Set up in Congo for more than fifty years, the Chelala family is one of the French-Lebanese diaspora-descendants, the most known in the country. After having dealt in the frozen foods products in the 80’s and 90’s, Elie Chelala runs with his son Marc-Antoine the SMGC, which stands for Congolese Company for Mine and Gravel. Brazzamag met them at the company’s headquarters, which is also their main garage, hidden behind high walls at Vindoulou, at forty-five minutes to the city centre of Pointe-Noire.
Chelala are discreet. Their familial company, SMGC, is one of the main transport, construction and civil engineering companies of the country. But no sign of them on the Internet, no website online and few advertisement. Even their headquarters seems to have been put out of the sight. The taxi that is driving us, may boast about knowing all the streets of ther area by heart, he was hesitantly complelled to ask twice his way.
One can even feel a certain reservation to the idea of telling the story of the family to a journalist. « I was committed » let out Marc-Antoine Chelala , almost with sorrow, at the time to take a sit in his deskto tell us the family’s company story, which publishing will be issued for the first time.
« A human’s size organization »
Therefore, it’s the familial taking over that is being applied. This thirtysomething is deputy managing director for five years. No need for that reason to play the « Chairperson, in a luxury office ». He settle down at the basement/first floor, at the employees’ level, just in front of the entrance. He can see all the trucks coming and going out, feel the garage atmosphere. « It’s a little bit my lookout man. »
Marc-Antoine was in their ranks seven years earlier. At the time of integrating the company, he starts as a field manager, after getting a Vocational Training Certificate in Management and a Bachelor’s degree in accounting obtained in France. A landing off little bit brutal, but necessary. « I did not evenknow the difference between the cement and the concrete. I learnt all on the field. » An experience that he is using today « every day ».
One year later, he moves to the Accounting, his area, then becomes deputy managing director. A promotion that he looks at in context. « My main concern has always been the saving and the development of this human’s size organization. » Organization. The word comes all the time during the conversation. It’s finally the role that Marc-Antoine found himself throughout times : structure and modernize his father’s activities.
From road transport to wide-ranging works. In its creation/foundation, SMGC was specialized in the road transport between Pointe-Noire and Brazzaville. It was worth, for sure, to have trucks, but not only. « When we started in 2003, there was only a pathway. During the rainy season, it was worth taking out diggers. » Trips were then taking many weeks.
In 2012, the National Road 1 gets out of land. One needs to think over to diversify : it will be logically towards civil engineering. « We learnt to do embarkment for example. The idea was to recycle our knowledge being used internally and to put them on the market. » That is it for the theory, but Marc-Antoine also deals with the practice : he assesses requirements, rationalizes expenses, renovates the headquarters, invests, binds partnerships, set up new teams and search for potential markets.
Very swiftly, the SMGC attracts big companies but also individual privates. Not lying on its successes, it decides to increase its demands in order to position on the oil markets.
The issue is that, one does not work for them overnight. « They require rigour, that one necessarily did not have. We were obliged to change everything. From hard hats to salary charts by transforming safety standards, it took us more than two years. » Last June, SMGC gets the certification/qualification to work for Total E&P Congo. « It was difficult, but that could only be beneficial. Now we have the rigour to position ourseles on large scale works. »
«In order to know the summit/top, one needs to know the bottom ».
Voice echos coming from the corridor. Marc-Antoine stops his telling to joke. « It’s nohing, it’s my father who is joking with salaried-workers ». That day, Elie Chelala is spending exactly some minutes in his son’s office. At first glance, SMGC Managing Director looks like a short man with an humble appearance. But one must not get mistaken : in the year 80’s, coming to join back a cousin of him, Joseph Chelala, he dealt with business of frozen products and has then joined the group El Sahely run by Fouad El Sahely. Together, they will create many companies which names are well known such as SCAC and Cristal before creating SMGC in the year 2000. In brief, he is one of the most known and most active diaspora Franco-Lebanese businessmen in Congo.
Exchanged looks between the managing director and his deputy are willingly accomplice and benevolent. « He is managing not so bad », appreciates Elie Chelala by showing a little smile. In 2010, it is him who calls Marc-Antoine to come to work at SMGC. Why ? « You are still applyinng what you’ve learnt at the university department », he answers on the obvious voice. « Studies are made to shape the brain. After, one has to adapt. That is why I sent my son on the field. In order to know the top/summit, one needs to learn from the bottom ».
From the summit or from the bottom ? Behind the desk, on the field or in the garage ? Where is he the most at ease ? « I do not ask myself the question. In Congo, one needs to adapt, to each situation such as a Swiss knife, one needs to be a four-wheel-drive », affirms Marc-Antoine by strolling in the middle of the trucks. Now that SMGC has changed the dimension, we have to communicate. « We intend to develop an internet website, a Facebook page, and why not Instagram also, matter to be known a little bit. » Even if that is to say to break a little Chelala’s nature.
By Antoine Rolland
SMGC, Marc-Antoine Chelala, a rise story
Source : http://brazzamag.com/smgc-marc-antoine-chelala-histoire-dune-ascension/