On the back of Africa Energy Forum, I caught up with John Lewis, Managing Director for Africa of Aggreko and had a very interesting conversation with him.
Amongst many things, we talked about:
- his vision for the company
- Aggreko Operations
- African Talent
TT: Welcome, everybody. We are here today with a very, very important gentleman that I could not meet at the AEF. I had promised his team that I would arrange it for today. So, I’m here today with John Lewis, the managing director of AGGREKO Africa. John, it is a pleasure to have you today. How are you sir?
JL: It’s great to be here Tony, thank you very much for having me.
TT: Excellent! Well, listen, John, as I usually do with everybody, would you mind giving us a bit of an idea of your career and what you’ve been up to?
JL: Yes, sure. I’m, as you said in the introduction, the MD of AGGREKO Africa. I’m responsible for our operations across the African continent, we’re in about 30 countries. We operate a range of Power Solutions. Traditionally, diesel moving into gas, and then increasingly into the renewable and storage space. That’s the current role for about four years. Just shy of four years, and obviously, been through quite a challenging couple of years in the last two years. Prior to that, I actually was in the telecoms industry. I spent time at MTN in South Africa, the Pan African mobile network group. Prior to that, I was operating a mobile network in the UK, which was private equity owned. So yeah, all in sort of business to business and business to government infrastructure. Some consistency through that, just different products.
TT: That’s impressive. As I mentioned, so we met at ATF, and I heard you speaking and from what I gathered, AGGREKO headquarters is actually in Glasgow, and we had the COP 26 in Glasgow. So how did you feel inside the company having the whole world coming home?
JL: Well, it was amazing to be the center of the world for a couple of weeks. We’re a Glasgow based company. We’re quite an old company. We’ve been around for decades, through power evolution. We’re quite used to the evolving technologies of power generation. We have a pretty large factory, just outside of Glasgow and I was privileged to host some of our clients during COP 26 and talk to them about some of the really interesting projects that are across Africa that have been looked into such as renewable energy or clean energy and the energy transition.
TT: Excellent! You joined AGGREKO in 2018 and you have a very accomplished career option now. So, if you do not mind me asking, what is your vision for AGGREKO Africa?
JL: So, in order to answer that, you know that we’re very well-known through sort of heritage of emergency and temporary power, often based on diesel fuels. We’ve evolved that side of the business over the last 20 to 30 years across the globe. We operate in 150 countries globally. We support major sporting events. We just done the Olympics this year – providing power to the Tokyo Olympics where we’re about to do the Winter Olympics. That’s our heritage. That’s really the basis of what we’ve had in Africa. We’ve been doing historically a lot of supporting, whether it’s utilities with temporary solutions or long-term solutions or the same with industrial users be it at mines or oil and gas or manufacturing, where they need either a backup or temporary solution. That heritage has enabled us to move the past few years into newer technologies. My vision is really to take our existing footprint capability, and our trusted brand, and use our expertise to help our customers on their journey to cleaner fuel. Now, we all know that depending on where you are, in Africa, the solutions available are very different. Therefore, what we what we are focusing on is getting the right solutions in the right place for the clients that need them. That does vary depending on the geography, fuel availability, solar penetration, all those factors; trying to tailor solutions to those specific sectors and applications that are required.
TT: Excellent! And hopefully, you will be able to take it to fruition. I certainly hope so. one of the messages that has been drumming up for a few years now is to encourage government, but also businesses to move towards the net zero emissions target; meaning that we need to be engaging in the energy transitions. I wanted to know, as the leader in your sector how does this target it translate in agriculture? Or how does it materialize?
JL: We like most organizations take this subject very seriously. And we’re obviously in the thick of it in terms of how we generate power. It is our business and we’ve traditionally, as I said, generated a lot of power from diesel fuel or fossil fuels. We’ve made commitments to the market. In fact, a year or so ago, we publicly stated, we would have our reliance on diesel power and the emissions from it across our entire business. What we generate for customers will have those by 2030, so nine years to go, and that we would be carbon neutral by 2050 across entire business. It’s pretty obvious to say that’s quite a big transformation for what we provided to the market. What’s behind that is our commitment to investing in alternative fuels or cleaner fuels. We’re investing heavily in gas, which is obviously still thermal. But it’s a lot cleaner than other options. And that we still evolving into other cleaner fuels in the future. So, we’re looking at hydrogen and other options. And then at the same time, we’re investing heavily in storage solutions, and increasingly bringing to bear renewables into the solutions we bring. Which as it varies depending on where you are, in terms of, of how you achieve that. So very much being part of that solution, whether it’s bringing renewables as part of our solution, or indeed enabling renewables to operate as a separate project. That’s our commitment and we’ve publicly stated that we are now investing heavily into that journey.
TT: Excellent! I’m looking forward to see the detail of that. I’m a strong renewable energy advocate, right? Otherwise, we would not be called renewables in Africa, isn’t it? The tough question that we have to deal with is, what happens with stranded assets? And I imagine companies that you providing temporary solutions to are large businesses because some of them are mines. The reason I’m asking this question is because some companies are facing the same problem.
JL: A lot of our solutions are deployable and redeploy able. Not all of them, but a lot of them. So that’s a key strand of what we help avoid. We actually help avoid stranded assets. So, you know, there’s a recognition and a number of geographies that are waiting for an evolution of whether it’s availability of gas, or, commercial availability of hydrogen. You know, people are sort of worried about committing to big long term power plants. And obviously, what we can do is be much more flexible, and deploy, I wouldn’t say short term or medium-term solutions that are more flexible, that enable bridging, if necessary: waiting until those newer technologies are available, or fuel supply or whatever. So, we’re a key enabler of avoiding stranded assets, actually. We have a number of cases where we’re putting in longer term technology. So, we have the risk of stranded assets, but generally, we take that risk for the clients, we take that on our balance sheet. Our model is we; we build and operate the plant for you. We can transfer assets, but if stranded assets are concerned, then we could take that risk as well. So, and we have a few examples of those where we’re, taking a view that actually we can, because we’re a global player, stranded for us is less of a risk than certain of our clients because we can often deploy into other countries or other sectors.
TT: That’s great, I’m sure many businesses listening are actually sort of smiling, because you are the kind of people who can take away their worries.
JL: Yeah, well, certainly some of them and look, I think, increasingly we focus heavily on industrial sectors, as well as utilities in the industrial sectors like mining, oil, gas and manufacturing. they’re not power specialists, usually. So, we position ourselves as what we are, the power specialists; we could deal with these complex problems for you, we’re going to get more complex as technology evolves. And really be better off building and flexibility into your solution to make sure you can capture those savings into the future.
TT: Okay. you pride yourself. No, you personally, I’m talking about a company here. you pride yourself developing African talents?
TT: I was actually wondering, so how well is it reflected in your management of the Africa business? And does it mean that in a few years’ time, I could be expecting once John is tired and move on to the next adventure to have an African sitting on your chair?
JL: Yeah, for sure. I love that question. Because it’s very close to my heart. I’ve run global businesses, for many years operating in different geographies. I’m a firm believer that you get the best results if you’re deploying local talent into the market you’re operating in, because they know the customers. They understand the environment a lot better than I can from London. So yeah. I set out when I joined AGGREKO, four years ago. I made that very clear objective that I’ll be investing in African talent, local talent. We have the benefit of operating across most of Africa, so quite a big pool to choose from. And we’ve been on the journey, really. AGGREKO does have a model of using x pack capabilities. That’s how we’ve, evolved to where we are. But over the last couple of years, we’ve increased our percentage of locals to more than 90% of our entire population. More than half of my senior leadership team are Africans. I have a Senegalese, Cameroonian and South African. And we keep on that journey to make sure we recruit a Ghanaian. We’ve got to balance that clearly, it’s a complicated market. We need the right skills as well as the right sort of outlook. We’re also investing in more junior levels of talent, so that we can build that leadership pipeline over time. We we’re continuing to recruit graduate trainees, and apprentices and we pride ourselves on employing where we operate, we aim to employ local people in those countries, and bring in the knowledge and capability so that they can have their bit to their country’s future.
TT: If you don’t mind me asking, I love your answer, by the way, but I just wanted to know, from those leaders, what is roughly the percentage that will be female leaders?
JL: Yeah, that’s a great question and look, it’s far too low. I have a 10%, currently, just over 10%. There’s, more at the next level down. We’ve, made progress in that space. But you know, we’re also passionate about developing a broader diversity, if you’d like. In fact, we’ve launched this year, a special network for our female colleagues to give them the support and opportunity to develop in the business as well. But it’s, certainly more than when I joined.
TT: Definitely that’s part of your vision. Last questions for me, just wanted to say, the next COP 27, it’s going to be in Egypt, which is in Africa. And then I just want to know, will you be there? Are you going to be traveling to cop 27? And if yes, what is the message that you’re going to take there?
JL: Yes, definitely, we will. Egypt has a big market for us. We’re actually investing quite heavily in Egypt at the moment; and that is a great example where we’ve, had business focus on diesel for a while. We’re evolving into actually capturing waste gas – what we call flare gas and turning that into power. We’re working on that basis. It’s very, very typical, that actually Egypt is actually practically, as I said, in my opening speech, as I think there’s a lot of cases where Africa are actually leading the way. It’s a great place to hold the next COP. We will hopefully showcase some of what we’ve been doing around that event next year.
TT: Excellent! John, that was a very insightful interview. Thank you for your frank and honest answers. I know you are a very busy man. But as I promised your team, I wanted to make sure that I talk to you because your opening speech was just remarkable. Thank you very much for your time it is a pleasure to have you on our platform; Renewables in Africa.
JL: Pleasure to meet you, Tony. Thank you very much.
TT: Thank you. Bye.