New CEO Aims To Break GE Africa Out Of Its Box

GE Africa has a new CEO.

General Electric had a predicament: whom to appoint as the next CEO of GE Africa? Jay Ireland retired after nearly four decades with the company—seven of those at its helm. On two previous occasions, Ireland had expressed desire to retire, but GE persuaded him to stay on. Now the company has tapped Farid Fezoua, a 15-year GE veteran, to lead its efforts in Africa.

As CEO of GE Healthcare in Africa, Fezoua is credited with transforming the struggling business segment into the core of the company’s presence in the continent, in part through a knack for identifying opportunities.

But when he takes over GE Africa as a whole on October 1, Fezoua will confront much bigger challenges. In line with its global strategy, GE is positioning itself as an aviation, power and renewable-energy company. GE Healthcare will be a standalone business segment.

“GE has strong credibility in Africa but needs a strategy to cement its position,” says Philip Muema, a managing partner of Andersen Global in Kenya. As a region of frontier markets, Africa has become a focal point for multinational companies looking for opportunities. GE must find a way to protect its turf and maintain growth. Chinese companies are moving to establish dominance on the continent, particularly in energy. Perhaps most critically, GE relies, perhaps too much, on a handful of African countries that constitute about 70% of GE’s business on the continent.

GE might also be forced to rearrange some of its portfolios to align with new realities. In Kenya, some of its clients have gone bust, while others, like Kenya Airways, are struggling. Meanwhile, conservationists are firing up opposition to some of its projects, such as a coal-powered power plant in Kenya.

While the task ahead for Fezoua is enormous, so are the opportunities. Africa’s size, comparative infancy as an industrial power and need for infrastructure continue to make it an important target for multiple businesses under the GE umbrella.