Dr. Markus Thill is the President of Bosch Africa and has been responsible for the group’s business in Africa since 2014. Right for Education sat down with him to talk about Bosch’s involvement in Africa, African job opportunities and Bosch’s work to improve the quality of life in Africa.
How did Bosch settle down in Africa?
Bosch started doing business in Africa in 1906. In 1965, Bosch established the company’s first sales subsidiary in Johannesburg, South Africa. Bosch has spread its presence in Africa since then, with now offices, production sites, workshops, and warehouses in 13 countries on the continent. Bosch wants to be present more significantly where its business is active. Today, all four Bosch business sectors, which are Mobility Solutions, Industrial Technology, Consumer Goods, and Energy and Building Technology have operations in Africa. The key to our success in Africa is that we look at Africa as a whole, and tend not to divide the continent into regions like sub-Sahara Africa, North Africa, etc.
Bosch Africa is involved in improving Africa’s overall business. Do you have an example that could give evidence of such action?
We did create many programmes aiming to improve the skill-sets of Africans. Each year, young African talents are selected and receive management training in Germany, promoting a cultural understanding of Bosch’s approach back in Africa. These exchanges are a precious cornerstone of their future career as they become Bosch ambassadors for Africa. Nevertheless, the benefits are mutual since these young managers provide vital information about commercial practices and markets in Africa, which has undoubtedly helped Bosch to overcome some stereotypes of the continent.
I have to admit that I am amazed by the entrepreneurial spirit of many Africans and it is something I do encourage. The substandard infrastructure has led to a bustling start-up industry which has identified issues in Africa from an African point of view. They made it clear that entrepreneurship is a way to bypass certain issues. Last year, Bosch Africa’s mobility competition looked for African Smart Mobility start-ups who are solving mobility issues in Africa. We awarded the winners with a cash prize and a potential opportunity to join a Bosch accelerator programme, boosting up the winners’ work and taking the shape of a possible partnership.
Is there any other involvement of Bosch in Africa?
Bosch plays a pioneering role in climate action. We aim to get rid of all pollution and replace old vehicles with new ones, which will decrease emissions in Africa.
I sense you want to ask me about electric cars. Let me tell you that it is very difficult to develop the electric car market in Africa because of the African climate and humidity, in particular in West Africa, and challenges with electricity infrastructure. Bosch has always tried to find the best way to serve the interest of the African continent. For instance, we opened a new sales and marketing branch in Accra, Ghana. Bosch sees long-term growth potential in Ghana. Our presence in Accra will increase our footprint in Africa and enable us to keep promoting talented young people in sub-Sahara Africa.
What are the main issues in Africa, according to you?
I would definitely say transport and bureaucracy. Land transportation is a huge problem, but also sea transportation takes a massive amount of time (up to 2 or 3 months including customs clearing) to send or receive something from a port or harbour with Europe. Bureaucracy is also a very tedious and inefficient exercise.
How influential is Bosch from getting these issues solved or at least discussed?
We work with governments and many other institutions such as the German Chambers of Commerce in Africa on these issues, but Africa is a complex continent and it will take some time. We also work with the OECD to make bureaucracy more efficient. Progress is there, but comes slowly. We must work all together, and by “we” I mean European actors. Europe has a lot of things in common with Africa, such as key languages (English and French). In today’s reality, Europe is the closest continent to Africa, which is why the EU must take actions to lead to Africa’s expansion and a higher degree of self-sufficiency. When organising the EU-AU Business Forum it is apparent that many African governments are interested in joining the event, which is definitely a step in the right direction! If we all share a joint vision, we can make a difference.