Employees - January 2024

“The clocks tick differently here”

From Belgium to the Ivory Coast

Continent, climate, culture – everything is different, but the French language connects. Jean Melotte has made the leap from Belgium to the Ivory Coast. The Business Development Manager is helping to expand Geberit’s presence in West Africa. One important aspect: training.

Manioc and plantains instead of chips and waffles, constant warm and humid temperatures instead of four seasons. Around 5,100 kilometres separate Belgium and the Ivory Coast as the crow flies. This did not deter Jean Melotte – on the contrary: after more than 20 years as a project consultant at the Belgian Geberit sales company, he was gripped by a thirst for adventure. A trip to Guinea and his own roots inspired him to take a bold step: “I was born in Africa and was open to this destination”. Geberit enabled him to change scenes and sent him to the Ivory Coast in French-speaking West Africa three years ago as Business Development Manager.

Stressful arrival
It was 2021 and the pandemic was making its rounds – a bumpy start for an emigration. Especially as it was “quite complicated” to move to an African city without local Geberit offices, even without COVID restrictions. “You need to organise a lot by yourself on site,” Jean Melotte explains. “Geberit supported us from afar to make sure we were comfortable and safe.”

Settling in went well, also thanks to the warm welcome by the community. The only thing he could not quite get used to was the time system. The clocks tick a little differently on the African continent: “From 12 noon onwards, people greet each other with ‘Bonsoir’, which means good night, and that’s in the middle of the day,” he says. This also has an impact on everyday business. The local population lives from day to day. “It can take weeks or months to get an answer”.

Creating demand
The wait usually pays off, because the African market has great potential: “The infrastructure still has to be developed here,” explains the 57-year-old. The demand for Geberit products also has to be created first. That is why it is crucial to be present in the cities in order to build up a relationship of trust with the local partners. And that is precisely the task of the Belgian and his team colleagues.

A central element is training. Jean Melotte regularly gives installers, architects and engineers courses in sanitary and installation technology and hydraulics. “Not so easy without a Geberit Information Centre (GIZ) and a drainage tower for demonstration purposes,” says the trained industrial engineer.

“Three years is a good time”
After three years abroad, the father of three and his partner long for the family and the climate in Europe. He returned at the beginning of this year. He doesn’t want to miss the experience: “Building good relationships and trust before talking business, and cultivating the network. And of course a lot of patience,” he says and laughs.