ISSAM EL JILANI

Morocco 2020 | REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Issam El Jilani, General Manager of Chantiers Marocains Modernes (CMM), on the Casablanca Stock Exchange, expansion in West Africa, and strategic plans for 2020.

You were recently included in the eighth cohort of the Casablanca stock exchange's elite program. What pushed your company to be a part of it?

It is a choice that was made by the stock exchange. The program takes place over two years; the first year is about training the managers and the second year focuses on a specific subject, such as strategy or governance. This, of course, depends of the type of the company. We are in our first year and have undergone the technical training part. Once we have successfully completed the second phase, we look forward to exploring the different types of financing options that the stock exchange will present to us.

How would you evaluate the experience so far?

We have completed the first module, which we found really interesting. Notably, there was a set of companies that are about the same size as us. What is important is the exchange between all the managers, especially at the training level. Overall, our experience was great; the framework, supervision, and training were all of the highest standards.

CMM is present in several other countries. Are there plans to expand into more markets?

At present, we are operating in five African countries. We have a real development strategy for the future of Africa. Since Morocco is our country of origin, we are present here and are developing our local activities and presence. One of our main targets is the health sector. We have carried out quite a few projects, including the first oncology center in Mauritania, Ivory Coast, and Burkina Faso, an emergency hospital in Mauritania, and a clinic in Abidjan. It is safe to say that CMM has a strong presence in the health sector. Recently, we had a turnkey contract including medical equipment for a hospital in Burkina Faso. It has been a fruitful experience so far and we hope to develop it even more. Africa represents between 15 and 20% of our total turnover. There are more opportunities in Africa than in Morocco because the competition in Morocco is getting tough. With this in mind, we are targeting the African market for our expansion. That said, we intend to continue our expansion in Morocco. Our turnover from the Moroccan market grows 20% every year on average.

Why makes Morocco such a competitive market?

Morocco has developed a lot over the last 20 years. There are quite a few national companies that have become leaders, even international leaders. There was a time when there were no local companies capable of building highways or dams, but at present, Moroccan companies can handle any kind of project.

What has been the impact of digitalization on your business?

Digitalization has had an enormous impact on our business. At CMM, we are leveraging digitalization to develop our internal programs and keep them up to date.

What impact has payment delays had on your operations?

Payment delays has become a national nuisance. A company that is not paid on time cannot be expected to invest. We have found our way around this challenge because of our healthy cash flow, allowing us to keep honoring our commitments to suppliers and collaborators. Almost 80% of the dividends remain within the company. On a national level, the government is working with all the stakeholders and relevant authorities to fight this problem. The laws were always there, but they were never enforced. Fortunately, the government is now applying penalties in case of late payments to change the mindset.

How do you train your workforce?

We train our employees about new methods and techniques. For the technical team, we mainly hire fresh graduates and give them on-the-job training. One project manager can train two to three technicians at a time.

Do you export your know-how?

All the managers for our Africa operations are hired and trained in Morocco. In Africa, there is an abundance of manpower, but we struggle when it comes to finding quality craftspeople. For example, when we take on turnkey projects, it's difficult to find the right talent in Africa, especially when the Project Owners request for Moroccan style design.

What are your strategic objectives for 2020?

Our primary goal is to maintain our growth rate and explore other countries in Africa. We have a number of projects in the pipeline. Sometimes, consultant from different countries approach us directly. We also participate in calls for tenders and we recently took part in an Afri Santé exhibition in Ivory Coast.