Mrs. Heather Woodcock-Destemberg
Vice-President of Sales and Marketing
First of all Heather, can you tell our readers a bit about your career? How come you ended up in logistics, and for how many years have you been active in this field?
I was working as a consultant on an Exxonmobil project in N’Djamena, Chad, in Central Africa training new recruits from the country in English. Eventually things progressed for me differently and I was given the opportunity to join the Operations Department and started to get involved in different parts of Logistics. I started in “people logistics” (airlines, etc.) and eventually worked my way from Chad to Equatorial Guinea. It was there that I really got involved in inbound/outbound shipment processes for American Oil & Gas operators dealing with Customs Clearance activities and other parts of the Supply Chain business activities.
What was so interesting for me was to have worked in a landlocked country such as Chad and then later to Bioko Island where the capital city of Malabo is located. It was from a hot, dry, sub-saharan climate to a tropical one, and I was surrounded by water! As we know, logistics has so many facets and through the 20+ years (a woman never gives away her age they say!) I can say that I have enjoyed so many great moments in Central Africa in spite of all of the challenges!
Akon-Donluis in Equatorial Guinea. Who are they? Could you elaborate on the history of the company?
Mr. Luis Ondo, born in Equatorial Guinea, first founded a company named Donluis in 2001. The company started very small, but has consistently grown over the last 2+ decades.. In 2014, Mr. Ondo purchased a local Kuehne and Nagel branch, and this company was known as Akon Logistics Management, Ltd.. The acquisition enabled the team to broaden their work scope tremendously. In 2019/2020, the two companies merged and are now known as Akon-Donluis. The company handles a very wide range of Logistics tasks, and its focus is mainly working with major Oil & Gas companies operating in Equatorial Guinea.
Equatorial Guinea is, I believe, a rich country in many ways, but it is not a country that we hear about in the news. What can you tell our readers about the country where you spend a lot of your time?
Equatorial Guinea (EG) is truly a rich country in so many ways. The country is small in size and in population compared to many around them. But at the same time EG is a country large with natural resources, an amazing history and culture, and the future is very bright. I like to tell people that it is the only country that was colonized by the Spanish in Africa, so Spanish is one of the official languages spoken (just like in Spain!).
Equatorial Guinea really entered the global world with the discovery of oil over 20 years ago. It has developed pretty rapidly I’d say, with much of the younger population now seeking to be able to build their careers in a job related to the number one industry in the country.
Logistics is often a challenge and none more so than perhaps in parts of Africa. Does AkonDonluis have experience in moving oversized and project cargoes (can be air/sea) and if so could you provide our readers with some examples?
I can’t agree with you more on this statement regarding logistics being a challenge and a great one in certain places around the African continent. However, over the years, AkonDonLuis has taken on great challenges in order to prove its value in the industry and as a locally-owned business employing over 60 equatoguineans and only a few expats.
I’m proud to say that the team has been able to organize and execute some major projects successfully in every way. One was about 4 years ago and this one involved a charter vessel with a 150T lift that required a special trailer to carry it from the Port area known as Kilometer Cinco (or K5) to Punta Europa where an American-owned major oil and gas company has business. The team has also handled big turbines, X-mas trees, etc. What is very positive is that the team has built the skills over time to be able to handle all kinds of shipments coming in for production activities, special projects during exploration and drilling activities, etc. and is known to execute requests timely and safely as per international standards. The team ensures compliance in every way!
Is customs clearance a problem?
I would say that there was a time in the country when it was a great challenge, but over time, and with training and education for those working in customs, the process works much better than even a couple of years ago. In recent years, EG has joined the other Central African nations (Gabon, Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, and the Republic of Congo) in using a computer-based system called Sydonia, and that has contributed to a much smoother process for all customs-related requirements.
Can you organise transhipment via Equatorial Guinea to neighbouring countries as well?
Absolutely! The company has good global contacts, first-hand knowledge of countries within the region, and has a history of handling various logistics requirements in the Gulf of Guinea and many other countries around the world. AkonDonluis works with airlines, vessel owners, and is considered to be a One-Stop-Shop for all Logistics needs.
What intrigues you about working in Equatorial Guinea? Looking into your crystal ball, how do you see the year of 2024 for logistics there?
This is probably my favorite question out of the bunch! I remember that more than 25 years ago when I was first planning on going to work in Africa, a few people who had experience working in Africa told me a common story. They said, “Once you get over to Africa and spend even just a little time there, you will soon realize that Africa gets in your blood! You will want to continue working with the African people as they are a very amazing people with incredible cultures, and you’ll find it hard to go ’home’ when the time comes.” Well, Africa certainly got into my blood from the very start.
What has intrigued me over time is the thirst for education and development, being part of the training of local staff, watching staff learn the business and move into positions once held by expats who came with many years of expertise. On another note, watching a nation literally be transformed and fitting into the global economy in such a short period of time has been a privilege. The culture intrigues me, the opportunities intrigue me, the success stories of both individuals and companies intrigue me, and I could go on and on.
I can certainly say that 2024 is going to be a great year for Akon-Donluis as the company plans to have the grand-opening and ribbon cutting ceremony of its new warehouse in Malabo, hopefully during the second quarter of next year. The warehouse will bring additional cargo space, add opportunities for local workers to have jobs and build their skills, and will provide the company with additional resources to be able to do their job for its clients with even better results than ever before!
How is it best for our readers to reach you?
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