Moving Leadership Closer to the Business: Establishing an Africa-based CEO

Challenge

Africa is increasingly seen as a critical yet untested component of the growth strategy for global corporations. Many organizations gradually initiate their operations across the continent, often led by senior executives, the activities are managed from an established location outside of the continent for a period of time before setting up an Africa-based leadership team.  Identifying an executive who can effectively join the organization mid-stream, assuming accountability and oversight for the existing operations while setting direction for new opportunities and taking responsibility for sustained growth can be challenging.

ContourGlobal, a developer and operator of electric power and district heating businesses, approached AAG for support in identifying and engaging a Chief Executive Officer for Africa.  ContourGlobal’s business model has four central principles: reaching underserved markets, demonstrating a fuel-agnostic approach, utilizing local resources, and implementing innovative solutions.  The company had developed deep expertise in a wide range of traditional and alternative electricity-generation technologies and was organized to effectively pursue opportunities within its two primary lines of business: an independent power producing (“IPP”) business and a customized energy solutions business (“CG Solutions”).

The company was founded in 2005 by current CEO Joseph Brandt, along with Reservoir Capital Group, a New York-based investment fund. Within less than a decade, ContourGlobal had grown from three employees to a team of over 1500 people across four continents. At the time of our engagement, the company’s portfolio of power generation assets included 31 power plants in 15 countries. The company’s presence in Africa comprised of four operating plants in Africa – one in Togo (independent), another in Senegal (independent), and a further two in Nigeria (Coca Cola Nigeria Bottling Co in Apapa and Benin). Two other projects were under development (KivuWatt Phase 1 and 2 in Rwanda, and the supply for Coca Cola Nigeria Bottling’s operations in Ikeja).

The CEO for Africa would need to have outstanding management skills, an entrepreneurial drive and impeccable connections across the public and private sector in key markets in Africa. The successful candidate would be responsible for:

  • Developing the company’s strategy for growth in Africa, working closely with the Board and CEO
  • Managing full P&L responsibility for the operations in the region
  • Building the project pipeline
  • Overseeing existing operations

Our Approach

Given the dynamic nature of the industry and the complexity of local and global stakeholders involved in each of the projects within the region, we defined a versatile set of competencies and personal qualities to focus the search. These included strategic thinking, adaptability, creative problem-solving, exceptional relationship management, deep resilience, and cultural sensitivity.

We recognized that while knowledge of the power sector would be advantageous, having experience in managing complex financing arrangements and leading cross-functional teams to deliver on a tight schedule were some of the abilities that would translate across sectors.

Solution

Our team identified Cheick-Oumar Sylla who joined ContourGlobal as a member of the Executive Committe and CEO for Africa in September 2014.

Previously, Cheick-Oumar served as the Executive Vice President at the Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector (ICD), Member of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB), where he led the Direct Investment and Financing Department and oversaw existing and new investments in Africa.  Prior to his tenure at IDB, Cheick-Oumar held senior positions in Europe and Africa in the pharmaceutical, real estate and construction sectors.

Cheick-Oumar brought over 30 years of experience leading businesses and teams in high growth industries. A bi-lingual French and English speaker, he was effectively positioned to manage ContourGlobal’s existing operations across Africa.

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