Built on Solid Foundations
PPC Zimbabwe has stood the test of time thanks to dedication from their staff and a consistently high quality product
Writer Matt Bone
Project Manager Ben Wigger
For over 100 years, Portland Holdings Limited T/A PPC Zimbabwe has been manufacturing and distributing the highest quality cement in sub-Saharan Africa. With a product used for home building to stadium construction, roads to mighty dam walls, PPC Zimbabwe has become the largest producer of cement products in the market, boasting a 57% market share and having seen steady growth over the last five years.
For a company that has been a part of the changing face of manufacturing in Zimbabwe for a century to remain successful, even during periods of political and economic uncertainty, there must be a strong belief in the workforce and product. Gavin Stephens, Director of Business Development and Corporate Strategy, puts the success of the company down to 3 key areas: Passion, Product and Persistence. "From the start, we have been committed and passionate about building the company up while also building the country as well. Throughout the years our commitment to making the product as superior as possible has been a core focal point in our business model and we have spent many years perfecting our goods to ensure they are always going to be the first choice for all builders. Finally I think it is the persistence of the company's managers who have steered the company through two World Wars and economic sanctions to ensure that the name PPC will always be around," explains Stephens.
Building for the Future
PPC Zimbabwe has embarked on three significant projects, two of which were to do with the upgrading of the Bulawayo factory and the third will take the form of a new cement mill in Harare. The upgrades to the Bulawayo site have included the installation of a new palletiser, commissioned in March 2014, which is the first of its kind in the country. The new palletiser has been installed with customer service and improved production in mind. The new system will increase production levels, enabling PPC to reduce turnaround times and ship out greater quantities of materials in a shorter space of time. The second installation in the factory is a state of the art bulk loading system, capable of filling 1.5 tonne bags and both rail and road tankers.
The final project will see the breaking of ground on a new multi-million dollar cement mill in the Zimbabwean capital. Construction is due to start at the end of this year with the planned opening being touted for mid-2016. The new cement mill will offer an additional 100 tonne per hour cement capacity to PPC's existing manufacturing capability.
"The new equipment we have installed at our facility in Bulawayo will really enhance our production capabilities. By being able to produce more product, we can then ship our products to more customers each day. As we run 24/7, this will really make a difference to our operations across the board. When our new cement mill becomes operational, we will double our production levels and really begin to flex our manufacturing muscles," highlights Stephens.
Growth During Slowdown
Zimbabwe's markets have been heavily affected by the global recession and when coupled with a falling GDP, stagnation has begun to creep into the industries in the country. However, that said, PPC Zimbabwe has posted strong growth figures over the last five years, although this year has seen weaker growth than the same period in 2013. Despite this slower growth period, September 2014 was an all-time record sales month for PPC Zimbabwe. The months running up to September were the busiest period for the company and are often widely regarded as the peak period in Zimbabwe construction. "With the improved delivery thanks to our new palletiser at the factory, we were able to get more of our products out into the market, meaning a stronger brand presence for the consumer. We also had key marketing campaigns across various mediums which further drove our message across to the customer that PPC is the brand you can always rely on," remarks Stephens.
PPC Zimbabwe has faced a series of further challenges in their sector over the last 18 months. The rising cost of manufacturing in Zimbabwe has hit an all time high, forcing many companies in the country to close their doors permanently. When you couple this with the ongoing currency depreciation in neighbouring countries South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Mozambique against the US Dollar, the buying power of the bordering companies, who account for 15% of PPC's turnover, is greatly reduced. PPC Zimbabwe is acutely aware that these short term impacts are a problem; the medium to long term outlook is much better for the business. "Having seen many companies, both in Zimbabwe and in neighbouring countries downsizing or closing their doors due to the economic situation in Southern Africa, I feel that although it is currently a problem, it will not be this way forever. Over the next three to five years, I am confident we will begin to see an upsurge in the cement manufacturing and construction markets, provided that we can get over the current economic impasse," cites Stephens.
A Housing Backlog
Low income housing in Zimbabwe has become a matter of national importance. There have been a growing number of low income housing projects being created in the country, but not fast enough to keep up with the ever increasing number of families looking for a new home. With urban drift being cited as one of the main reasons, as well as a rise in the average cost of living, PPC Zimbabwe has jumped into the fray and begun looking at ways to help ease the backlog and create a system in order to find a solution. Although there is no magic wand that can fix this problem overnight, Stephens explains how PPC Zimbabwe will work on easing the house shortage: "Low income housing has become a sore point in the country. There are many families who have moved out of the urban areas and into the surrounding areas as they can no longer afford to live in the city. The problem is that there are more people than there are houses available to put them in. We are looking at ways to become a big part of easing the backlog, but it will not be an overnight fix, it will take time, but we are prepared to give the necessary time for the projects."
Training the New Generation
With a smaller talent pool than their neighbours in South Africa, PPC Zimbabwe has placed emphasis on in-house training for all new staff. In conjunction with parent company PPC Ltd, PPC Zimbabwe has brought in university students on placements to give them a feel for what the industry is really like. As well as university students, the company has an apprenticeship scheme that hires more applicants than spaces available in order to educate pupils on the manufacturing sector. Now while this may seem a little odd, Stephens says that it is the perfect way to train up workers for the future of industry: "By bringing in more apprentices than necessary, we are actually giving people relevant training, who upon leaving our scheme will have the necessary skill set and qualifications to enter into the industry as opposed to having to find another way into a job. For every person we train up, it is another chance for them to help shape Zimbabwe's manufacturing industry down the line, because you never know when you might just give a chance to someone who could help revolutionise the sector in a few years."
Moving the Company Forward
With the success seen over the last five years and a record sales month in September, PPC Zimbabwe is looking at transferring this success from year to year. With the new plant coming online in mid-2016, continued investment in the current facilities and a dedicated employee base at the heart of PPC Zimbabwe, the company has all the right tools to ensure it remains a market leading specialist for the next 100 years.