The Zambian company putting community first
“My father established the company back in 1976,” says Leroy Gomes, Managing Director. “I have been watching the business steadily grow since I was a boy, starting with a very small fleet and now we have close to 100 trucks and 750 employees.”
Gomes Haulage is a family-run business with a workforce made entirely from local Zambians, a fact that is a constant source of pride for the management team. As the business has developed and grown to have a more corporate set-up, this over-riding sentiment of family hasn’t been lost and still permeates every level from management down to the labour on the ground.
“We are an extremely close family and interact on a daily basis,” explains Gomes. “We have very open channels of communication; no-one is restricted from discussing problems and solutions with the management team. Everyone respects that ethos so that when we commit as a company, we commit wholeheartedly, we make sure that we see projects through from start to finish.”
This family spirit can be clearly seen in the company’s interaction with local communities, such as its growing participation in local sporting events. Currently it fully sponsors a semi-professional football team as well as a number of smaller leagues, with most employees (regardless of pay-grade) being involved in games every night after a hard day’s work.
“In recent times we have collaborated with communities to offer them our expertise and labour,” Gomes says. “One community provided all of the materials for a church which we built for them, another project was a local school, which we donated an entire classroom block for, and presently we are constructing an orphanage, in this instance providing not just the labour but most of the materials as well.”
This sense of community and family spirit has been a key factor in creating one of the business’ true strengths, a workforce totally dedicated to the betterment of Gomes Haulage.
“Our workforce is so motivated and the standards they are setting are so high that it has allowed us to really outperform a lot of our competitors,” Gomes states. “Sometimes they may fall short on skills and experience, such as in technical knowledge or computing, but they make up for it with the effort they put in on the ground.”
A shortage in skills and knowledge has been challenging for the company in the past, but rather than accept the situation, it has plans in motion to rectify the problem.
“Our new Finance Director is an Ivy-League MBA with a lot of valuable business exposure across Africa,” Gomes enthuses. “He has brought with him a range of alternative strategies and has been a very positive influence in reshaping the company. Through him we have started a variety of internal initiatives to increase our employees’ skills and offer them more opportunities. This doesn’t just apply to the labourers; we have programmes for management as well, such as driving home the importance of data-collection and analysing the findings to influence future decision-making.”
The company has business interests across nearly every industry Zambia has to offer, from haulage where the business started, to construction, equipment-hire, mining and more recently agriculture.
“In regards to haulage, we deal a lot with the sulphuric acid used in the country’s copper mines,” says Gomes. “Part of our core business is transporting the majority of acid from the Mopani copper mine, part of the Glencoe Group Zambia, to Mutanda, part of the Glencoe Group Congo.
On the construction side, we work with the Chinese a great deal especially the CNMC (Chinese Non-Ferrous Metal Corporation), who we build a lot of asphalt roads for. We have also completed a number of contracts for the Zambian government, mostly civil works such as roads and dams, and now we are even starting to move into structural construction.”
Continual growth has always played an important role in the development of Gomes Haulage, a fact recognised by the creation of the Business Development Team.
“Every year the managers will sit down with the BDT and discuss what potential investments could prove lucrative for the company,” describes Gomes. “Recent acquisitions include a number of mining concessions around the country, a crusher plant, a new asphalt plant and a fishing operation, which is obviously very different to our core businesses, but is so far proving to have great potential.”
Technology has become increasingly crucial to the continued survival of the company, though thankfully Zambia appears to be “ideally situated” to take advantage of the shifting tides, says Gomes.
“Zambia is very much a developing country, industrially as well as technologically, and we are actually quite privileged to have some of the most state-of-the-art computers in the surrounding area. Cell phone coverage has also become a lot faster recently, as well as becoming more reliable as it has been significantly extended.”
Cell phone coverage plays an important part in the security side of the transport business, with thefts in the region a persistent threat. To aid in combating this danger trucks in the fleet are fitted with mounted control systems to monitor the level of fuel in the tank, as well as satellite navigation units to keep track of every trucks location.
“Our Finance Director, being so much more exposed to IT in his previous positions, has really dragged our systems into the modern age,” admits Gomes. “All of our processes and equipment have become computerised, we use Google Docs constantly now for live updates across our various sites within the country and we have even set up a dedicated IT department.”
The goals for the future look to take advantage of the many opportunities Zambia has to offer, diversifying the company’s portfolio accordingly, with the overall aim of increasing annual revenue to USD100million over the next 3-4 years.
“Over the next two years we are certainly going to try and move more into mining and agriculture,” explains Gomes. “We are currently expanding our fleet of trucks by 40, 30 will be acid-trailers for our core business and 10 will be site-trailers to complement our pressure plant set-up. I would like to see the fleet up to 180 and permanent employees up to 1,000 by 2015 at the latest.”
As has become expected of the benevolent company, future ambitions are as much about the family that call it home, as for the business itself.
“One thing I would hope to see continue is the improved policies for our employees,” Gomes concludes. “There has been a trend in the past for companies in Zambia to really exploit their workforce and we are working hard to turn this situation around. So far we have developed better employee facilities, more rewarding pension schemes, better social benefits and better medical care, and I would love to see these fully integrated over the next two years for both new and existing employees.”