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New major pharma facility opens in Port Elizabeth

Fixed-capital investments create long-term jobs and sustainability, says Aspen Pharmacare CEO Stephen Saad.

ARABILE GUMEDE:  Another story, and I think this is also quite a big one, we had the minister of trade and industry at the official opening of the [new Aspen] building. Stephen Saad, who is the CEO of Aspen Pharmacare, joins us on the line. Stephen, quite a momentous day yesterday – 500 jobs, a R1 billion facility. You must be very proud of that.

STEPHEN SAAD:  Yes, we are. We’ve always said, although we’ve globalised our business, maybe only 20% of our business is in South Africa, wherever we’ve globalised we’ve tried to bring the production back to South Africa – to the extent we can. So South Africa’s got a disproportionate share of our jobs, maybe 40% of the 10 000. So we are very, very proud and it’s very good to bring new technology, differentiated technology, so we are not left behind here. Ja, so very, very proud of a tremendous team effort to be able to install this facility.

ARABILE GUMEDE:  You also speak about how you are going to offer a lot more training as well. Is this the end of your investment, particularly into the PE plant?

STEPHEN SAAD:  Because we are sort of on our own in terms of how much we invest in South African pharma and industry, we’ve created our training academies and we’ve created them because not only have we got this build, but probably our next build is two, three times this size – it’s a very, very big build into steriles and it will also be on the Port Elizabeth site.

The reason Port Elizabeth really works for us with incremental sites is that you’ve already got a lot of your fixed cost there, and a lot of your skill base there, so you get economies of scale by building on there. Because we’ve made some very big investments into anaesthetics and thrombolytics – those are sterile products, injectables, vials [and anaesthetic products] those type of things. So probably our most ambitious project is actually underway as we speak. It wasn’t what we opened yesterday, though.

ARABILE GUMEDE:  In the long run as well – taking a look not just at this, but your entire business as well – was your step forward based a lot more on the political advancements that have happened and of course the outlook on what South Africa’s growth is like, or were you just going to continue to invest in South Africa in a big way anyway?

STEPHEN SAAD:  I just think that as the private sector you can keep looking over your shoulder and wait for sentiment to change, and you end up waiting and waiting for each other and nothing happens. This facility is the work of five years. We invested long before sentiment changed. So it’s very important  I think from the private sector if we invest, particularly in fixed-capital investments, you create long-term jobs and long-term sustainability. A lot, 95%, of what comes out of that facility is going to be exported. But I do believe with the change in the last five months – it’s so important  for that sentiment to change because we all want a growing economy. Business grows in a growing economy, and we’ve got a very large South African business. So certainly the positive sentiment is just the cherry on the top.

ARABILE GUMEDE:  Mr Saad, thank you so, so much for your time. Greatly appreciated.

For more on this story, read here.

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