Villas&Golfe Angola
· Agriculture Industry 

· · T. Joana Rebelo · P. Edson Azevedo

Mário Lourenço Ribeiro

«Our ambition is to be one of the key players in our sector»

PMmedia Adv.
He was born in Lisbon, but didn’t stay long in Portugal. Mário Ribeiro has had a unconventional life journey, having emigrated with his parents to Munich when he was only two years old. It was there that he graduated in Economics, the starting point for a prosperous career. The next step was taken in the oil industry, working for 22 years in a subsidiary of ESSO. Later, he decided to venture out into Angola. As a result of life’s meanders, Angola isn’t a permanent fixture in Mário’s life, but somehow, destiny brings him back to the land where he saw C. Woermann established 17 years ago. The current Managing Director of C. Woermann Angola Lda. joins V&G Industry in a conversation covering experiences, facts and perspectives.

Tell us a little about yourself, Mário. 
I was born in Portugal, in the capital, and when I was two years old my parents decided to emigrate to Germany. It was in Munich that I started my school career, ending with the degree that gave me the title of economist, at the Munich Academy of Management and Economics. My first working experience was gained in the oil sector. I worked for 22 years in a subsidiary of ESSO, where my responsibilities included the role of CFO for the last eight years I was there. After that, I accepted a challenge abroad for the first time and went to Angola, to a German company (GAUFF Engineering), assuming the position of CFO and later becoming Managing Director. Unfortunately, for private reasons, I left my position to be near my family in Germany. During that period, I founded the German subsidiary of the Portuguese MCA Group and managed it for five years. Since 2018 I have been back in Angola, taking on a new challenge now, in a completely different area from what I had done so far. The C. WOERMANN Group was founded in 1837 in Hamburg, where to this day the Woermann family, together with the Kuppe family, coexist as partners in the organisation. It is a trading company which, as early as the 19th century, was dedicated to the African continent as its primary market. 

More than 17 years ago, C. Woermann saw an opportunity to establish itself in Angola. What were the decisive factors that led it to establish itself in the country?
The C. Woermann Group has always looked at the African continent as a very interesting market with great potential. We know Africa, all its opportunities and challenges, and of course we continue to look for new business opportunities, as well as countries that fit the group’s portfolio and vision. Angola had already caught our attention long before the end of the war, in 2002. It was only a matter of time before we made the decision to set up in this country and the company C. Woermann Angola Lda. was founded in 2005. 

At that time, the group already had extensive experience in Ghana and Nigeria. Did this experience, in some way or another allow for a better adaptation to the Angolan country?
Of course; it’s an advantage. However, each country is different and has its own peculiarities, which means it is very important to know the difference between markets in order to be successful. As a trading company, we are, above all else, one among many others, so it is important to know how to choose the right sectors, through which we can contribute with our know-how and our products. In Angola, we initially focused on civil construction and supported the boom at the time with imports of high quality machinery and other equipment. Later, when construction almost stopped, we had to adapt to the new situation the market was facing and look for other business areas. It is very important for a commercial house such as ours to recognise the needs of the markets in good time so that we can adapt to them. Today we are strong and focused on agriculture, so we supply our products and services to most of the main national farmers.

What are the values and mission of the company?
Our values and mission are the same, for all the markets in which we operate. We want to be a driver of the local economy with our know-how and services. We want to supply high-quality products at an appropriate price to local production and processing industries, while at the same time contribute to sustainable development. The creation of new jobs, which we fill for the most part with qualified national specialists, is also an important factor for the company. With the support of the C. Woermann family foundation, of the German parent company, we offer our employees the opportunity to further their education in various specialist fields. After completing their training, we guarantee them a job in the company. Our employees are our capital; they are the ones who provide the face of the company in front of the customer. 

Describe the daily activity of a C. Woermann employee.
At C. Woermann we have several departments, where the work processes are specified. Besides accounting and an import and logistics department, we have the sales and technical service department. Our technicians go to the customers to carry out repairs and maintenance services on large machines. Of course, we also have a specialised workshop on our premises, where customers can hand in their small devices (drills, chain saws or brush cutters) for repair and maintenance. We are proud of the fact that over the years we have trained a large number of our staff, who are 100% national. We try to keep the quality standard as high as possible, with annual training courses. 

«We want to be a driver of the local economy»
How would you define the core business of the company?
Over the last four years, we have built a reputation around the agricultural sector: that of offering innovative and reliable products. We can also point to a number of completed agricultural projects, although we always have to be flexible, looking at other sectors of the market. With exclusive representation of some top brands, such as STIHL, SAME, LIQUI-MOLY and JOST, we act as a reliable trading company that imports and sells high-quality products to the Angolan market, offering after-sales services above the norm.  

C. Woermann Angola has vast experience in scaling, configuring and accomplishing systems for industrial customers. Is technology therefore a tool that goes hand in hand with the company?
Yes. In fact, technical development in individual product areas is crucial for us as a wholesaler. We must always keep abreast of developments, so as not to miss out on technical innovations in the various sectors in which we operate, without ever losing sight of the markets we are in. It is our duty to advise our customers, according to their intentions and needs. For example, it would be counterproductive to advise a newer machine of advanced technology if we did not ensure that they could use it in a sensible way. The problem usually starts with complex handling, which can end durability if there is no in-depth knowledge by the users. We should also not forget the extreme conditions to which these products are sometimes exposed. Often, the mechanical and simple product becomes the best solution, instead of the electronic and sensitive device. It is these details that lead many manufacturers to develop their own line of products for the African continent, thus ensuring that their products correspond to the quality requirements, even under extreme conditions.

Along the way, has the team been forced to make adjustments in the areas in which it operates?
Yes, this is inevitable and not unusual. When we enter new markets, we already have a clear vision of the market needs and the target group. But we must not forget that we live in a fast-paced and fast-consuming society. What is in demand today, may already be outdated tomorrow and may fail. Obviously, this does not apply to all products, but we must always be on the lookout in order to adapt quickly to the market situation, as well as to the needs and wishes of the customers. Whoever does not do this, will in the short/medium term face difficulties in remaining in the market. Indeed, this applies not only to products, but also to services. 

Is C. Woermann Angola already heading towards market leadership?
We know how difficult it is to get to the top and, even more difficult, to stay there. I would be lying if I said that we do not have the ambition to be one of the major players in our sector, but there is still a long way to go. We have been in Angola for over 17 years. We have gone through some ups and downs. Beginning with the financial crisis and ending with the COVID-19 pandemic, we have had to make it through some very complicated moments. Thanks to forward planning and a clear vision from our partners, we managed to get through those difficult times and even to grow continuously. We have had to adapt the company structure to the circumstances and adjust to the new market environment. From our point of view, the year 2023 has started very dynamically. We are very optimistic. The country and the current government still have plenty of challenges ahead of them, which will also depend on many economic factors. We are ready to take on our share of this challenge.

«The market [...] is saturated and cheap products from China are part of the new situation»
What makes a company a national benchmark?
Satisfied customers and a sustainable and future-oriented company policy. Those are the two main factors for me.  

How does the company contribute to the sustainable development and growth of the country?
As I mentioned, we were able to experience and accompany the boom in civil construction in Angola. At that time, our core business was the supply of machinery for civil construction and the energy sector. Between 2006 and 2013, we supplied hundreds of generators for public buildings, such as hospitals, schools and other institutions. In 2009, we ensured the power supply for FILDA, with our generators. We also supported the construction industry with specialised machines. Faced with the slowdown of the construction boom, we had to adapt and open new business areas. With the new focus on agriculture, we dedicate ourselves to a very important sector for this country. We want to contribute to the necessary development of this sector of the Angolan economy, in a sustainable way.   

Are there still "golden times” in Angola?
Unfortunately, those times have been over for many years and I do not think they will return in the same way. The market situation has changed completely over the last ten years. Before, it was only a distribution market, today, the product has to be sold to the customer, due to increased competition and excess supply. Ten years ago, price was not the main purchasing factor. The focus was on quick availability, for which customers paid well, with exceptional margins. Those days are over. The market in some areas is saturated and cheap products from China are part of the new situation. Purchasing power in the country has dropped significantly, bringing back attractively priced products from cheap manufacturers. Of course, there are still customers who appreciate and seek quality, but unfortunately there are fewer and fewer who can or want to pay for it. For a trading house such as Woermann, whose core business is selling premium brands, it is a challenge to find the middle ground. 

What are the greatest obstacles to the country’s development at the moment, on an economic and social level?
The country and the government still have challenging tasks to solve. From an economic point of view, Angola needs to get rid of the high dependence on the oil industry as soon as possible. The need to diversify the economy has been talked about for a long time, but in practice we have yet to see the impact of the measures taken by the government. The greatest social problem, and this is very visible in one of the youngest populations in the world, is education and training. There is a lack of school institutions and teachers, and even if there is the opportunity to graduate from school and have a diploma, you will not find a suitable job. The unemployment rate is over 35%, and the number of unreported cases is higher. This situation must be improved, urgently. Above all else, the young population needs a vision, a light at the end of the tunnel, so that they do not lose heart or give up completely. They are the future of Angola!
T. Joana Rebelo
P. Edson Azevedo