Marcus Baffoe-Bonnie is the vice-president and MD at Michelin Sub-Saharan Africa. He took a quick-fire Q&A session about the brand’s current scope, its future plans and how the business of selling tyres is changing.
Give us an overview of Michelin’s operations in SA?
Michelin South Africa was established officially in 1998 as an agency but we have been in the country since 1943, importing and distributing products, including tyre-related services. We offer a rich product range which includes passenger car, truck, earthmover, agricultural, and two-wheel tyres.
How many people does it employ?
There are over 120 employees (including part-time employees).
Talk us through your efforts in achieving greater diversity in the company, over your tenure?
Guided by the company’s fundamental purpose of offering everyone a better way forward, we have taken a concerted effort to build a diverse and inclusive culture. We have improved our succession planning to ensure a healthy pipeline for key roles, we have also enhanced our high potential detection and acceleration process and increased the number of women in management by 10% over the last four years. The newly formed Sub-Saharan Africa cluster has also presented a lot of growth opportunities for our SA-based staff to work across different geographies.
What impact did Covid-19 have on Michelin SA and how did you steer around it?
Our number one priority was the health and safety of our employees — we established a crisis cell that met regularly to ensure this. We were also able to seamlessly switch to remote working. Even though we now operate under a new system, we do realise the pandemic persists, and we have not let our guard down. For our customers, we established the Dealer Advisory Forum to support them as best as we could. It’s not often you get to really experience the power of being part of a multinational, but having an office in China, where the pandemic started, allowed our offices in other geographies to learn, prepare and respond better to the global crisis. For our communities, we mobilised through a group project and donated surgical masks to the Gauteng department of health, and contributed to the YES programme’s Mask4All initiative that produced cloth masks for the most vulnerable. Our Fenner division made foot sanitiser dispensers that we donated to old age facilities and special needs schools.
Tyre-buying trends during these tough economic times: what are some of the customer insights Michelin has identified?
Interprovincial travel was cut, and this meant people were buying less tyres and the impact of this was felt throughout the industry. We are seeing that because many people are working from home, families are now taking short trips out of the city during weekends. While our passenger tyre segment may not have done well, our well-balanced portfolio of products allowed us to weather the storm. Our B2B and mining segments performed particularly well as mining production and essential services did not stop during the lockdown.
SA roads are known to be in a poor state, generally. How are your tyres engineered for these conditions?
The beauty of being part of a multinational is that we have teams on the ground who understand different terrains, develop products specific to those terrains while still maintaining a high level of tyre performance and safety. We also rely on our +130 years of expertise in tyre design and engineering, supported by high quality materials and mixes.
The way consumers make purchases is becoming increasingly digital. How is Michelin adapting to this locally?
Though e-commerce was accelerated by the pandemic, we have seen the need for human connection still bringing people to physical stores. There has not been a complete switch. We do, however, provide support and encourage our dealers to be digitally savvy and have an online presence because while customers do still come to physical points of sale, they are also using online platforms to do their research and purchases.
Support independent journalism by subscribing to the Sunday Times. Just R20 for the first month.