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'Supporting your people is the only way to unlock true value' - OCP's Terrab

Ahead of his OWP keynote, OCP Chairman and CEO Dr. Mostafa Terrab explains why the phosphate company has accelerated its ongoing transformation this year, fuelled by deep stakeholder engagement and radical listening.
November 2020

 - IMD Business School

What has been the key enabler in driving OCP’s transformation, and why?

Honest clarity.

As we defined our vision to feed the planet to feed the world, we knew that this had to be sustainable and inclusive. It also had to fit our unapologetically North African values, which include looking at ourselves openly and honestly.

We knew that we had to change to fulfil our real potential and that we have the drive to make the sometimes-painful choices and sacrifices required.

For a global business that makes multi-decade, billion dollar investment decisions, the true enabler of what we have done so far, and what we are committed to achieving in the future, boils down to very human elements. We defined a collective goal and culture, then stayed true to these. Even with the challenges of COVID-19, we didn’t waiver and, I would argue, accelerated.

How have you engaged with stakeholders to accelerate this transformation?

While we are incredibly fortunate to have long-term investors that share our views and values, the key stakeholder group is our people. Over the last decade or more, we have evolved from a traditional hierarchical decision model to one that is much more decentralized.

It was quickly apparent that when you hold a common vision and shared values, you can trust one another to make good decisions. This has massively increased our ability to deliver, not only shortening the time taken, but allowing for more decisions to be made, and more actions to be taken.

There is an old African proverb that to go fast, you should go alone, while to go far, you should go together. For us, it is natural to consult and engage those around us. The farmers we support know more about their land, their weather and their crops than we can. The communities we support know what they want and need.

We always start with radical listening. Yes, we have deep knowledge, intellectual property and even patents to offer, but we always start with questions, before offering our knowledge and resources to agree a collective approach.

How has your approach to leadership and transformation changed this year?

More than anything, we have accelerated programs and initiatives that were already underway.

We all became much more aware of food security this year and OCP harnesses the intrinsic power of phosphorous to help the world’s farmers grow crops more efficiently and reliably. But, the pandemic has not had uniform effects around the world, so as a global leader in the fertilizer industry, our markets have not all evolved uniformly. Our business has been pulled in multiple directions simultaneously.

As I mentioned earlier, we seek to be as decentralized as possible and this has proven to be a blessing this year as we have implemented work patterns that minimize the risks of cross-infection.

For the leaders across the OCP Group, it has been vital to reinforce the confidence of our colleagues to own decisions and to trust their decision making. Just as importantly, we have worked incredibly hard to maintain our collective identity.

When we first began to model the potential impact of the pandemic on our business, our initial assessment was far too pessimistic. We have achieved so much this year. We accelerated our progress in so many of our activities.

Technology has been vital, but in unexpected ways. Naturally, workflow and operational tools have played key roles, but it is the way our team has embraced digital communications that really stands out. This has allowed us to keep communicating throughout.

In turn, this has driven our people to remain engaged. And this is the real causal factor – it is my colleagues’ commitment, values and approach and those of the many communities around us. They have refused to be constrained by fear or beaten by the many practical challenges in 2020. It is humbling to see the power of the human spirit.

How are you preparing OCP for the future against the backdrop of the pandemic?

Our priorities are very simple – we need to help farmers grow as sustainably as possible.

The pandemic has amply demonstrated the importance of culture and devolved decision making across the organization. Both internally and externally, we have seen the returns to education and training. Our media labs and teaching staff at Mohammed VI Polytechnic University (UM6P) are experimenting to find better ways for people to learn online. This will remain a priority.

We will continue to invest in technology. Not simply IT, but deep technology such as clean power patents and fertilizer manufacture and customization. Our commercial partners have been incredibly supportive, so that our technology and engineering JVs are building an incredible local skills base.

We will continue to focus on our local markets. More than mapping soils and training farmers to use our customized fertilizer, we have an ambitious investment program to manufacture fertilizer across Africa. This will create value in those markets while ensuring a more resilient supply.

We will minimize our negative and maximize our positive externalities. We are committed to use only non-traditional water in our operations by 2030 while using ever more clean power. We train farmers on how to use as little fertilizer as possible while achieving the best crop yields in an ever more challenging climate.

And we will support the communities around us, locally and nationally. That is why we donated MAD 3 billion to the Moroccan Government’s Special Fund to manage COVID-19 and we have been supporting health and education authorities, amongst others, by offering access to our facilities and providing supplies such as medical equipment.

What is your key piece of advice for other business leaders in this uncertain environment?

Your people are your biggest asset. Supporting them to achieve their full potential is the only way to unlock the true value within your business.

OCP Chairman and CEO Mostafa Terrab delivers his OWP liVe keynote – Leading OCP’s transformation: a multi-stakeholder perspective – on Wednesday, November 18.