Business Profiles

CSI Electrical: Achieving engineering excellence, the right way

In a world where even the world’s traditional great power nations teeter nervously on the edge of the macroeconomic precipice, the East African region has stood out as one of the few economic good news stories of recent years.

The statistics don’t lie, and the logic is sound; countries like Tanzania, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Uganda from this resource rich part of the world are showing promising signs that are finally about to realise their quite staggering potential, and the rampant year-on-year economic growth figures of the past decade back this notion up.

In particular, Tanzania’s buoyant economy has fostered the growth of a hugely lucrative construction and engineering sector, as the country races to build the infrastructure, utilities, and urban centres needed to power Tanzania’s drive towards a more prosperous future for its people as a middle-income country by 2025.

Thanks to its hard-work and dedication to delivering excellence, CSI Electrical has built a reputation as one of the best electrical engineering contractors in the East African region in less than a decade.
Endeavour had the pleasure to speak to company Managing Director, Chris Glasson about this once-humble start-up’s rise to the top of the industry.

The African continent has, until recently, been the world’s forgotten continent in many respects, but no longer. With many areas of Sub-Saharan Africa now posting growth rates far in excess of what the developed world, and even China, for that matter, have achieved of late, the smart money is rightfully placing its chips on Africa being the next big thing.

Thanks to political and economic reform, and astute, stable leadership from a new wave of political leaders committed to stamping out corruption and cronyism, for the most part, the booming economy of the East African region in particular has enjoyed a period of sustained rapid growth going back a decade.

Just 15-years on from its decision to turn towards a more free-market economic system, Tanzania – with its year-on-year average GDP growth rates of 7% – has undergone a promising process of transformation. Perhaps one not as overtly visible as the transformations seen in the now glittering cities along the coastlines of south-east Asia or the GCC, granted, but subtle and yet significant all the same. Under the present leadership of President Dr. John Pombe Magufuli, widespread changes are being made to the Tanzanian public sector that have permeated through the very fabric of the country. The new-found positivity and stability these changes have brought about has acted as a catalyst for the emergence of the thriving, confident business culture the country has long been crying out for – one which in time will act as the economic engine needed to start lifting millions of Tanzanians out of poverty. These are exciting times for Tanzania, and for companies like CSI Electrical, the Tanzanian landscape, and that of the surrounding region, is one laden with riches and opportunity.

Today, CSI Electrical, based out of its headquarters in Dar es Salaam, is one of East Africa’s leading electrical engineering and contracting service providers. As you’d expect of a company with a seat at the regional industry’s top table, CSI Electrical has proved itself capable of completing electrical installations for more challenging high-specification industrial, power and commercial installations for a diverse range of clients across all sectors to internationally accredited standards – credentials that are evidenced by the company’s acquisition of its ISO 9001, OHSAS 18001 certifications, with a view to also gaining its ISO 14001 during Q2 2017.

“Our core business activities include electrical installations across the entire engineering sector, including airports, hotels, diplomatic missions, and other commercial projects where the highest quality of finish is not only expected but required. Additionally, we have significant proven capability for projects in the extractive industries, manufacturing sector, power transmission, generation, and distribution sectors.

CSI’s customers are for the most part international organisations, including power developers, EPC contractors, and mining companies. Our partners, such as Vemma Attorneys, are very important to us, and we’ve forged strong relationships within the local construction sector, and worked with many fellow local businesses on strategic construction projects within Tanzania.”

Like the administrations of many of its neighbours, Tanzania’s government has invested heavily over the past 5-years in necessary but costly large-scale power, construction, and infrastructure development projects – the foundations upon which a prosperous, outward-looking Tanzania of the future will be built. Tanzania, whilst still a country where millions remain trapped in poverty, is undoubtedly a country on the up. Rome wasn’t built in a day, of course, and even the Chinese miracle has taken some 30-years to achieve what it now has; there is little reason to believe Tanzania can’t also achieve proportionately similarly developmental strides over the decades to come.

In some respects, it could be said the rise of CSI Electrical has followed a parallel path of sorts to the one trodden by its home country. The story behind the success of CSI Electrical is a genuinely inspirational one. Having begun life as a humble business start-up with limited resources but blue sky ambition, CSI Electrical has come a long way in the 9-years since it was awarded its first project on the Buzwagi Goldmine in 2007. Chris Glasson, now Managing Director and Shareholder of CSI Electrical, reminisced:

“I performed the role of Project Supervisor for our works, but being the business’s first employee meant my role encompassed every element required to establish operating processes, implement and improve activities, and ensure success of the project.”

When you’re a senior member of a small but gifted young company with a reputation to build like CSI Electrical was in its early days, there is no job that isn’t on your job description; you have to get your hands dirty, and go above and beyond to deliver a quality service beyond the expectations of the client. Over time as the business expanded, CSI Electrical brought in ever more new talent which allowed Chris to move upstairs, so to speak, into a more conventional strategic leadership role, but what became clear over the course of our interview was that, in spite of CSI Electrical’s rise from plucky contender to the industry big-hitter it is today, neither man nor company has lost sight of the values, vision, nor passion that made the business what it is.

Chris, like the company he runs, is humble, but also entirely confident in the expertise and capabilities of the company he has helped nurture since its inception; one that now has a pan-African profile and operational capacity, with regional offices in Rwanda, Mozambique, Uganda, and Mauritius, and a star-studded list of international clients and partners, including Accacia Mining, Ashanti Geita Goldmines, BAM International, Hyosung, Mitsubishi Corporation, and Schlumberger, to name but a few.

Certainly, CSI Electrical has come on leaps and bounds in 9-short years, and the key to its ascent, aside from its professionalism and vigour, is down to an empowering and inspirational culture of self-improvement which courses through the very veins of the company. Whilst it would perhaps be justified in doing so, to an extent, CSI Electrical hasn’t rested on the laurels of its achievements; rather, it has instead been spurred on, and used them as a springboard from which to strive for further expansion.

On this, Chris said: “At CSI, we see every challenge, obstacle, and threat as an opportunity to improve; to re-strategise and increase the value proposition of the business. We focus on continual improvement to strengthen our policies, processes, systems, and personnel to ensure successful participation in the sector at the highest level. Whilst we acknowledge the challenges presented by a lack of technological resources, developing infrastructure systems and limited availability of skilled manpower, our ability to overcome these effectively is one of the key differentiators of our business.”

So often in business you hear senior management and executives make such similar claims, but, in the case of CSI Electrical, Chris and the company that he leads practice what they preach. A company simply doesn’t grow from market entrant to a regional industry title contender in such a short timeframe without effective, inspiring leadership and good corporate governance. It’s inconceivable. Achieving growth and profitability is crucial for the business; that much goes without saying, but perhaps what sets CSI Electrical apart from its rivals is that it is no less dedicated to doing the right thing, and through its unbending dedication to going about its business ethically and having a sustainable, positive impact upon the communities it serves.

This truly genuine commitment to being a socially responsible business entity also manifests itself in CSI Electrical’s attitude toward its workforce. The company’s culture of self-improvement is complimented by a no-less important commitment to the self-actualisation of its employees. Happy, motivated, empowered staff, as any leader worthy of his title knows, can be the difference between success and failure; excellence and mediocrity, and from a hard-nosed business angle keeping your workforce happy can inspire them to achieve productivity and results beyond what you’d thought was possible. But more than this, Chris is simply of the opinion that staff should be treated well and looked after because it would be improper not to.

“Our human resource is our greatest asset, without question. Indeed, without our staff, no matter how great the business is, it will not succeed. CSI Electrical has a fluctuating staff count depending on the commencement and completion of projects. Our average staff-count at this stage is close to 200, though we expect this to rise to 400 as we move into 2017.

We recognise the value in investing in our workforce development and have strong staff training development programs utilising both internal and external resources. CSI develops amongst other things a core health and safety competency throughout the workforce, providing staff with the internationally accredited International Health & Safety Passport. Training opportunities are made available to all staff and individual development plans are part of the business performance evaluation process that also aims to align employee’s personal ethical values to those which contribute to the success of CSI.”

In terms of major contracts that the company has been awarded, CSI Electrical is predictably busy. As before mentioned, these are heady times for Tanzania and there are a great number of lucrative projects up for grabs for the companies with the know-how and capabilities to take them on.

When asked about this subject, Chris revealed: “One such project CSI has recently been awarded is its largest single contract by value, the electro-mechanical erection of the Kinyerezi II 240MW Combined Cycle Gas Power Plant for Toshiba Plant Systems and Services Corporation. CSI is extremely honoured to be entrusted with this project by TPSC as the project is of strategic importance to the development of Tanzania and facilitating wider access to electricity. This project is the first Combined Cycle Power Plant to be built in Tanzania and is one of several planned by the power utility TANESCO over the next few years.
Additionally, CSI is currently in final negotiations with international clients for projects in Ghana, Rwanda and Zambia.”

Not that CSI Electrical’s current client commitments stop there. Whilst the Toshiba Plant Systems project is its most lucrative contract yet, CSI Electrical’s role in the construction of the colossal Julius Nyerere International Airport (JNIA) Terminal 3 project is undoubtedly the company’s most significant.

The construction of the new JNIA main terminal building, which will provide capacity for 6 million annual passengers, including parking lots, access roads, platforms and taxiway, is a vast undertaking which will test CSI’s capabilities to the limit.

Phase 1 of the project, which it is working on with Main Contractor BAM International, will result in the construction of the main terminal building – capable of taking 3.5 million annual passengers – and its aesthetically designed roof, inspired by the traditional sailing boats that can be found at the Dar es Salaam Coast. The new terminal 3 is designed with the anticipated growth of international air traffic in mind, leaving the existing international Terminal 2 to cater for domestic flights. Completion of the second phase will then provide further capacity for 6 million annual passengers.

This project is a truly marquee project which is essential for the future economic prosperity of Tanzania, and for CSI. Before wrapping-up the interview, Chris said: “The message that I hope our involvement with the JNIA Terminal 3 build sends is that CSI Electrical is ready. We’re able to take on the biggest projects in the region, and we have the capabilities and capacity to take the business further afield.

The JNIA project is a platform for us to show what we can do. This isn’t the high-water mark for CSI Electrical; this is the beginning of things to come.”