Have a ball…
MOWI: A Ranger rolled out of a Nigeria-based plant has just been unveiled. How and why did Ford venture into setting up a plant in Nigeria?
Nemeth: It all started 2002, when we started our partnership with Coscharis. I always look at Angola, Nigeria and Kenya as top three in sub-Sahara Africa. And anything that is going on in those markets, we are quickly aware of. In 2013, we started getting information that there was going to be a policy shift. So we started evaluating how that policy might affect our business and our partner’s business in Nigeria.
Honestly, outside Nigeria, it was difficult to get complete clarity on what the policy actually was. So it took us a bit of time and discussion with the DG Aminu Jalal and the then Minister Olusegun Aganga. And so we had multiple discussions to understand the likely impact of the policy.
We offered also to work with the minister in his effort to shape a policy that would continue to increase the work of manufacturing vehicles. So ultimately, what we deduced from our discussions was that this was an on-going policy shift within Nigeria, that there shall be industrialization and that automotive industry is going to be a strategic industry within that industrialization. But mainly, assurance that there is going to be a long term strategy of the government is what really encouraged us to make this step. That’s the kind of history of it.
MWI: Obviously, that happened under the former regime. Now that there has been a change in government, how confident are you?
Nemeth: Of course, we are now watching very closely what the future might bring. But we know most of the time certain policies remain static from election to election, especially if they are strong real economic policies. So we expect that would be the case with the automotive. That is why we are here. That is why we are investing. And that is why we continue to be very excited about the future opportunities in Nigeria.
MOWI: Are there modifications you would expect or wish government make to the auto policy?
Nemeth: We will continue to work with the government and make suggestions from an auto company stand-point. We by no means understand all of the balancing that Nigerian government is dealing with, what industries they want to focus on, what their strategies are for agriculture, industries, ports, rail, roads; all they have to balance, as well as social needs of their constituency as – schooling, education, hospital, healthcare, etc. They will have to balance all that. So what we would ask them is: what are your priorities for industrialization. And then we’ll see if we can match what works for us, so that we can continue to invest more and build more vehicles in Nigeria. We’ll see if we can match that with what the strategic priorities of the country are. And in that way, we would be able to grow our supply base, we’d be able to grow our volumes in manufacturing plant and add more jobs and also more dealerships, more repair outlets.
The automotive industry is a huge generator of economic prosperity. And I think that Nigerian government recognizes that. And we recognize our role is to help better the lives of Nigerians. That is why we are here as well as to build cars.
MOWI: Any difference between the Nigerian assembled Ford and ones sold in other parts of the world?
Nemeth: One of the great things about Ford Motor Company is called: “One Ford is our strategy”. And that means that we build the same vehicle adjusted for regional preferences, but essentially the same platform, the same power train throughout the world. And that enable us to build the very best Ford Motor Company vehicle for every customer, no matter where they are in the world. We expect to continue with that strategy. So the Rangers we build here in Nigeria will be the very one we do every where else in the world. And Nigerian customers will be getting very contemporary models. So that’s our plan.
MOWI: What factors would you say have been responsible for your career success?
Nemeth: Personally, I believe it is because I genuinely care about the people I work with and am responsible for, as well as their families. I know having an exciting career in a vibrant business is important for not only the employee, but their families as well who are also affected by the success of the business. Another reason is that I excel at taking seemingly complex issues and distilling them down to two or three action items – then communicating how these actions will move the business and the team forward. The clarity motivates and inspires the team to deliver.
MOWI: What is your advice to young Africans aspiring to become entrepreneurs?
Nemeth: I advise them not to compromise on their dreams and goals and understand that the main ingredient in success is hard work. It is so important to be inspired, motivated and defined by what you spend your day doing. And, as I always tell my kids, do what you love, and you will never work a day in your life. That is important.
MOWI: Your job obviously entails huge responsibility. How do you manage to combine it with your family life?
Nemeth: One of the things I always tell my kids is: ‘if you love what you do, you’d never work a day in your life’. And I really love building cars. My father worked in a company called Studebaker. My grandfather worked in the same company. They were in my home town where I grew up, Indiana, where they were headquartered.
I’ve always had cars in my blood. The most difficult thing for me is to balance my passion for work with my passion for my family.
MOWI: Cars in your blood? Will I be correct then to say you love cars?
Nemeth: I love cars
MOWI: You are a car freak?
Nemeth: I guess you call me a petrol head.
MOWI: How do you relax?
Nemeth: I spend time with my family, engaging in some outdoor activities. I play games with my sons on the weekends, as well as go out with my family to enjoy the amazing and beautiful South African landscapes. However, my favourite activity is golf.
One of the great things about Ford Motor Company is called: “One Ford is our strategy”. And that means that we build the same vehicle adjusted for regional preferences, but essentially the same platform, the same power train throughout the world. And that enable us to build the very best Ford Motor Company vehicle for every customer, no matter where they are in the world – Jeff Nemeth