December 2012

Business is buzzing in East Africa

Ajay Mehra, head of non-auto business development in East Africa, has been based in Kenya since February 2011. Mr Mehra, an MBA and a Chevening Scholar has had an enriching 18-year tenure with Lakme, spanning the period while it was still a part of the Tata group to after its acquisition by Unilever. He has handled a range of assignments across sales, marketing, commercial and general management, including a stint as vice president at Trent, where he set up the Westside stores. He also spearheadeds the CII-Retail Committee’s initiative for industry-academia partnership and knowledge enhancement.

In this interview, Mr Mehra talks about the immense opportunities for Tata International in East Africa.

The Tata brand has become significant globally in recent years. What is the brand perception in Kenya and neighbouring countries?
The Tata brand is well-known in Kenya and East Africa because of the number of products, including automobiles, it has in the market. With Tata Industries entering the distribution and trading businesses, the Tata brand is being seen as a significant entity. The global spread and values of the Tata group have ensured that the brand is well-recognised, trusted and held in awe.

You are building the non-auto businesses. What is your focus and where is the market opportunity?
All of Africa, including East Africa, has large requirements in two areas — infrastructure and agriculture. We have synchronised our focus by providing materials like steel and chemicals, and supplies like fertilisers and pesticides, as well as equipment (John Deere), to develop infrastructure and agriculture.

Given the stable and consistent economic growth rates of 4-6 percent per annum in these economies, the market opportunity is attractive and recurrent. Political stability and democratic governments also facilitate strong growth.

What are the attractive business opportunities in the region?
Beyond infrastructure and agriculture, there are opportunities in retail, banking services and consumer products.

What do you feel about living in Kenya?
For me, Kenya and most of Africa have been eye-openers and very different from the /images/article shown on international television channels. Most of these countries abound in natural beauty and offer unparalleled experiences in wildlife travel. Communication is easy and people are polite and friendly. It is a very comfortable and pleasant experience.

The East African community is becoming more and more important. What role will Kenya play in this?
The East African community is a reasonably robust entity in the sense it allows easy movement of goods and services and has similar tax structures. As the largest and leading economy, Kenya plays a very important role and neighbouring countries look up to it for new initiatives. Kenya is bound to be the business hub and the leader in this market for some time to come, but Tanzania seems to be catching up.