Gypsum and hamburgers aren’t something you’d normally associate together, but the use of the natural soft sulphate mineral in everyday products, such as hamburgers, gives a little pleasure to Georgios Zachopoulos, Managing Director of Knauf Gypsum Tanzania – one of Africa’s developing manufacturers of gypsum-based products.

Georgios Zachopoulos, Managing Director of Knauf East Africa

“Although most people haven’t heard of gypsum, they actually use or eat it more than they realise,” Georgios chuckles.

From food additives to car production, pharmaceuticals and building supplies, this non-toxic, natural product is one of the most widely used minerals in the world. While it might not supply to the burger industry, Knauf Group is one of the leading global suppliers of gypsum-based, energy-efficient insulation and building products.

With its 220 production facilities and sales organisations in more than 80 countries, 28,000 employees worldwide, and €7.2 billion of sales in 2018, Knauf has become the synonym for gypsum.

It has also earned a reputation for quality in the marketplace. Visit any home hardware retailer or building supplier, and Knauf products will be proudly positioned on the shelf – likely one of the first brands sales staff will direct you to.

In 2014, Georgios was instrumental in leading the expansion of Knauf into East Africa. “Tanzania was a smart choice for the company,” Georgios recalls.

“Tanzania was a smart choice for the company. It’s an established country with a safe and stable business environment.”

“It’s an established country with a safe and stable business environment. It has a growing population, which creates a potential market for consumption, and it’s a gateway to the rest of Africa for transportation logistics. New markets open up new opportunities.

“The existence of raw materials in Tanzania was also a key factor in the company’s choice of location. We’re able to locally mine all the gypsum needed to produce insulation boards for our business, as well as supply raw gypsum to meet demand from other industries.”

With the markets in East Africa experiencing rapid development and urbanisation, the demand for raw gypsum is growing exponentially, as is the demand for gypsum-based products for housing. Knauf Gypsum Tanzania is in a prime position to leverage this opportunity.

Georgios Zachopoulos, Managing Director of Knauf East Africa

However, this growth has created challenges for the company, with a degree of catch-up required to fill the knowledge gap. “Our market in East Africa isn’t as developed as in other locations of Knauf operations,” Georgios suggests. “But local builders and architects are gradually understanding the cost and energy savings our products can offer. We’re slowly educating the market.”

The Knauf Tanzania Training Center offers free training to local contractors and sub-contractors each year. “We have a responsibility to teach others about the Knauf products and systems, and the correct use and application of these,” says Georgios.

“Not only does this provide comprehensive product knowledge, but all those who attend the training centre are learning how to quickly and safely install the Knauf systems. We see young people come from the streets, learn a new trade and leave our training with a qualification and potentially a new profession as a Knauf system installer. It’s our way of giving back to the community.

“Even though we are a foreign company from Germany, we’re locally producing products that were previously imported, and we’re doing this using predominantly local raw materials. We feel local, and it’s important for us to show this.”

“We feel local and it’s important for us to show this.”

The Knauf product suite includes insulation materials, dry-lining systems, plasters and accessories, thermal insulation, composite systems, paints, floor screed and systems, and construction equipment and tools.

However, for Georgios, it’s more important to look at the end-to-end need rather than the products in isolation. “We’re selling solutions,” he states.

“This is the most important innovation and service we offer the building industry. From a technical and practical point of view, we are in a unique position to solve most, if not all, problems in building design.

“In business, we have to adhere to the same philosophy as our customers. When constructing a building, it has to be delivered on time to an approved quality and safety standard. For Knauf Gypsum Tanzania, we also need to have similar principles we follow each day and, for us, that’s hard work, teamwork and adhering to Knauf values.”

Menschlichkeit, or living with integrity and honour, is at the heart of this 87-year-old, family-run organisation. In the short period that Knauf Gypsum Tanzania has been in the country, its commitment to social responsibility, respect of the environment and role in pulling together the company with its clients and the community shows that menschlichkeit is just as important to Georgios and his team as it is to the company’s global headquarters.

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