Ghana’s Founders’ Day is a particularly significant date for the Kalmoni family. Held every year on 4th August, the day commemorates the six key leaders who led the struggle for Ghana’s independence from colonial rule in 1957.
Nissan has been there for every kilometre of the journey. “Japan Motors is part and parcel of that story,” says Managing Director, Salem Kalmoni. “In 1958, my father and my uncle imported the first Datsun into Ghana, and then in 1964, they established Japan Motors. But the story goes back even further to 1912, in fact, when my grandfather Salem Kalmoni emigrated to what was then known as the Gold Coast, and started the original company that would give birth to everything.
“We are part of the fabric of this country, and we have been here for four generations, through thick and thin. The first 30 years after independence were particularly tumultuous,” he says, adding: “There were six coups d’états. Many people, immigrants as well as Ghanaians, chose to leave and live elsewhere. We stuck it out through the good and the bad times.”
Part of that ongoing commitment to the country has been the US$9million investment in the brand new Nissan assembly plant in Tema, outside the capital Accra; but it’s not the first time that Japan Motors has assembled Nissan vehicles in Ghana.
“We ran an assembly plant between 1968 and 1980; then we closed it down because of a lack of government support. But now, with the new initiative by government in the shape of the Ghana automotive industry plan and the encouragement of the Minister of Trade and Industry, Alan Kyeremanten, we decided to invest again.”
The new plant, which was opened by the President of Ghana, H.E. Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo in March this year, is the most advanced, most state-of-the-art automotive assembly factory in West Africa, according to Nissan Africa Managing Director Mike Whitfield.
“It is an example for the rest of the continent of what can be achieved when there is a true public private partnership toward a common aim, as there is in this case with the Government of Ghana having created the correct enabling environment through policy underpinned by legislation to encourage and protect investment of this magnitude. “The results are already clear to see from the increasing number of jobs Japan Motors has been able to create from a zero base.” Kalmoni is delighted by the plant’s progress and the impact it has had on the local automotive industry.
“It’s not the first automotive assembly facility to be created under this new initiative, but it is the benchmark. Every competitor wants to visit us, even the World Bank has asked to come to have a tour and speak to us. The support throughout all of this from Nissan has been critical; we sent our initial team for highly specialised intensive training at Rosslyn, outside Pretoria, last year and we are now sending more staff there for advanced training as we expand.”
The company’s success has been honoured over the years by various Ghanaian institutions, but the most important for Kalmoni has been the Chartered Institute of Marketers Ghana, which recently inducted Japan Motors into its Hall of Fame after the company consistently won automobile company of the year. Kalmoni has also been recognised personally, winning the country’s entrepreneur award, as well as the title Automotive Executive of the Decade. He is humbled by the accolades. “I don’t go out to seek awards, but I’ve also learnt that if someone wants to honour you, you take it with humility.”
August also marks his 31st anniversary as Managing Director of Japan Motors. Appointed at the age of 24, he was the youngest CEO among Nissan’s global community of sales companies for years. “I was able to do this because of the mentorship of my uncle,” he explains. “He was the Executive Chair when I first took the job.”
He ascribes his own success and that of the company’s to an ongoing desire to learn and improve. “I have an open-door policy; most of my executive team has been with me for decades so obviously, they like working here too.” They have all grown together. “I like to set targets, but I also believe in training and exposure.”
Mr. Kalmoni’s own academic record proves exactly that. He did his first degree, a Bachelor’s in Business administration in Canada in 1988. His second degree was Executive Master’s degree in Governance and Leadership at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA) 20 years later. He followed that up in 2012 with an advanced management programme at Harvard University in the US.
His colleagues have followed suit; many have pursued Master’s degrees paid for by the company. “We’ve invested a lot in our staff,” he says, adding: “Our accountants are a case in point, eight of them have gone all the way to becoming qualified as chartered accountants since joining us. Japan Motors has eight CAs and a staff of 450, while my personal assistant qualified as lawyer. This is a proud Ghanaian company which, above everything else, is about self-development, as well as producing world-class vehicles from the best factory in West Africa.