WINDHOEK - Namibian Ports Authority, Namport, chief executive, Bisey /Uirab, has been in charge at what is arguably the best performing parastatal since April 2009. /Uirab, whose two five-year terms at Namport is scheduled to end in April this year, was recently praised by the Namport board of directors for his exceptional leadership. A statement by Namport board chairman, Gerson Hinda, read; “It is with great pride that we reflect on a successful ten years during which Mr /Uirab diligently steered the authority from a fairly medium-sized public enterprise into the regionally acclaimed logistics and maritime industry leader which it has transformed into.”
In addition, /Uirab has been praised by both the public and private sectors, including former president Hifikepunye Pohamba, for his exemplary leadership.
Some of his major milestones while at the Namport helm include the development and implementation of a five-year strategic plan focusing on infrastructure development and the logistics sector, increasing Namport’s revenue generation from N$434 million in 2008 to N$1 billion in 2018, and increasing cargo handled
This week New Era’s Senior Reporter for Business and Economics, Edgar Brandt (EB), sat down with /Uirab (BU) to discuss Namport’s performance, his challenges while at the helm and any possible plans once his term at the authority end.
EB: How would you describe Namport’s state of affairs when you took over the helm in April 2009?
BU: I am happy to report that when I took over the reigns at Namport in 2009, the company was in a stable and healthy state. I am grateful to my predecessors for the stunning work they have done in laying a stable foundation upon which I had to continue to build the company. The company was making good profits, and was well-managed.
EB: How would you describe the authority’s current state of affairs and what are the major factors you attribute to its current status as one of the most successful parastatals in the country?
BU: Namport is currently in a good space. The company has a clear strategy and understands its mandate as it relates to the country’s national transport policy, the country’s commitment to becoming a logistics hub for Sadc and also its role in contributing towards interregional trade. We have a clear strategy that is informed by our Vision 2030, the National Development Plans and the Harambee Prosperity Plan. The company is profitable, it has a strong brand presence in the Namibian market, and also beyond Namibia’s borders.
We have a forward-looking leadership team at both the board and executive management level, which is flexible and can quickly adapt to a changing business environment, they are supported by an able and hardworking workforce. Our customers also play a very important role – their energy and dedication to driving business for our ports definitely contributes to the success of Namport.
EB: What are some of the most notable challenges you and your team have faced since you assumed the duties as Namport CEO?
BU: Although I will not refer to them as challenges, the following, amongst others got us to think deep and devise more innovative ways to address them:
We had to devise innovative ways to increase the market share of Namport in the broader Sadc Region. Namibia is a small economy, and only about 20 percent of total Namport volumes either originate or terminate in the Namibian market. The rest comes from neighbouring countries, and these countries have the option to use other ports like Durban, Dar Es Salaam, Beira etc, which have been their natural ports over centuries.
It was quite a challenge to get all key stakeholders on board to appreciate the need to undertake the new container terminal project with a futuristic view to ensure that Namport is ready to handle huge volumes of cargo in the coming 20-50 years.
At times, we had to deal with labour issues, which is normal for the type of an industry that we operate in. It was always a pleasure to engage with the social partners, I must say.
A port is only as successful as the economic activity in its catchment area. The current depressed economic climate in our country and the region has had some adverse effects on our operations. Despite that, our revenues continued to grow year on year.
EB: What are some of your other noteworthy accomplishments while CEO of Namport?
BU: The construction of the container terminal has been the single biggest accomplishment of my term at Namport. With Namibia being a coastal state, its ports are critical components of the Namibia logistics hub, but to be competitive, they need to evolve and be in line with trends in the ports. There are ports around us competing for the same hinterland business as Namport and these ports are expanding, developing, and in some case, new ports are being birthed. With the increasing larger size vessels pressing to call at southern African ports, we as Namport are being pressed to accommodate such vessels. Port land is a precious commodity and we reclaimed land so that our Port of Walvis Bay can create much-needed container handling space. When the current container terminal moves to its new site, it will free up valuable deep depth quay space to accommodate larger bulk and multi-purpose vessels.
I am happy that together with my colleagues, we have raised the profile of brand Namport, to the levels where Namport is today recognised as one of the most successful public enterprises in Namibia, and also as one of the most important ports in Sadc region.
We have broadened our footprint, together with the Walvis Bay Corridor Group, by establishing offices in the DRC, Zambia, South Africa, and Brazil. We have also recently been offered and accepted office space in Bremen, Germany.
We managed to divert thousands of tons of of cargo volumes from the neighbouring ports to come through the Port of Walvis Bay, specifically. You may know that until around 2006, there was virtually no cargo flow between Walvis Bay and Zambia. Today, that scenario has changed significantly, for the better.
Namport’s balance sheet has grown from around N$2 billion to over N$7 billion during the period.
We trained many Namibians in the maritime field across all levels, up to Master’s degree level. In fact, one young Namibian is expected to graduate with a PhD in maritime studies later this year from the University of Cape Town. I am very proud of this achievement of growing talent amongst our young Namibians.
EB: What are some of the factors that today make Namport an industry leader in the regional logistics maritime industry?
BU: We have a clear strategy. Our strategy talks to the national and the Sadc agenda. We have always had a supportive and strong successive Board of Directors over the years. We have a dedicated workforce that is committed to the company’s vision. Our leadership is visionary and agile and we have customers who are committed to our port and growing trade. Our stakeholder strategy is robust, and we ensure that all stakeholders are kept in the loop on our strategies and activities. We understand that we have a role to serve in Namibia and we take that mandate very seriously. We have clear governance structures and adhere thereto in a conscious way.
EB: What are some of the areas where you would like to see more improvement at Namport?
BU: I would like to see more capacity building of employees and growth in the volumes through both ports. We need to use technology more to drive efficiencies and productivity and a better coordinated approach amongst all key players in the blue economy/ocean economy space is needed to ensure synergies are well exploited.
EB: If, hypothetically speaking, you were reappointed for another five years, where would you like to see Namport by the year 2023?
BU: I will do more of what I have been doing over the past 10 years….but will spend more time in building capacity of our young Namibians. I would also ensure the Port of Walvis Bay north port area is filled with thriving port businesses. Manganese exports should grow by double through the Port of Lüderitz as well as grape exports also through the Port of Lüderitz. I would like to see the new formal Walvis Bay Waterfront and Marina commissioned and increased passenger vessels calls to our ports.
I would also like to see the development of a deep-water port area in Luderitz approved by the shareholder and the entrance channel to the Port of Walvis Bay south port dredged to accommodate larger vessels.
In addition, I also want to see closer collaboration amongst key stakeholders in the ocean economy…these being in the areas of fishing, marine mining, sea transport, sea tourism etc.
EB: What does it take, as a CEO, to successfully run a massive operation such as Namport?
BU: One needs a supportive team. A team that understands and supports your vision. Family support is crucial. I have had loads of that from my family.
Moreover, accountability, performance management, and continuous improvement focus. Never become too comfortable – re-invent the organisation and its people. A CEO also needs to drive the achievement of service level expectations of customers, keep your promise - to your customer, to your shareholder, to your employees, and to the community and keep abreast of developments and trends [business intelligence] and adapt quickly.
Emphasis must be placed on excellence in financial and risk management while it is also important to align with national strategies and visions.
Then, humility, focus in your tasks and clarity of purpose are key.
EB: Since the Namport board has commenced with the recruitment process of the new CEO, what qualities do you believe the new CEO should definitely possess to continue with your success?
BU: Most importantly I think the CEO should:
Have a passion for the spirit of a public enterprise contributing to not only economic growth in Namibia but also has a social responsibility, have a global business outlook – see how his/her decisions impact the bigger picture and vice versa, be agile, decisive, and think on your feet, think outside the box, have the ability to connect to people and understand their culture at any level, appreciate the value of the customer, have a deep understanding of the socio-economic environment in Namibia, be committed to social upliftment of communities and, be forward looking with a clear vision for Namport.
EB: What are the possible professional options you are considering once your term as Namport CEO comes to an end?
BU: Let us cross the bridge when the time comes on that one. All I can say is that I am very much around.