28 February 2006

Mauritius: François Woo: General Manager of Compagnie Mauricienne de Textile


Port Louis — You have recently been conferred the title of Honorary fellow in Management of the University of Mauritius. How do you feel about it?

Basically, it is something I did not expect. It is true that in the past, I have been awarded different recognitions such as the GOSK (Grand Officer of the Star and Key) of the Indian Ocean that the government gave me two years ago. But, to be nominated as "entrepeneur of the year" is extraordinary. It is a great honour for my company, the Compagnie Mauricienne de Textile and myself, as it is the University of Mauritius, hence the academia, that recognizes our contribution to the economic, industrial and social development of the country. During the last twenty years, people have been able to see that CMT is a highly innovative organisation with a rich vision.

What are the factors behind your success?

Well, first of all, I would have never been able to do it on my own. There are thousands of people who have contributed to the success of CMT. As its manager, I think that we have been given this recognition because, as I said before, CMT has retained everyone's attention with its vision, its flair and its anticipation in the business world. And today, despite all the problems linked to the textile industry, it is not by accident that CMT is in such a good position. It is rather because of all the problems the company has managed to tackle. I feel confident and deep inside I know that the whole team is well prepared for the future.

Many people tend to think that the textile industry in Mauritius is going down. What do you have to say about the situation?

The situation is very bad indeed. In fact, we all expected this. In 1994, it was predicted that, in 10 years' time, the the situation would be hard. And the prediction was right as we are not protected anymore by the third country fabric agreement. Mauritius had been protected for years by the Lome convention whereby Mauritian textile products used to enter the EU market within duty-free and quota-free facilities. Whereas other countries seen as giants in the textile industry such as India, China or Bangladesh did not have the privilege of access to the EU market. But this era of protection has been over since January 2005. We are now facing a situation whereby offer is bigger than demand. Therefore competition will be tough. Elsewhere, countries such as India and China where the production cost is low are in a better situation. We are facing a real battle!

What about the economy of our country itself? What do you think about that?

I have to admit that we are in real difficulty right now. Let's pretend you have a chair standing on four feet and two of them get broken. It will not stand up properly. This is a bit like the situation of Mauritius. The sugar protocol is over. By 2009, there will be a hole of Rs 4 billion per year. How are we going to fill up this Rs 4 billion? The textile industry is having a rough time. The government is making a lot of effort, but despite all these efforts, I do not see how the situation in the textile industry will improve. Some factories will get bigger whereas others will close down. We will have a substantial fall in our standard of living. It is as if we are going back to our starting point.

But how does CMT manage to perform well in such a hard situation?

CMT is not magic. There are many factors that have kept up its performance. The management has created a kind of culture among the employees that motivates them to work. Moreover, I would say that CMT always has a vision regarding investment and the company knows how to serve its customers. Hence, all these factors have contributed to making CMT such an exceptional organization.

Are you planning something new for CMT to face the problems in the textile industry?

Our strategy is clear. CMT will remain in Mauritius. However, to ensure continuing success, CMT will have to look elsewhere as well. I am not talking about delocalizing. It is compulsory for us to consolidate ourselves here first, then CMT will move to have a proximity with the market and a diversification in the market. And there are many countries like China, on which CMT is working. In fact this project was supposed to be already working. But it has been 'put on hold' because of the problems linked with the quota. We are working really hard on other countries that have been very welcoming. This will help us to see where we can position ourselves.

And are you optimistic for the future of CMT?

I have always been optimistic. If that was not the case, I would not have succeeded so far. We started as a small factory, today it is one of the biggest in the country. But to be optimistic does not mean a licence to dream. When you are an optimist you should have a measured optimism. You need to be realistic and you need to be a fighter!

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