first we have to identify what the collaborator’s intention are – unfortunately, sometimes these aren’t clear or they are of a parasitic nature and we must keep away from these. However, if they can bring something to the table which can complement our service offering we are more than delighted to work in a mutually beneficial way.
Moving forward, what are Ascending’s main objectives in Angola and Mozambique?
In Angola, Ascending has reached a point of maturity and we have a stable revenue stream and structure. The objective is to continue to see year on year business growth for the next five years through establishing a stronger presence across the country. We want to become a national powerhouse in Angola.
Our objective in Mozambique is to consolidate the company as the preferred training partner for heavy duty sectors like oil and gas, mining and industry. We would like to have ongoing long-term contracts and training programs with clients. This way we can build better relations and gain knowledge on what are their exact requirements and demands for the future.
How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted Ascending’s operations in Africa?
Since 2013, we have been involved in a waiting game. We have seen and sailed through the Global Financial Crisis, oil price slumps, two hurricanes, terrorist threats since 2017, major company buy outs (Total – Anadarko) and all of these have made the business environment one of waiting. We have learnt to adapt to this and manage our business through these quiet times. The coronavirus has created awareness of a series of health issues and has made us adapt in the way our service is delivered and our teams are protected and prepared, but as far as business is concerned, it is just a prolongation of the waiting game that we are quite used to play and moreover, are quite good at.
Do you have a final message for the readers of Global Business Reports?
Ascending is not a simple people pusher which produces 200 operators overnight, but we understand both the clients’ needs and the workforce. The company provides value added services and aims to create a responsible attitude in the environments we operate in. For companies looking for a stable long-term partner relationship, Ascending is the service provider they can rely on. We are the most certified and qualified labor service provider in the jurisdictions we operate in and have the capacity to supply the full range of HR needs. We are not only here to provide labor forces, but, as per our motto, to improve lives and organizations.