AfricaLive: What is the DNA of Asadtek Group at its core?
Dr. James Asare-Adjei: Asadtek Group is a private company that was incorporated about eighteen years ago. We started very small as most businesses do, and over the years we have grown in leaps and bounds. We have branched into three areas as we have gone along. We have a kitchenware division, roofing division, and properties division. The kitchenware and roofing are in the manufacturing sector while the properties division is in real estate. We have been able to make inroads into the sub-region by entering into other West African markets and doing well. Our company has expanded into Togo, Burkina Faso and Benin and until recently we had set up shop in Mali and Niger before pulling out.
This sub-region is a rich market that can help grow your business just because of sheer size and population. We also have a majority young population that can provide expertise as well as labour. We want to position this company in a way that is not only limited to the domestic market. Partnerships must be made to give us a foothold within the region.
AfricaLive: As the leader of the group, what would you say is your main area of expertise?
Dr. James Asare-Adjei: I am a trained engineer who has worked for other companies for many years before I set up Asadtek. I didn’t really practice as an engineer; I instead focused on gaining management skills and stayed on that path for a while. I was able to grow and hone my managerial skills because I took the time to learn before setting up my own practice. I then identified a niche in our economy after over fifteen years of experience working in other companies. I developed some brick and mortar skills that helped a great deal when I got started with Asadtek. I also worked with organisations like the Association of Ghana Industries, which helped bring me closer to entrepreneurs.
As you interact with leaders of micro, medium and large businesses, you end up growing and learning. I gained from those gatherings because I was able to set up and run Asadtek the way I have so far.
AfricaLive: The launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area will be going ahead in early 2021, hopefully acting as a catalyst for driving Intra-African trade. What are your ambitions, both in the short term and long term, when it comes to trading internationally?
Dr. James Asare-Adjei: In the short term, we are looking at the opportunities that can be taken advantage of within the country and the sub-region.
The AfCFTA agreement provides a great platform to look at the African continent as one vast market. We are currently looking at different countries trying to see which ones would be friendlier to us at the start. If you look within the sub-region, you will notice that a number of francophone countries surround Ghana. Despite a good number of our neighbours being francophone, they demand the same products we avail at quantities that are largely the same.
We want to understand all fifteen of our neighbours within the ECOWAS family and stretch ourselves into most if not all of them. Expanding into these markets won’t be smooth without proper partnerships. Proper local partnerships will enable us to not only distribute products in countries that are rebuilding such as Burkina Faso, and Liberia, it will also help us set up manufacturing plants in those countries. In the long term, we are looking at expanding into areas such as beyond the sub-region.
AfricaLive: Within Ghana and West Africa, what do you consider to be the primary opportunities and threats facing your sector?
Dr. James Asare-Adjei: The Covid-19 pandemic for instance, has been seen as a major threat by many, but it has also presented some opportunities. The pandemic has made us realise the need for developing local capacities. We have had to ask ourselves questions like how do we ensure our manufacturing companies and local businesses develop the right skills and knowledge to serve our economies effectively?
My successor at the Ghana Association of Industries indeed had a point when he said that Ghana looks like it is de-industrializing. He probably said that because of the many challenges that confront manufacturers here. The cost of borrowing is extremely high; there are gaps in the availability of raw materials, access to port systems, not to mention the human resource challenges. We must, therefore, identify the areas that highly demand our products and maximize sales to stay afloat.
The huge housing deficit in the country provides us with an opportunity to move more roofing sheet units as we try and look for cheaper and cleaner raw materials. Ghana has abundant Bauxite deposits, a huge smelting plant, and aluminium processing operations. The government’s vision of seeing to it that we have an integrated aluminium production line is a step in the right direction. If we escalate these plans and are able to produce and procure raw materials locally, we will become more competitive to operate on economies of scale.
AfricaLive: Ghana faces a significant long term challenge from the twin pressures of a growing youth population and increased workplace automation brought by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
In short – you must create 10 million new jobs over the coming years to avoid mass youth unemployment and possible social unrest. What steps do you believe need to be taken to empower Ghana’s private sector to succeed in driving economic growth and job creation on this scale?
Dr. James Asare-Adjei: The need to create more factories was my rallying call as the president of the Association of Ghana Industries.
During my period in office, I rallied behind the government’s initiative of “One district, one factory”. We realise that unless we begin to push towards industrialisation with all seriousness, it will be very tough to create jobs. The government must revamp the “One district, one factory” project by working closely with the private sector to ensure that all impediments are out of the way. We must do more than we are doing now because our tertiary institutions keep churning out more and more graduates.
The unemployment problem must also be examined from the education point of view. There has been a flooding of humanity courses into the school system, which does not help our unemployment situation. Ghana needs more technically trained graduates and less humanity course graduates if we are to advance our development agenda. As we speak, the government is paying attention to Tertiary education. TVET is good, but we must work to ensure that it does not become a secondary choice for students. It must be sold as an attractive career choice for more young people to join in. We must ensure that government works with industry to create a conveyor belt that delivers graduates to the industry for training and eventual placement.
AfricaLive: A key focus of our work is in bringing together all the stakeholders in society to explore solutions to the challenges facing African markets.
Let me ask you; if you were to bring together Ghana’s leaders from government, higher education, and business to a roundtable meeting held at your headquarters, what would be the main item on the agenda?
Dr. James Asare-Adjei: I would bring up the challenges industries face in this country, whether in terms of regulation, funding and cost of doing business. I would also touch on the need for us to redo our education system in a way that produces more builders and technically inclined young people. If these issues can get the attention they need, businesses will grow exponentially. We must also look at how we can utilize current technology to make things work better for us. The most important crucial issue I would bring up though is the overall direction of our economy. Do we want to continue being an import economy, or are we trying to pivot into a production economy? If we make the transition to become a big producer, we will satisfy local demand and be able to export as well. Exportation will bring in hard currency which will help shore up the Ghana Cedi.
AfricaLive: AfricaLive reports communicate directly with Africa’s decision-makers, and global decision-makers invested in Africa, through trusted business platforms such as Forbes, CNBC, Bloomberg and Dow Jones active. When speaking to this audience, what is the main message you would like to communicate regarding your company and regarding Ghana?
Dr. James Asare-Adjei: I must say that things are looking up and the future looks bright. We have positioned ourselves as a significant player in the sub-region where demand keeps growing.
Apart from the challenge of being able to acquire modern technologies, we believe that we will keep growing in leaps and bounds. The bright future I foresee for the company is intertwined with the future I see for the country. We have both the natural and human resources to ensure our country develops into the giant it can be. Ghana is also a fertile ground for investment. Investing in Ghana opens up opportunities to go into other countries within the sub-region, some of whom are quite underserved. Our country offers a platform for any investor to tap into the sub-regional market because of our stability.