Business Profiles

Alcon Nigeria: Going further

Alcon Nigeria Limited prides itself on being one of the most reliable service contractor in Nigeria, as well as one of the most adventurous, and is taking steps towards conquering Sub-Saharan Africa. Alcon will take on jobs in adverse project conditions that other contractors won’t touch – they even expanded their services to include security provision. This can-do attitude has built Alcon a reputation as the team that delivers results, whatever the challenges.

Alcon Nigeria is an E.P.I.C (Engineering, Procurement, Installation and Commissioning) contracting company of aptly epic proportions. With a team that is 2,500 strong, Alcon is capable of carrying out over 250,000 man-hours of operations in the Procurement & Technical Services a year, as well as staggering 7,000,000 man-hours a year on construction services in the Civil, Mechanical, Electrical and Instrumentation fields. If this isn’t enough to assure you of their quality and experience, Alcon have been in business since 1982, having started out as MED Construction before changing its name to Alcon Nigeria in 1984, thus boasting of 35 solid years of operation.

Evolution has long been the watchword for this stalwart company. Despite economic difficulties, they have continued to expand the sectors they operate in and improve their clients’ experiences. We spoke with Gerardo Della Santa, the new Managing Director for Alcon Nigeria, about this ongoing journey.

“It is a never-ending story, due to the state of business in Nigeria.” Della Santa is referring, in part, to the country’s ongoing recession. Alcon’s firmest roots have long been found in the Oil & Gas sectors; and like all Oil & Gas companies, they were hit by the drastic fall in oil prices between May 2014 and January 2016. Besides rocking the oil and gas sectors themselves, this plummet had a wider effect on the economies that relied on these industries and the nation which had primarily depended on Oil thus resulting in high inflation and a struggling banking sector, which in turn affected companies across the board.

“Due to a shortage of potential projects, as a contractor, the competition has become much fiercer. We are seeing very aggressive pricing strategies; everyone wants to remain in business while sacrificing their margins in the short-term. One of the challenges that every sector is facing is availability of the necessary funds for projects; i.e. foreign direct investment, available government funding and funds from local banks are all lacking, which ultimately impacts the positive economic growth in Nigeria.”

In addition to aggressive competition, Nigeria’s dependence on Oil has developed a strong competency culture and high quality that the country’s EPC contractors must meet. “Over the years, a small percentage of expatriate personnel and a much larger percentage of local personnel have been able to develop and build technical capabilities in all engineering disciplines (civil, structural, mechanical, piping, electrical, instrumentation, HVAC and telecommunications) whilst working with international oil companies. Thus, a strong industrial culture of safety and quality has developed.”

This competitive and exacting atmosphere has raised standards across the industry; fortunately, Alcon has a long history of such exceeding these standards, and has had no challenge staying at the top of the pyramid. “Alcon has recently been recognized by Shell for our exceptional quality and reliability. We also own and operate a large fabrication yard and marine jetty in Woji, Port Harcourt, and have a large asset base of equipment and tools to ensure flawless project execution.”

Furthermore, the forward-thinking company have their eyes set on the future, and in recent years have started delving into the Power sector. In particular, they have been applying their heavy construction skills towards the building of power generation plants, a venture that quickly yielded positive results, with Alcon receiving the Mechanical Erection and Piping Works from Siemens for the 459MW Azura Power Plant and the Civil, Mechanical and Electrical Works from METKA for the Federal Government / GE AFAM III 200MW Power Plant.

Whilst he is keen to expand into the power sector and see where this pathway can take Alcon, Della Santa remembers the clients that have gotten his company this far, and is in no hurry to turn his back on the sector that has long been the greatest revenue source for the company. “Alcon remains committed to helping international oil companies, Nigerian oil companies and multinationals to further develop Nigeria’s gas and power infrastructure. We are focusing on our clients, finding ways to work more efficiently and productively with them, and improve communications and feedback mechanisms. There are many exciting opportunities in this area and we look forward to using this medium to announce Alcon’s next big win!”

Like the Roman god Janus, the company is forever looking forwards as well as back, and Della Santa can see light on both horizons; “The environment seems to be improving in the oil & gas sector and we are seeing more appetite to improve the power sector in Nigeria also.” Despite their continued loyalty to a recovering Oil and Gas sector, Alcon is determined to plough onwards with its newer areas of operations. Della Santa expresses his firmness on this in no uncertain terms: “Without expansion, our company cannot survive”

Apart from delving into power plant construction, Della Santa hopes to build upon this new avenue by getting involved in providing Operation and Maintenance services to industry players. They are also working to forge and develop new partnerships in this sector; the company knows that in order to strengthen their position, they need the links and relationships with existing key players. “Alcon has a strong partnership with ABB, with which Alcon is a certified Low Voltage Panel Builder. We are expanding this partnership with the construction of an 8,000-square meter state-of-the-art workshop and showroom. We’re also expanding into other technical areas such as Process Automation, Power Transmission and Power Distribution. Ultimately, our strategy is to develop key relationships with multinational companies and combining each other’s complementary skills in delivering positive outcomes to Nigeria’s many infrastructure challenges.” The contractors are even looking into new power avenues such as the new opportunities opening in thermal, hydro and solar power alternatives.

Like their areas of operations, Alcon’s geographical reach is varying. They have a history of local, regional and national projects, and have recently even turned their eye to international horizons. In 2016, the company began looking to branch out to neighbouring African countries, with Ghana chosen as its case study; “Alcon has been cautiously exploring the potential of expanding into Ghana if the right opportunity presents itself as an anchor project. Multiple teams have visited to gather market research, explore potential partnerships and meet with government officials. Alcon remains hopeful that this expansion may happen sooner than later.”

Currently, Alcon employs about 2,500 personnel, including expatriates. The company does a lot of outreach work in universities to attract more graduates to their numbers, and are keen to reach out to a range of nationalities and cultures in their recruitment.

“The greatest asset in any business is its staff and Alcon takes pride as an organization that encourages a work-friendly environment. We believe that one trained staff member is worth five untrained personnel, and as such, Alcon treats the provision of training, conferences and/or exhibitions as a very important part of its HR curriculum.”
Alcon also makes sure that these employees have the free time available to focus on working towards qualifications, degrees or undertaking independent study. The company strives to challenge their staff, giving them agency within the company to better inspire them and to bring the very best out of each employee.

“As a leader, it is my job to motivate members of my team to work to the very best of their abilities, and this requires that I see the professional capabilities of each individual beyond what is obvious. For instance, I believe in empowering my team members with accountability and responsibility so that the individual is motivated to do more and his/her best is brought to the surface. Thus, if you can activate the natural talents of your employees in ways that make them feel more responsible about their jobs, you will be inspiring something that is more significant, that has longer lasting impact and is more sustainable to the company.”

Despite this personal approach for his staff, Della Santa’s own work attitudes are wholly company-focused: “I believe that the company should be in front whilst I strive to achieve the goal that I have been paid to achieve by implementing what I know and believe in to attain overall success for my organization. In my opinion, personal success means nothing but the success of my company means everything.” He has only recently taken on the role as Managing Director for Alcon two months ago. However, he has been with the company since 2004, so he is well-versed in the Alcon ways of doing business.

So, how does Della Santa feel moving forwards, as Alcon takes on a varying slate of new ventures? “We’re cautiously optimistic about the future environment in Nigeria and Sub-Sahara. We feel Alcon is well positioned with its experience, capabilities and assets, whilst fine-tuning itself to function more efficiently and effectively.” Alcon are the contractors who venture forth where other companies don’t dare, and this remains as true of their expansion strategy as it has always been of their projects. However, through all of their changes, this efficiency and effectiveness remains key; whilst Alcon are willing to take on risks, they ensure that their clients are investing in a sure thing. They not only venture forth, but bring back the prize – that’s definitely E.P.I.C.