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Senegalese entrepreneur Youssef Omaïs founded PATISEN in 1981 as a small trading business to import and sell flour to bakeries across Dakar and other neighboring cities in the West African nation. Over the last 37 years, the company has snowballed into a $200 million (revenue) FMCG conglomerate with more than 7,000 employees, a portfolio comprising more than 50 brands of food products, and an active presence in more than 40 countries. He recently spoke to me briefly about how he accomplished it all.
Take me back to your early years. Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like?
I am of Lebanese heritage but I was born in Dakar to a family of 12 children with 6 girls and 6 boys. My family owned a very popular pastries company called SIPA where I started learning the ropes of business as far back as 1960. I eventually went on to manage my family’s bakery business in Dakar. In the seventies, I also ran our family’s candy shop at Louga, which is located in Senegal’s northern region. In 1981 I set out to start my own company, PATISEN.
Take me through the history of the company and give me a timeline of key milestones in Patisen’s journey.
In 1981, I decided to create PATISEN in order to import and sell flour and other ingredients to bakeries and pastry shops. After one year of setting up, I acquired the industrial unit of my family’s pastries company which was called SIPA. In the early years of operations in the Food & Beverage sector, we produced Chocolate bars for pastries, Chocolate spread branded “CHOCOLECA”, Peanut butter branded “OLECA” and Roasted and ground coffee branded “SOUCAIL”.
Appetite comes with eating. So, I started production of seasonings under the brand “GARMI” and later bought a seasoning factory from SIPRAL (Société Industrielle de Produits Alimentaires), former owner of the brand “Joker”. After that, we extended our activities to other products with “SENECAO” that made PATISEN famous in the local market and respected by the African Organization for Intellectual Property, due to the number of its created, registered and active brands.
In 1999, I sold my industrial units to the Swiss Group Barry Callebaud and Jocobs Suchard, former world leaders in chocolate, and had to develop activities in other countries (Cape Verde Islands, Guinea-Conakry, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Togo, Benin, Algeria, France and so on) due to the non-compete clause in the contract.
After it expired in 2005 and with development opportunities in the local market, I naturally got back to production of seasonings in Senegal.
I started with 2 to 3 women in my kitchen and developed recipes that were than tested than in different markets. From 2 to 3, we grew to 300 women. So, we had to invest in industrial tools to be able to satisfy the demand growing more and more.
With that transformation, most of women were deployed to the markets for the promotion and distribution of products. That distribution strategy promoted the penetration of products in homes because those women who developed products were best placed to sell them.
In 2009, in addition to being the pioneers of powdered seasonings packaged in sticks and bags, we made the leap to the production of table seasonings which was the preserve of multinationals for half a century. Subsequently, we expanded our offer to many other food products, and that’s how we’ve gotten to where we are today.
How difficult has it been building a thriving business from Senegal?
Doing business is not easy, no matter the country. In Senegal, there are opportunities and challenges. One of the major challenges is in the area of Human Resources that must be of integrity, available and qualified. And it’s not easy having all in one.
Other constraints are in line with the Food and Beverage Market because we are in a sensitive industry that can have heavy consequences if quality is not met.
Challenges about the legal environment are customs, tariff and regulatory barriers and taxation that do not facilitate commercial interactions in our economic spheres and which handicap the reinvestment and therefore the development of our businesses.
What have you learned about what makes a successful business in Senegal, and what is the most important piece of advice you’d give to young African entrepreneurs who are eager to replicate your success?
The principles of success are universal and I think they apply everywhere across the world. My advice to younger generations is that even with diplomas, they must be humble and start at the bottom, to better understand the company’s life and work hard. They should keep digging, believe in the future and be serious. They also must have values as ethics, integrity and initiative.
Tell me about your worst day in business, and what have you learned from your mistakes?
The experience that touched me the most and from which I drew great lessons is surely the sale of my industrial tool in 1999 and the disappointment that followed, seeing that the buyers did not make the right choices.
It was really unfortunate considering all the potentialities of the sector at the time, which were not exploited by them. It is one of the experiences that motivates me every day to go forward and to always aim higher because as we say, “Who does not move forward, gets back”.
As one of the largest businesses in Senegal, how does PATISEN give back?
PATISEN is very involved socially through multiple actions focused on disadvantaged populations, schools and hospitals, etc. Environmental issues are also of great importance for PATISEN, which is committed to improving people’s living environment, including the development of green spaces and green energy projects.
By its contribution, PATISEN fights against unemployment in Senegal and other countries in Africa, with great impacts on families behind each employee.
In its activities, PATISEN also favors local capacities as much as possible while guaranteeing its quality standards.
What are PATISEN Group’s future ambitions for its businesses in Senegal and Africa?
One of the major goals of PATISEN is to be, in the next ten years, the leader of agribusiness from Dakar to Djibouti.
The objective is, ultimately, to have production units in each of the CEMAC (Cameroon), SADC (Kenya) and COMESA (South Africa) economic zones and to be able to benefit, in these areas, from advantages in terms of taxation and proximity, while guaranteeing more freshness for products.
Contact me via email at mfon.nsehe @ gmail.com or on Twitter @MfonobongNsehe
January 1, 2019 at 08:20AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs