Before regular contacts with local customers, Christian Schmid admits to seeing Africa only as a distant, hot and exotic continent. After 13 years of doing business in Africa he has certainly developed an appreciation for the spirit and atmosphere of the region.
Schmid loves his intercultural job and intense relationship with the African continent. He works as Sales Director, in charge of soup cube sales in West and East Africa, among other regions.
“Dealing with our African customers takes up at least 80 percent of my time, and on average I travel to Africa once or even twice a month. All in all, I’m travelling for around ten working days every month,” Christian says.
“When you are in contact with such different mentalities, cultures and religions, it’s not always easy, but I have found the African people and our contacts to be lovely, warm and extremely friendly. Also, you have to remember that when you’re in temperatures of over 40 degrees and with a humidity level of even 100 percent, you have to sometimes adapt to a different daily rhythm and level of efficiency.”
Working in teams works best
Christian has played a central role in building the soup cube business into a global success story for Huhtamaki.
When visiting the African continent, he usually travels together with his colleague from the technical department, Thomas Klaus. The two men met each other already as teenagers. Like Christian, Thomas has also worked at Huhtamaki’s Ronsberg site for over 30 years.
“We have a very strong team, and I’m in close contact with my team colleagues in sales, supply chain, R&D and engineering. When travelling with Thomas, I take care of the commercial side, financials and logistics, and Thomas visits the line operators in the factories. We work really well as a team, Christian says.
According to Christian, security is another reason for always travelling as a twosome. Careful preparation of the business trips is key to a safe and successful visit. Travel restrictions and warnings are often in place for many African locations.
“For example in Nigeria – which is also the country with the highest population and largest market volume for us – we always have security guards with us during transport between the airport and hotels, and on factory visits. Besides taking into account possible attacks and other disturbances, a lot of preparation is also needed with setting up travel visas, vaccinations and such. Another example of a serious crisis situation affecting normal business was of course also the Ebola virus outbreak.”
“Another thing to take into account are occasional cases of attempted bribery when dealing with some smaller players. Of course in these situations our strict Code of Conduct comes into play and makes it easy to dismiss such attempts.”
After all this, Christian still has a very positive outlook on life.
“The key to working in this area is to have a local network and to know the right people, for example, from the embassies and hotels in order to secure a safe stay in the specific country.”