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Tanzania 2018 | INDUSTRY & MINING | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Zachopoulos Georgios, Director of Knauf Tanzania, on the growing demand for gypsum, expanding its activities into the surrounding region, and helping the government reach its industrialization target.

Zachopoulos Georgios
BIOGRAPHY
Zachopoulos Georgios has more than 25 years experience in the building material sector. He worked for United States Gypsum (USG) for 20 years as an area sales manager, and later as business development manager. He has been at Knauf for the past five years, where he was instrumental in the expansion into the East African Market, in Kenya and Uganda specifically. Since late 2014, he has been based in Tanzania, heading up the offices, commencing operations, and acquiring local producers and mining companies.

How did Knauf begin its operations in Tanzania?

Knauf is a leading company in both gypsum products for interiors and gypsum as a raw material. The company is active worldwide, with over 250 production facilities globally. Approximately five years ago, Knauf's management decided to investigate the opportunities for establishing our business in East Africa. We established a local company in Tanzania dealing in gypsum boards and gypsum-related building products, such as plaster. All the raw material we need is readily available in Tanzania, and we are able to mine all the gypsum we use in the production of our boards. The first step we took was to acquire the assets of an existing local Tanzanian-Chinese company. Our operations started officially in December 2015. We envision Tanzania as a base from which to expand our activities in East Africa and surrounding countries.

How do you assess the demand for gypsum here compared to other markets?

All of the markets in East Africa are experiencing rapid development and growth. Raw gypsum is needed in other industries, such as the cement industry, which has been booming in Tanzania over the last couple of years. This has pushed up demand for raw gypsum to over 300,000 tons per year. There is also growth in the use of gypsum in plasters and gypsum boards in line with demand for housing. Additionally, rapid urbanization in Tanzania translates into the potential for future growth. Parallel to this, there will be more and more high-end projects coming up, both in terms of public and private buildings, built in the modern way, meaning light and fast; therefore, we predict more potential growth in this field as well.

What other actions are you taking to increase awareness about the use of your products?

This is something Knauf is doing worldwide. We are not reinventing the wheel in Tanzania, because globally the company has a wealth of know-how that we can select from and implement here. At the practical level, the first thing we are doing is sending our group of professionals to visit job sites, informing clients about Knauf's products and systems. We are not selling products; we sell systems and solutions. We are trying to instill in the minds of local people that they can come to Knauf Tanzania at any time for solutions, regarding, for example, specialist fire protection, sound absorption, structural wall, or ceiling shape solutions for building projects. We also teach the industry how to best install or build using our solutions in order to benefit in terms of safety, time, and money. We trained over 150 people at Knauf Tanzania in 2016. It is a long proces, but in the long term a worthwhile investment.

How is Knauf Tanzania contributing to the government's target to increase local manufacturing and what is your outlook here?

The government wants to industrialize Tanzania, which is the right strategy for the future of the country. Knauf Tanzania is fully in line with what the government believes has to be done, and we are already doing it. We are locally producing something that used to be imported, and we are doing this using predominantly local raw materials. We produce gypsum from local sources and send the finished material to the local market as well as for export. The government needs to attract more companies like us into the country in order to reach its industrialization target. To achieve this, first and foremost, we need to place the emphasis on improving infrastructure. Moreover, there needs to be better promotion of the opportunities on offer in Tanzania. Then, the government should also ease the processes and procedures for companies when they do decide to come and invest here. Most investors come here with money, they have their money and do not ask for funding or favors; they just ask for an environment in which they are able to implement their plans.