Learning about Ghana’s business environment with DHL

“We are going to have an interesting day,” says George Okai as we drive out of the parking area of the DHL Express head office in Ghana’s capital Accra.

George Okai sees sees many commercial opportunities in Ghana over the coming months.

George Okai sees many commercial opportunities in Ghana over the coming months.

Okai is a field sales executive for DHL. It is his job to look after the company’s larger clients, as well as to bring in new business.

I was in Accra to interview local business people for How we made it in Africa. Because DHL services all sectors of the economy, I thought spending a day with the company would give me a unique insight into what is driving Ghana’s economy.

Okai says he makes a point to see each of his clients at least once a month, to maintain a good relationship and to keep abreast of what is going on in their respective businesses.

Our first stop is an engineering group active in numerous areas, from installing airport check-in counters to the design of new healthcare facilities. The company’s offices are situated around the corner from one of Ghana’s biggest bottled water companies.

Our next meeting is with a company that provides ICT solutions to government, corporate companies and financial institutions. Okai says the company often makes use of DHL’s services when it needs to bring in equipment from abroad quickly.

Next up is a car retailer that sells a number of well-known international brands. The modern showroom is situated close to Accra’s Kotoka International Airport, and next to the head offices of a large bank and mobile telecoms operator. Accra’s Airport City area is currently seeing significant development with many construction cranes dotting the skyline. Just down the road is the new Marina Mall and the offices of numerous multinationals.

We’re visiting the car dealership because Okai needs to train the office manager on how to use DHL’s Web Shipping solution, which allows customers to prepare and manage express international shipments through the internet.

The importance of resources

Close to the car dealership is DHL’s airport Gateway facility that offers a 24 hour customs clearance and bonded warehousing services. Okai takes me on a tour of the premises, saying the fact that DHL has its own dedicated customs officials here means that goods can be cleared significantly faster than usual.

As we walk back to the car, one of the staff members introduces Okai to a woman who works in the oil services industry and is in need of DHL’s services. He takes her business card and promises to get back to her as soon as he gets to the office.

Ghana started with offshore oil production in 2011, and the industry has been responsible for much of the country’s rapid economic growth over the past two years. Oil is creating numerous opportunities for other industries – from those providing services to major oil producers to hotels and restaurants catering for expats. DHL also counts a number of oil companies among its clients.

However, Okai tells me his biggest client is a gold mining company that predominantly uses DHL to import spare parts for its operations. Ghana has rich gold deposits and although the industry is facing challenges across the world, it remains an important part of the economy.

Looking to the future

As we drive back to DHL’s head office from our last appointment, Okai says that between January and August business was slower than usual due to political uncertainty. Ghana’s opposition disputed the December 2012 election in the Supreme Court, but towards the end of August the court dismissed the appeal.

During my time in Ghana, many local business people told me that despite the fact that not everyone was happy with the election outcome, there was hardly any violence or unrest.

Okai is also optimistic about the coming months, saying he sees many commercial opportunities for DHL going into 2014.

Ghana is often touted as one of the easier places in Africa in which to do business. However, the country is not without its challenges: infrastructure needs to be improved and local manufacturing is still inadequate. But most local business people don’t seem to be spending too much time thinking about Ghana’s positives and negatives. They are far more focused on building their own businesses and generally just getting on with it.