In 2002 Alfredo Jones founded Alduco, an Equatorial Guinea-based engineering company providing services to the hydrocarbons sector in West and Central Africa. After studying and working in the UK for a number of years, Jones returned to the continent in 2001 to take advantage of opportunities in Equatorial Guinea’s nascent oil industry.
While Alduco today works with all the major oil and gas players in the Gulf of Guinea, this wasn’t always the case, and Jones had to overcome various obstacles to build the company into what it is today. In a recent interview with How we made it in Africa he shared some of his business experiences.
On landing his first client
The first significant oil discovery in Equatorial Guinea was only made in 1995. In the early days there were few local companies serving the oil and gas industry. Jones thought this would be an advantage for his new venture, especially in light of efforts to promote local content. However, he found the opposite to be true.
“As far as the international oil companies were concerned, Equatorial Guinea didn’t have the locally-skilled manpower. So for the first few years I did numerous presentations and they kept telling me the same thing: ‘When an opportunity arises we will call.’ But those calls were not coming.”
These were stressful times as Jones had taken out loans and invested in manpower and training, but without any contracts forthcoming.
However, his first big break came after a few years when ExxonMobil gave Alduco a small project to test their capabilities.
“So the first opportunity came with ExxonMobil. It was an engineering job, which we did successfully, and they were quite impressed. We were able to build on that experience to start working with all the other companies.”
On growing the business
Alduco bolstered the range of services it can offer by partnering with international companies. The company has its own team of in-house engineers and technicians. However, for certain highly-specialised work it has joint-venture arrangements with international companies.
One area where it has implemented these partnerships is in cathodic protection (a process of protecting submerged structures from corrosion). “We have successfully carried out some corrosion control solutions for clients, not just in EG, but in the greater Gulf of Guinea. And on those projects it was a combination of Alduco engineers together with our technical partners’ engineers.”
Jones says he tries to make his employees understand they are each responsible for the success of the business. “The company is not me or the board of directors – the company is everyone, from senior management down to the clerk. So if someone doesn’t perform, it affects everybody. I give them motivational talks on the consequences of not putting in everything. We are in a market where we have to constantly demonstrate that we are as good as the international competition.”
He also prefers to work as a team. “I get input from everybody, because everybody has something to add. You want to learn from the new graduate because he might have a different way of seeing things. I allow people to use their initiative and come up with new ideas.
“I always remind them where we are coming from, where we are, and where we want to go.”
On gaining work experience before venturing into business
While billionaires such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg famously dropped out of university, Jones believes in the importance of a good education and getting some work experience before starting a business.
After studying mechanical engineering in the UK, he worked for a number of leading companies in the telecoms and oil and gas industries. It was here that he learnt how to put corporate systems and procedures in place.
On learning from setbacks
Jones says it is important to stick to one’s vision and learn from mistakes. “There will be a lot of obstacles on the way. But I never look at failure as failure – I look at it as: ‘What have I learnt from what happened – so that next time I can do things better?’”