A day in the life of… Ludovic M’Bahia Blé
Managing Director of the Louis-Dreyfus Company’s Côte d’Ivoire subsidiary for the past three years, 37-year-old French-Ivorian Ludovic M’Bahia Blé has been working for around ten years within the international merchant firm, which has a presence in nine African countries and 382 employees on the continent. A former rice trader in Johannesburg, he tells us about his daily life working out of Côte d’Ivoire, and the upheavals caused by the Covid-19 crisis.
Work: important tasks in the morning
When it comes to food and agricultural commodities trading, you need to be across different continents’ markets nice and early. In Abidjan, where I live, my typical day starts between 7.30 and 7.45, after dropping my son off at school at 7.15. First, I review the international markets, especially the Asian ones. Then I check in with my team on our positioning, stock, pending orders, and supplies. The day continues with meetings, very often by videoconference, and we are regularly in touch with our teams in Switzerland and Singapore. I take an hour for lunch around 12.30 p.m., which may or not involve a business lunch. The afternoon is dedicated to more administrative and internal tasks, such as signing off on paperwork or payments. I like to do them in the afternoon because it requires a different form of concentration. If I need to produce something important, such as editorial content, the morning works better for me, and I usually spend the first couple of hours of the day on it.
I try to visit our warehouses at least once a week to see the stock and the teams, either on Wednesday or Friday. When cargo ships arrive, I go to the harbour to make sure everything is going well. I also travel a lot throughout the sub-region to meet with customers and suppliers.
Key to success: creating an authentic working relationship
There are two types of meetings – internal and external. Internal meetings often take place by videoconference, and it is very important to limit the number of participants. Beyond five or six people, things quickly become confused and too many participants remain passive. There is no added value. The other reason is time management. It is just not effective to have meetings that last two or three hours. If after one hour of meeting time there is no tangible result, it is because people were not ready to have the discussion, and it is better to move on to something else or to plan a new meeting.
As far as external meetings are concerned, I much prefer face-to-face, hence the high level of travel. We’re in a business where it’s important to meet people in real-life, to meet our suppliers. It is essential to build an effective working relationship. So all customer meetings are in person, even customers we know well and who we’ve been working with for years and speak to by phone every day.
His work style: proximity is essential
I have a management style that corresponds to the company’s culture, meaning that I like to stay close to what’s happening on the ground, and close to our teams. In our business, it’s essential to keep your ear to the ground so you have the right information to make the right decisions, and so that you are visible to your staff and they feel that everything is under control. It’s not a management style that overlooks issues. You have to be involved and meet with your customers in order to get a feel for the market.
Home life: playing sport to unwind
Sport plays an important role in clearing your mind. I run and box several times a week. It allows me to let off steam and think about something else. As soon as I stop, it immediately affects my well-being.
From a family point of view, my golden rule is not to work or travel on weekends. I used to catch Sunday lunchtime flights or return from business trips on Saturday morning, but it encroaches too much on family life. In the evening, I try to limit screen time, but it’s not always easy between e-mails, Whatsapp groups… there’s always something going on.
Covid 19: lessons to be learned
In Côte d’Ivoire, we have never before been in a situation of total lockdown. But as soon as the measures were enforced at the beginning of April, we introduced remote working even though it was not compulsory. It was a group policy, like the travel ban that came into effect a little earlier. A rotation was introduced the first week, with team members coming to the office on alternate days. Those at risk were encouraged to work remotely. Teams in the warehouses were maintained except for those identified as being at risk. Then the restrictions put in place by the government were reinforced with a curfew and a lockdown in Abidjan. All office staff were put on remote working, and warehouse staff were reduced to a minimum.
Our IT manager was efficient in putting into place all the necessary tools to ensure the continuity of our work. After two weeks, we had reached a fairly efficient momentum, with productivity maintained. The working day proved to be quite long, with everyone working from home and working to different time zones. Videoconferencing was not new to us, since it already made up almost half of our meetings. But with 90% of meetings by videoconference, the disadvantage is that towards the end of the day, concentration levels drop.
This has really impacted the way we work. I never thought I could be so efficient without travelling. But in the end, there are things that you can manage remotely by giving your teams more autonomy. This is likely to be something we collectively give more thought to, and it could have long-term consequences for our group’s way of working.
I must also acknowledge that it has been a difficult time, both in terms of keeping to time and delivering on commitments. Like me, my wife has been working remotely, and we have had to home-school our children while continuing to work.