Thriving in the face of challenges – an interview with GSS Sudan Country Manager, Mohammed Ben Brahem
With the pandemic affecting businesses and presenting various challenges across all our countries of operations, our GSS Sudan team was still able to achieve a very successful 2020 and continues to excel. We recently sat down with GSS Sudan Country Manager, Mohammed Ben Brahem to learn more.
Tell us a more about yourself
I began my career in 2004 and I’ve worked for three fantastic companies, STB a local bank in Tunisia, Maersk Group in several locations, and the BMMI Group, which I joined at the beginning of 2018. I’ve been fortunate to gain experience across Tunisia, Denmark, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Somalia. I’ve also enjoyed working with many people from different cultural and academic backgrounds.
Academically, I am a graduate of the Master in Finance programme from the Institut Supérieur de Gestion de Tunis, and also have a Shipping and Maritime Law degree from Maersk Academy and a Baccalaureate in Mathematics. I’m also completing my second year of an Executive MBA at the Mediterranean School of Business.
On a personal level, I’m from Nabeul, a city off the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, and my wife, Ines, and I have three wonderful children: Rayan, Alma and Alyssa!
How has the past period been for the team?
Operating in Sudan has always presented several challenges due to economic and social reasons, in addition to the sanctions the country had to deal with for over three decades. When COVID-19 hit, it made our day-to-day activities even more complicated.
Our resiliency in dealing with whatever we face helped us overcome the challenges COVID-19 presented, such as total lockdowns and limitation of movement. I am very proud to share we have achieved the best performance of the company in Sudan in several years. This not only included a high net result, but also a significant repayment to our intercompany account.
What challenges did the COVID-19 pandemic present?
The main problem presented by COVID-19 was the limitation of movement within the country and also across borders. Due to the nature of our business, we have always been very organised and operate in shifts in tough areas that require crew changes. At one point, due to the pandemic, those crew changes were stopped. When restrictions were eased, we had to get used to new processes and procedures to protect our people and all stakeholders. This includes regular PCR testing, fixed movement windows and the need to gather employees in one area prior to proceed to remote sites, and more.
What did the team do to try and overcome these obstacles?
Understanding and patience! Most of our people who were stuck at sites due to restrictions of movement have shown great understanding. Many of them had to spend three times the usual duration they usually spend at remote sites during their rotations. However, they maintained their great attitude and adaptability.
In Sudan, we also provide facility management services to big oil and gas and mining companies. This includes procurement of materials, as well as transportation and delivery to sites. We also offer catering services and food processing and preparation at sites.
Due to the team’s resilience, can-do attitude, and hard work, we can thankfully say the level of service we offer was never impacted despite a limited market offering and an interrupted supply chain for our main suppliers.
We continue to provide approximately 10,000+ meals per day, and we are very proud that GSS Sudan has never failed to provide a hot meal to any of our clients since the onset of the pandemic. Our efforts have even been recognised by senior executives of the partners we operate for, and we are very proud to be able to maintain our purpose of delivering quality of life where it’s needed the most.
How was the team able to maintain their motivation in the face of challenges?
The first thing we insisted on is to ensure that company goals are shared and made clear to everyone in the organisation. It is crucial that everyone has a clear understanding of how their individual actions can impact our company results, positively or negatively.
We also focused on creating a positive environment by working on strengthening team and department chemistry and spirit, while encouraging healthy and friendly competition. In any result-driven organisation, individual and team performance is key when conducting evaluations, and recognition of good work is a staple of how we do things. Through our Winning Hearts awards, we manage to recognise and reward high performers, as well as those with positive attitudes who believe that each problem has a solution and that ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way.’
During the peak of the pandemic in Sudan, we remained close to our people to protect them and meet their needs. We made sure to hold necessary information sessions, provided the best protective equipment and made transportation available when public transportation was stopped. With the help of the Ministry of Health, we managed to organise vaccination sessions in our offices, and as of today, all GSS Sudan employees received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine!
What is the situation like now?
The pandemic is still impacting us in terms of ease of movement, but the situation is more stable and we are optimistic for the future especially that vaccination is taking place slowly but surely in the country.
Although inflation is still on the higher side, with +400% in the food and beverage sector in July, for example, there have been some very positive developments.
Sudan came a long way in reintegrating the international community after the lift of sanctions and after securing debt relief from Paris Club. The country is now reintegrating the international banking systems into some banks.
With these developments, we expect many new opportunities in the country as more foreign investors show their interest in Sudan, especially in the oil and gas and mining sectors. They are attracted to the country due to the untapped potential that hasn’t been touch for over thirty years – whereas in many other areas of the world many natural resources have already been utilised. Sudan has huge potential for gold, uranium, copper and more, and investors are very interested.
We are already discussing with international multinational about partnering and future opportunities. Of course, with big opportunities, comes big competition as more multinational service competitors begin entering the Sudanese market.
Where do you think GSS Sudan stands in relation to current and potential competitors?
I am confident we are in a great position and that we are continuing to take the right steps to make sure our team offers the best levels of service. We are focusing on training and development for our team to ensure they are ready to face any newcomers and able to protect our market share.
We also have a competitive advantage since we are not only a part of an international group, but also we are very well versed in the local context as we have been operating in Sudan for decades. This provides us with a unique balance of international experience and know-how, in addition to local knowledge and how to be resilient in the face of local market demands. Due to our well-established presence in the country, we are able to respond quickly to changes in the market, as well as any developments in the political and economic situation of the country. In these ways, we definitely have a competitive advantage!