Article published in February issue of Endeavour Magazine. Access full issue here.
It is no secret that the lands of Africa are blessed with unimaginable riches, thanks to the vast natural resources that are to be found on and beneath its ground. For an example of this, we need look no further than the statistics surrounding its estimated mineral resources.
In the view of experts, more than 30% of the world’s mineral and metal deposits are to be found on the African continent, including three-quarters of the world’s known platinum-based metal deposits, half of its diamonds and chromium, and huge reserves of bauxite, cobalt, coal, copper, and iron ore. Naturally, for the countries that are fortunate enough to be blessed with such a bounty, mining acts as a key source of revenue with which to bankroll the building of the roads, railways, airports, dams and power stations that they so urgently need: a costly multi-billion-dollar endeavour.
Unsurprisingly, the number of mining companies that operate in the region – the explorers, the apprentice’s , and the big-name multinational heavyweights – are many, meaning that marketplace competition is predictably fierce. As mining companies jostle and compete to find and extract the precious minerals and metals that lie in wait, demand for world-class equipment and service support to give them an edge over industry rivals is great. As one of the largest and best-regarded distributors of heavy equipment and aftermarket spare parts across much of the sub-Saharan region, not only to the mining sector but also the construction and agricultural sectors, Kanu Equipment is often the first point of call.
Kanu Equipment’s mission is simple: to ensure that its customers across all industries are able to run their operations continuously. They achieve this through the supply of equipment, as well as through the ongoing support of locally-based or onsite maintenance teams who have second-to-none access to spare parts. Kanu Equipment believe in doing the basic things right, and also keep these services available to their customers maintaining the fruitful partnerships they have built with equipment suppliers of the calibre of Liebherr and Bell.
The Kanu name is inspired by an old African tale Kanthu N’khama, a story about a small but brave and resourceful bird that flies into a dark and forbidding forest, where it overcomes challenges and great danger to emerge from the other side larger and infinitely wiser. Kanthu N’khama, meaning ‘hard work pays off’, is a fitting namesake for the company, which through sheer hard work and an unerring dedication to superior service delivery has risen to become an industry leader in only four years. As Kanu Equipment’s founder and CEO, Stephen Smithyman, told us, it can’t be said that the company didn’t manage this rise the hard way:
“After starting the business in Congo, we then expanded into West Africa two years ago, and then last year we bought a business in Botswana and Zimbabwe – we basically started out in the hardest countries to do business in and then worked our way around.
We represent some of the best brands in the world. Liebherr is obviously a leader in supplying some of the best mining equipment in the world, and for Liebherr it’s the productivity of that equipment that counts. We’ve got an objective that we seek to achieve that is to reduce the cost per ton of ore mined for our customers. Our mining customers are looking for productivity and reduced costs. They want availability of machines and availability of spares.
On the construction side, the needs of customers are very similar. We deal with the top construction players in the sector, and they are particular about their needs. In terms of equipment, on the earthmoving side we’ve got the Liebherr, Wirtgen and Bell brands to support our customers – we’re very strong in this area, in addition we rent a lot of machines out.”
Initially, Kanu Equipment’s customers came from the Central African construction sector, but it wasn’t long before the company made its first foray into the mining sector as an equipment and service support provider. Since this time, Kanu has carefully cultivated a reputation for excellence, and has expanded into West Africa and Ghana in particular, where it is highly respected by the artisanal gold sector, as well as expanding into Ivory Coast and Liberia. Recently, Smithyman has overseen Kanu’s expansion into Sierra Leone, where it provides earthmoving equipment to two mining projects, while in Botswana the company continues to enjoy the fruits of a strong working relationship with some of the leading mines. Kanu is one of the few equipment dealers to be found anywhere across the continent that is able to operate in both Anglophone and Francophone countries, which in the view of Stephen means; “We’re quite unique in this respect, not many others are able to position like this because they have very different legal structures and ways of doing business. And this gives our customers quite a holistic view.”
Being one of the largest dealers and distributors of Liebherr and Bell, equipment, among others, across Western, Central, and Southern Africa, is undoubtedly advantageous to the company, However, as Smithyman was keen to stress, it takes more than equipment to achieve market leader status and stay there – rather, in his view, it is more a matter of values, knowing what customers want, and then delivering beyond their expectations:
“It’s not about providing cheap equipment – it’s about delivering productivity and longevity, and the ongoing maintenance of that equipment, and ensuring that the cost per ton is very low.”
As he was keen to stress over the course of the interview, the Kanu team, from its directors and senior management teams to the man on the ground is committed root and branch to its mantra, ‘’Experience The Support,’ and for good reason. Rather than the company’s impressive range of world-class products, instead, it is the company’s support and maintenance services post-sale that is the key to Kanu’s success. Upon starting the business, Smithyman soon found that the lack of support, poor availability of spare parts, and disinterest after the deal was done, was a common complaint from Kanu’s growing customer-base.
“We really care about our customers. Our whole existence is orientated around the support we can give to our customers, and the support we can give to our staff. Our slogan means that through supporting our staff, supporting our colleagues, we can then support our customers. That’s what’s embedded in our organisation.
We’re a very young team, we work hard, and for me the most challenging thing and the most inspirational thing is when you can do the difficult things really well.”
Therefore, it became apparent very soon that entering into a technical partnership with the leading equipment brands like Liebherr and Bell, with a strategic view to dominating the aftermarket spares business, would quickly allow Kanu to gain market share at the expense of its rivals. By representing a lot of leading brands in the aftermarket space, it can help its customers reduce the cost of doing business. And word soon spread that Kanu Equipment did things differently; communication doesn’t stop once money exchanged hands for the initial purchase. There’s aftercare, support and maintenance – it’s an ongoing service.
“Even if you’ve got another type of machine we can still provide a spare part to get your machine going. We are well stocked with aftermarket spares
In every country and region we have maintenance staff and mechanics on-hand, we have workshops and spare parts centres within easy reach, and we employ 490 people, made up of expats and locals who we have trained at training centres like the one in Botswana.”
With further expansion into the last remaining region of sub-Saharan Africa, East Africa, and with the mining and construction sectors set to surge over the years to come, to say the least, these are exciting times for the company, as well as the African mining sector, which, having survived a gruelling downturn that shocked even industry veterans in its severity, is now set to reap the rewards of an overdue market boom.
“We’re expanding this year into Tanzania and Kenya. Our overall objective is to become the biggest supported dealer in Africa, We want to cover the African map with the exceptional brands that we represent.”