A NEW GLOBAL CEO SURVEY RELEASED BY PricewaterhouseCoopers in mid-March says that CEOs are voicing record levels of optimism in the global economic recovery.
It’s a sentiment Mohammed Akoojee, the Group Chief Executive Officer of Imperial Logistics, a company listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, conveyed in an interview with FORBES AFRICA in February, on the opportunities and optimism in a crisis-ridden world.
The world Akoojee inhabits is that of logistics and global supply chains that were disrupted when the pandemic hit in 2020, but then, he says: “This has definitely been an opportunity to reinvent ourselves.”
Imperial, a global logistics company focusing on areas such as healthcare, automotive, chemicals and commodities among others, provides services in about 20 markets across the African continent, and aims to take its clients and products “to some of the world’s fastestgrowing and most challenging markets”.
“If you look at the activities we do in the logistics supply chain, we do everything from transport, warehousing, right through to sales and marketing and demand generation on a product to an end market across Africa,” says Akoojee.
Having assumed his current role at the age of 40 in February 2019, Akoojee says 2020 was not easy, especially referring to some of the industries that took the brunt of the pandemic.
“July and August were challenging because, you know, the liquor and tobacco industries were still restricted and we could not trade them,” Akoojee says.
“Clients have battled with [the] impact [of the] supply chains on their businesses which means our services are needed even more. Especially because a lot of companies that have been manufacturing or have been importing have had to rethink their supply chains based on what the pandemic has done.”
Akoojee states that the logistics sector had no choice but to quickly recover from that shortfall.
“It’s been a six-month period for us in this financial year of ‘stopstart’,” he explains. “We would just start getting momentum and then there is a hard lockdown. It does make life challenging, particularly in logistics, because [in] supply chain disruptions, the stop-start type of thing has got massive implications on manufacturing.”
Born in the small commercial town of Zeerust in South Africa’s North West province, from a young age, Akoojee says he grew up feeling prepared that “things happen to you without you knowing them”.
Recalling his humble beginnings as “typical of a young Indian boy growing up”, Akoojee chuckles as he says: “I did not know 100% where life would take me but knew that if I educated myself in the field of accounting and business, it would open opportunities for me.”
Akojee has been with Imperial for 11 years.
“I’ve had various roles in the organization, from an M&A executive to running a big part of Imperial in Africa to becoming the group CFO to being involved with unbundling of our motor interests, and then becoming the CEO two years ago. It’s been a journey. But it’s been an incredible one and my journey is not done here.”
Akoojee believes that the group has a strong market positioning in Africa.
Although the hardest hit in Africa was South Africa, Akoojee is happy to report that business was not as bad in East and West Africa. In fact, it’s not all bad news.
“I am positive because our business is in good shape. You know, despite us going backward on profits, we are winning a lot of new business. We have seen good top-line momentum in our commercial function, and our pipeline of opportunities is significant.”
Akoojee’s confidence also seems to be driven by his passion for Africa.
“We have identified Africa as a massive logistics opportunity. We’ve got a strong network footprint. And why are we excited about the logistics industry in Africa is due to the lack of infrastructure. But the fact that there are so many people on the continent; our services, and the type of logistics we do, talk to that.”
How does he manage to see opportunity in adversity?
“I always look at the glass half full rather than half empty… you can look at this crisis as either a massive setback or an opportunity,” Akoojee says. “You’re going to have setbacks in life, you’re going to have things that go wrong. And for me, it’s how you react to those things. For me, the key to a successful company, a successful person in all aspects, is how you react to failure.”