KNOW-HOW FOR SALE

Morocco 2020/21 | ICT & MEDIA | INTERVIEW

Soremar Holding has overcome several hurdles in the recent past to arrive at a stage where it is better prepared than ever before to go public and fulfill its vision for the African continent.

Noureddine Gnaou

You were part of London Stock Exchange's ELITE Program. Why did you participate in this program, and how do you evaluate your experience?
The ELITE program was introduced around the time we decided to enter the stock exchange. Morocco then signed an agreement with the London Stock Exchange to join the ELITE program, and we benefited from a one-year training at the Casablanca Stock Exchange. We have made significant progress, even if there has been a bit of delay recently because of the tax controls. We have passed all the controls and we have done the ELITE training; therefore, we are better prepared today than we were yesterday.

Where do you stand today in terms of your IPO?
Over the last two years, it has been slightly delayed because there have been a number of tax audits. The tax authorities needed money so it taxed companies, meaning 2020's results will not be as good as expected. When you want to go public, you have to look at the last three years; however, we will get there, in spite of our delay.

Your company has dominated the market of vessel monitoring systems (VMS). What has allowed Soremar to become a market leader?
It does not happen overnight. It is 36 years of hard work and seriousness. We are in a maritime niche so we shine because this sector is like a club. Being a part of this family is not only an honor, but something we must live up to. Your services rely heavily on technology.

How have digitalization and AI impacted your value proposition?
Today, any ship owner can know where his boat is—he can see it and he can communicate with it by satellite or message. This is a plus. When I started, we sold our know-how: there were four or five components to change in a radar for which we would bring the parts and install them. Today, for the same broken radar, you look quickly and see if the card has to be changed. If you have the part, you put it in, and the commander signs off. If you don't have it, you pass it along. Previously, machines were indefinitely repairable; today, they are disposable. No one has a choice. We go with the flow, we adapt, and we work. There is an important human element that has disappeared as a consequence of technological advancements.

What is Soremar's vision in the medium and long term?
Our first objective is to go public. Second, we are planning a development in Morocco, whereby our 17th agency will open this year. We must always keep moving forward. There is also the African vision. In financial terms, how do you evaluate 2019? Our turnover in 2019 grew 6% YoY, but it was a difficult year financially. For the investors, it is a matter of trust. As soon as this trust is affected, everything stops. There has to be a plan, a vision, and a schedule and one can enact it by pushing the sector to go along with you. According to official figures, 8,400 companies shutdown in Morocco in 2018. In 2019, that number increased by 5%.

How have payment delays impacted operations in the sector?
Currently, everybody is cautious; before selling equipment to a customer, you must check if he is solvent or not. Even the banks have started using ratings. This means companies with bad ratings will have a hard time surviving.