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Nigeria 2015 | REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Wolfgang Goetsch, Managing Director of Julius Berger Nigeria Plc, on the contribution the company is making to Nigeria's infrastructure development and to local employment, as well as the challenge of constructing the new Second Niger Bridge.

Wolfgang Goetsch
BIOGRAPHY
Wolfgang Goetsch is an Austrian national and holds the equivalent of a Master’s degree in Civil Engineering from the Technical University, Innsbruck, Austria. He joined Julius Berger Nigeria in 1991 and has worked on a broad range of projects both nationally and internationally. He is a Member of the Nigeria Society of Engineers and the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN).

Julius Berger arrived in Nigeria about 50 years ago. What is left of your German heritage and how localized is the company now?

Today Julius Berger is an indigenous Nigerian company. We are headquartered in Abuja with additional permanent locations in Lagos and Uyo, and we are listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange. Over 96% of our workforce is Nigerian, and we are dedicated to our investments in Nigerian content. Throughout our 50 years of operating in Nigeria, we have played an important role in the country's development, starting with our first construction project in the country, which was the Eko Bridge in 1965. Currently, Bilfinger Berger, a German construction company, owns approximately one-third of the shares; the other two-thirds are under Nigerian ownership, including individuals, pension funds, states, and large and small investors.

What are some of the company's main strengths that it seeks to leverage?

Julius Berger's commitment to Nigeria is one of the greatest strengths. We have huge investments in this country, not least of which are the roughly 20,000 people on our payroll. These investments are not solely monetary, but in facilities we need to run our business. Nigeria is headed in the right direction, even if not the most stable country in the world. Businesses here require a plan for the worst-case scenario, and the potential return on investments must clearly be weighed up against the risks. Operating exclusively in Nigeria, we do not have the opportunity of packing up our operations and returning to a home country if the worst occurs. This reality confirms our commitment, as this will remain our country come what may. Through Bilfinger Berger we have a pipeline to the Western world. This gives us access to cutting-edge technology and the international market in terms of procurement and recruitment. We would not be able to ensure quality and reliability with Nigerian resources alone. That said, while our business dealings and the projects we deliver are part of a global issue, the company's decisions are made locally. We are not remote-controlled from abroad, which we view as a major success.

You have taken on the challenge of constructing the new Second Niger Bridge. Could you elaborate on this project?

If you look at the Nigerian economy and lack of infrastructure, the construction of the Second Niger Bridge is key—economically, politically, and socially. We have been following the developments surrounding this bridge for a while now. Around 10 or 15 years ago there were many related developments, although nothing came to fruition. Just under two years ago, we became convinced that on this occasion the government was serious, and we actively started to participate. There are challenges, but we are confident of being able to overcome them. The primary challenge, I believe, lies in the fact that the bridge is to be built under the public-private partnership (PPP) model. If you look at the legal environment and the policy landscape, PPP is a quite new formula that we have never dealt with. Due to the nature of this project, we have aggressively looked at the possibilities of and partners for this undertaking. We were very proud that our consortium was declared the preferred bidder. If a non-indigenous company had emerged as the preferred bidder, it would have been bitterly disappointing.

How is your company contributing to the realization of Nigeria's goals for Vision 2020?

The major area to be developed in achieving the goals of Vision 2020 is the downstream and manufacturing sectors. Vision 2020 will be very difficult to achieve if the focus lies exclusively on oil-producing plants and roads. Employment in manufacturing plants is necessary. These factories will generate revenue and add weight to national GDP. Nigeria, I believe, is more of a trading society. This is good to a certain extent, but the real economy is the downstream industry—manufacturing, agriculture, and so forth. We are repositioning our company to be prepared to deliver our services to investors in this industry.