Bitumen World is a civil engineering firm that specialises in the construction and rehabilitation of essential Zimbabwean infrastructure, and like the country, it has growth in its sights. We spoke with Duncan Smith, Contracts Director, to learn more.
Incorporated in July 2012 and open for business just two months later, Bitumen World (“BW”) was first initiated as a surfacing company, but the potential for diversification became clear very quickly. Today, BW is a recognised civil engineering firm that specialises in infrastructure development, road and concrete works, water and sewer reticulation and, of course, surfacing.
What is most impressive about BW is the rate at which it has expended, in every sense. As Duncan explained; “From hiring surfacing equipment to the Department of Roads and undertaking many smaller type projects as a subcontractor Bitumen World is now a large, well established prime contractor within the Zimbabwean construction industry.” Having initially started with only ten employees, the company now hires 80 salaries members of staff, and has a full workforce of over 500. Likewise, the plant base has grown from seven to over 200 between 2012-2018.
90% of the projects undertaken come from the public sector, meaning that there is a constant flow of opportunities and with that 10% buffer of private work included, scope for continued expansion seems realistic, with geographical interests being at the forefront of the team’s mind. Though at present, Zimbabwe is the only sphere that BW operates in, it is looking at Mozambique and Zambia with interest. The only stumbling block could be a stilted and overly competitive industry, as Duncan disclosed:
“The current state of the industry is very depressed, although the start of the rehabilitation of the Harare to Beitbridge road is a positive sign and could provide work for several contractors, for two to three years. There is a lot of competition in that there are many construction companies, most of them very small, who tender on any available work. Ultimately though, there are probably not more than five serious competitors.”
So, what makes BW stand out in a crowded market? Duncan has no doubt that it is the construction excellence that the team injects into each and every project. From a quality end result to finishing on time and within budget, Duncan reveals that BW always strives to accomplish more than the client expects, with over-delivering being an everyday bonus. He also revealed that the company has invested in state-of-the-art equipment to allow in-house laboratory testing, surveying and design modelling capabilities, all of which provide a better result for clients, at no extra cost. In a bid to further elevate itself, the company has also launched a bid to secure various ISO certifications. Two have been successful and a third is currently in progress.
Having recently won a contract to rehabilitate and upgrade a generous stretch of the Harare to Beitbridge road, BW will need a strong and united workforce, but that won’t be a problem. With 80 permanent staff and around 500 contract employees, BW is well equipped to deal with a project of such magnitude and workers put in the time. Knowing that BW always tries to promote from within and never looks to advertise externally for technical, senior, financial or administrative staff, anybody looking for a career with potential is keen to become part of the BW family and all adhere to the ethos of always doing more than is expected.
Despite being a large project and having only started in late 2019, the 20km of Harare to Beitbridge road improvements should be completed by the end of June 2020, with a view to an extra 20km being awarded, if the results are satisfactory. Two other sizeable tenders are in the process of being submitted as well, but Duncan can’t disclose any details, as both are in the early stages. Should they be awarded to BW, 2020 and beyond looks set to be busy, despite a flagging overall sector and increased competition, but how does the company continue to consistently grow when others flail?
Perhaps the secret to BW’s consistent growth is, as Duncan points out, the culture at the heart of the organisation: “Effective leadership and success are about the culture you instil in the organisation”. Starting a company from scratch enabled us to promote the culture we wanted for the company and to ensure buy-in from those we employed. Our culture promotes respect for all, irrespective of job title or who you are. This has enabled us to grow almost exponentially over the last 7 years.”
A healthy dose of transparency, integrity and accountability doesn’t hurt either, all of which BW prides itself on, which can be seen in action, on the company’s website. Employing an unusual technique, BW has listed all current projects and included percentages to show how much of the work has been completed. This allows clients to simply click a mouse button and find out if their schedule is still on track, therefore eliminating the need for lengthy interactions that could slow progress down. It is elegant in its simplicity and gives a clear insight into why so many people trust BW with high-value projects – because they don’t seek to complicate matters. They build, rehabilitate and improve, but never convolute or make communication harder than it needs to be. How refreshing in today’s business world.
With a fleet of specialist vehicles, a team of dedicated workers and a clear vision of where the company is heading, BW is on the road to unsurpassed success. Knowing that Zimbabwe is only the beginning means that exciting developments are definitely going to come to fruition in coming months and always in line with the company strategy that Duncan revealed: “Do more than asked for and do it better than everyone else as well.” If that’s not a recipe for commercial success, we don’t know what is.