Business showed remarkable resilience

Observer Money (OM): Describe the year 2023 in terms of the business environment?

Sven Thieme, O&L Executive Chairman (ST): In 2023, Namibia’s business environment showed remarkable resilience and growth despite global challenges. Projections indicated that Namibia’s real GDP was expected to grow by approximately three percent, a positive outlook shared by organizations such as the African Development Bank and the World Bank. Key sectors such as agriculture, mining, and tourism played pivotal roles in driving this growth. Investments in irrigation and infrastructure projects injected new life into the agricultural sector, while strong demand for minerals like uranium, gold, and diamonds fuelled expansion in mining. The tourism sector also rebounded following the disruptive impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Bank of Namibia took proactive measures to effectively manage inflation, aiming to keep it below the central bank’s target in the medium term.

However, challenges remained, particularly the persistently high youth unemployment rate, which had the potential to limit consumer spending growth. For O&L, 2023 was a year of achievements and positive developments.

O&L Europe was successfully established, and NBL joined forces with Heineken, marking a new journey for the company. We as O&L partnered with CMB.TECH in the joint venture Cleanergy Solutions Namibia, which commenced construction for Africa’s first public refuelling station equipped with onsite green hydrogen production. Dimension Data Namibia launched its first in-country hosted security platform, earning the title of ‘Best in SADC.’

All our O&L subsidiaries successfully negotiated wage agreements with the respective Workers Unions and our operating companies continued to support community projects as part of our CSR initiatives to support the social development goals.

Furthermore, O&L Leisure invested over N$200 million in revamping the Africa Re-imagined Mokuti Etosha lodge, transforming it into one of Namibia’s premier leisure destinations.

On the renewable energy front, Nexentury received permits to construct Germany’s largest floating photovoltaic solar plant and obtained a 100MW solar plant Generation License and Export License, demonstrating our commitment to renewable energy initiatives and sustainability not only for Namibia but for the world.

Broll Namibia celebrated 20 years of property management excellence, and O&L Fresh collaborated with the Otavi town council to uplift the community and promote farm-to-table food experiences.

Pick n Pay Namibia expanded its footprint by introducing its Windhoek-based Express at Namcor Soweto and launching the Enda Nawa product. Farmers Meat also reopened its abattoir, resuming operations on 3 August 2023.

Overall, 2023 was a year of both challenges and triumphs for O&L, where resilience, innovation, and collaboration continued to shape the company’s journey towards a brighter future.

OM: What was the biggest challenge that O&L faced in 2023?

ST: O&L faced a series of significant challenges in 2023 that tested our resilience and adaptability. The lasting impact of the COVID-19 pandemic cast a shadow over our operations, affecting supply chains, labour markets, and overall business continuity. Supply chain disruptions added complexity, requiring us to adapt to delays in critical resources and components. Economic uncertainty, driven by various global factors, complicated our strategic decision-making. Currency exchange rate fluctuations, inflationary pressures, and market volatility demanded agile financial planning and risk mitigation strategies.

The separation of Namibia Breweries Limited (NBL) marked a pivotal moment in our history. Achieving approvals from competition commissions, navigating negotiations, and adapting to market fluctuations were intricate tasks. Economic pressures, including the devaluation of the South African Rand, further complicated this strategic transition.

Addressing the emotional strain on our workforce, a result of the pandemic’s challenges, became a priority. Recognizing the importance of employee mental well-being was vital to maintaining a resilient and motivated workforce.

Our expansion into new markets and sectors, such as energy, finance, property development, and hospitality, presented opportunities and challenges. Establishing O&L Europe and venturing into renewable energy required careful planning and execution in unfamiliar territories.

The changing dynamics of work, including remote work and evolving preferences for office spaces, necessitated a re-evaluation of our real estate and office management strategies.

Balancing our pursuit of growth with sustainable practices and responsible business strategies remained a central challenge, underscoring our commitment to sustainability goals.

These challenges reinforced the importance of adaptability, resilience, and a proactive approach to managing uncertainty. Our response demonstrated our dedication to fostering a sustainable and inclusive business culture while remaining agile in the face of external disruptions and opportunities for growth.

OM: What is the company looking to achieve in 2024?

ST: In 2024, O&L is embarking on a dynamic journey with a clear focus on strategic objectives. At the core of our mission lies the full implementation of the O&L Persona – an integral part of our organisational DNA that represents authenticity, care, passion, and our commitment to excellence. Financial success remains a pivotal goal for us in the upcoming year. We are determined to achieve the financial targets set for both our individual companies and the broader O&L Group. This stability not only ensures our sustainability but also empowers us to invest in our people, communities, and environmental initiatives.

Our unwavering dedication to the well-being and satisfaction of our employees is paramount. In 2024, we eagerly anticipate conducting our first post-COVID Great Place to Work (GPTW) survey. This assessment will guide us in further enhancing our workplace, creating a vibrant, inclusive, and caring environment.

Adapting to the evolving business landscape following the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are committed to streamlining and right-sizing our businesses. This strategic move allows us to effectively adapt and continue delivering value to our stakeholders.

Business expansion is a key pillar of our 2024 strategy. We actively seek opportunities to acquire new and existing businesses, enabling us to diversify our portfolio and explore innovative avenues for positive impact.

Our commitment to sustainability extends to the development and exploration of new markets for exports and tourism. This strategic focus not only expands our reach but also contributes to the growth and prosperity of the regions we engage with.

In the digital era, we wholeheartedly embrace technological advancements. We aim to enhance operational efficiency, elevate customer, and partner experiences through system automations and digitalization initiatives.

Lastly, our brand remains a cornerstone of our identity. We are dedicated to ongoing brand development, including potential re-positioning efforts, to ensure it remains a true reflection of our values and effectively resonates with our stakeholders.

2024 heralds a year of purposeful action and growth for O&L. These strategic objectives embody our unwavering commitment to our people, partners, and communities. We look forward to sharing our progress and successes as the year unfolds.

OM: What do you see as the possible biggest challenge in 2024?

ST: In 2024, we anticipate that businesses will confront several notable challenges. Inflation and rising costs will continue to haunt the consumer and the increase in producer prices, place a unique burden on both businesses and consumers. This is why it is becoming increasingly important for us as Namibia to become self-sufficient in terms of producing our own food. Supply chain disruption is becoming increasingly common, requiring many businesses to reconfigure their supply chains to meet customer demand. Skilled labor shortages and rising energy costs continue to pose pressing challenges, locally and internationally. The effects of climate change are poised to significantly impact businesses, presenting both challenges and opportunities for those who proactively adapt. The proverbial race to who will become the first to produce green hydrogen and set the bar for cost efficient renewable energy production is on, yet there are so many boxes we as a country need to tick to ensure we can meet supply and demand safely and efficiently. Additionally, leadership development will be critical as we address the evolving business landscape. As leaders we need to ensure we continue to grow not only ourselves, but our people to be able to stay ahead of the challenges. Strategic adaptation is very much needed of all leadership levels for us to ensure effective and efficient management of our workforce and our own output as leaders.

OM: Talk to us about your recent selection as Top International Executive Chairman by IAOTP

ST: I am honoured to have been recognized as the ‘Top International Executive Chairman of the Year’ by the International Association of Top Professionals. This recognition is not only a reflection on me, but also on the entire team of O&L who continuously support my vision for Namibia.

OM: What is your final message for your stakeholders?

ST: Reflecting on our journey through 2023, I extend my heartfelt gratitude for the unwavering support and trust in Ohlthaver & List (O&L). Despite the challenges we faced, we emerged stronger and more resilient than ever. Our collective response to adversity was extraordinary. We showcased adaptability, innovation, and unity, embodying our commitment to our shared purpose and values. Guided by our O&L Persona, which represents our authenticity, caring nature, and unwavering passion, we navigated turbulent waters with determination. The O&L Persona is who we are. It is the personality that every O&L ambassador presents while representing our organization and is a guideline of an excellence mindset, that each person can connect to, call up and step into, to be the best version of ourselves and in so doing, bringing the O&L brand to life at each touch point.

As we approach the new year, let us embrace change as an opportunity for growth and positive transformation. The O&L Persona fosters togetherness and collaboration throughout our organization, serving as our guiding light.

We are catalysts for change, with a vision that extends beyond ourselves to create new realities for Namibia and the world. This vision propels us forward, inspiring us to make a lasting impact on the communities we serve and the industries we operate in.

Together, we have the power to shape a more resilient, inclusive, and sustainable future. Your presence in our journey is a source of strength and inspiration. I eagerly anticipate the exciting opportunities that await us.

Let us carry the essence of the O&L Persona with us, allowing it to permeate every aspect of our work. Together, we will achieve remarkable feats in the spirit of authenticity, care, and passion.

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