Coal was once considered one of the main sources of energy, and when Abdelmajid Iraqui Houssaini first joined TAQA Morocco as CEO more than 20 years ago, that was still very much the case.
But much has changed in the years since, and today he finds himself at the forefront of the energy transition in Morocco – a dramatic shift that also represents the biggest transformation the company has ever seen.
“The change is about turning the company into a platform that is present in renewables with the ambition to limit our carbon footprint with clear targets. Our ambition to diversify into the energy mix, meaning low carbon growth in the facility sector, but also in solar, wind, water desalination and hydrogen,” he tells The CEO Magazine.
TAQA Morocco’s immediate target is to develop a portfolio of wind and solar capabilities in Morocco, with the aim to reach 1,000 megawatts installed capacity by 2030.
“That will help us reduce our carbon footprint by 25 percent,” Iraqui states.
Operatorship capability is linked to a culture of excellence. It is linked to skills development. It is linked to knowledge management. It is linked to training.
The personal touch
Far from a simple task, the success of such an undertaking relies heavily on the capabilities of his team, according to Iraqui. “We are a blue chip company that takes pride in investing in human capital because I still believe that what makes a difference between energy companies is operatorship capability,” he explains.
“Operatorship capability is linked to a culture of excellence. It is linked to skills development. It is linked to knowledge management. It is linked to training. So I would say, it is the human capital that makes or breaks energy companies.”
In addition to the transformation that’s taking place at TAQA Morocco in terms of its investment profile and technological breakthroughs, there is also its ongoing digital evolution encompassing its processes, operations, the development of a monitoring center and new capabilities based on AI, modeling and predictive maintenance.
“At the same time, this translates into a transformation in the human capital capabilities and in the culture of doing business,” Iraqui says.
While the COVID-19 pandemic shined a light on the resilience of the energy sector, he believes that the companies that fared the best were those that were better prepared in terms of digital and human capital culture.
“If I had to go back one year and say what is the strength or what is the area that we could have probably improved, I would say business continuity programs,” he reflects. “I think the pandemic was a reminder that problems existed in the past and I think business continuity programs for entities are extremely important. I think it is an area that is key going forward for businesses.”
This focus on people and culture is a key differentiator for TAQA Morocco amid its competitors, Iraqui believes. “Ours is a culture of performance, a culture of excellence,” he says. “You might have the best strategies, but if you do not have the culture to implement it, then it won’t get there. You don’t get there.”
The company’s track record is also a major selling point, with TAQA Morocco having earned a reputation for developing massive projects on time and on budget.
“We have a track record of operating such units with very high availability compared to our peers,” he says. “We are in the top decile compared globally in independent benchmarks in terms of availability and maintenance.”
Ours is a culture of performance, a culture of excellence. You might have the best strategies, but if you do not have the culture to implement it, then it won’t get there.
It has standing as a regional leader not only of power generation, but also of water desalination. “That set the mark very high in terms of ESG commitments and governance, and has a very strong rating and strong financial fundamentals,” he says.
According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Morocco has taken a “positive stance” on climate change, with the country acknowledging the pressing need to make the shift from fossil fuels to cleaner alternatives.
With a national strategy now firmly in place, the country’s energy transition is gathering momentum, moving toward energy independence and a reduced carbon footprint, it said.
If TAQA Morocco succeeds in achieving its ambitious goals, Iraqui, an industry veteran of almost 25 years, will consider his career a great success.
“We are at a crossroads. We are a company that basically has a single technology in a single site, and we are trying to move it to become a company that has multiple technologies on different sites,” he says.
“That is a big jump, and we are being responsible also in terms of environmental emissions and limiting our carbon footprints to ensure the company becomes more sustainable for the future. I think that would be a success for the organization, but also a success of its leadership at the same time.”
A thriving ecosystem
Partnerships will play a crucial role in TAQA Morocco’s ascent, including tie-ups with major multinationals such as mechanical engineering firm John Cockerill. The company has also built up a solid network made up of local suppliers where the arrangements are mutually beneficial.
“We were very keen from the beginning to develop an ecosystem around us with companies that can supply us. It is a win–win situation, where there are local companies around us that we have helped by giving them visibility in terms of the jobs that they can do with us,” Iraqui says.
“At the same time, we have specific policies in terms of procurement. I think when you have a strong code of ethics in terms of transparency, in terms of competitive bidding, in terms of payment track record, I think it establishes that relationship with the suppliers.”
We are a company that basically has a single technology in a single site, and we are trying to move it to become a company that has multiple technologies on different sites.
This combination of visibility, a code of ethics, transparency, competitive bidding, pricing and making payments on time are the key drivers that have helped TAQA Morocco to develop strong relationships with its suppliers, particularly because the energy sector involves a great deal of planning.
“If you give visibility, if you have a strong payment track record, if you have transparency and a good code of ethics, then your supplier is able to deliver to you quickly at the best price,” he explains. “That will allow you to come to the market much faster with the best price and the best quality.”
While Iraqui is quick to admit the company is no match for the big conglomerates in terms of size, its scale is nonetheless meaningful for the Moroccan economy. And the company’s financial results bear this out.
I think when you have a strong code of ethics in terms of transparency, in terms of competitive bidding, in terms of payment track record, I think it establishes that relationship with the suppliers.
In the first quarter of 2023, revenue rose 53.9 percent compared with the same period last year – an increase the company attributed to improved operational efficiency, combined with the impact of the trends in international coal prices. Revenue totaled US$419 million compared to US$272 million at the end of March 2022.
“The transformation that we are living is three dimensional. First is the human capital. Second is the digital tools with all the benefits and the risks that they bring. Third is the energy mix diversification and the carbon footprint reductions that we are aiming to achieve,” Iraqui explains.
“So the best is not behind us, but truly in front of us.”
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