LAHORE-A spirited and humble gentleman responsible for spearheading the global paints and coatings giant ‘AkzoNobel’, Oscar Wezenbeek, shares with The Nation his insight into his world of colours and coatings.

“If you look at the demographics of the country and how the middle class is developing, Pakistan is full of promise,” according to Oscar Wezenbeek.

The managing director for AkzoNobel Decorative Paints in South East & South Asia seems optimistic about the growth prospects in the country.

Q: In general, what are your

thoughts about Pakistan?

A: Pakistan has always been an important country to AkzoNobel. It’s not only a colorful country with colorful people, we also see it as a country with immense growth potential. Though,it is faced with a few challenges, for example in terms of its exchange rate and how it is impacting business costs, we are confident that, in the long term, Pakistan will progress positively. We have always admired the commitment of the Pakistan team and that is evident by their performance, not only in Pakistan, but within AkzoNobel as well.

Q: What is AkzoNobel’s vision?

A: We want to be the reference in the paints and coatings industry overall with our sustainability agenda at the forefront of our endeavors to make it a win-win for all our stakeholders. We want AkzoNobel to inspire – its employees, customers, suppliers, partners and the society at large.

Q: How do you see Pakistan

in terms of business?

A:In terms of the business landscape of Pakistan, we believe that AkzoNobel enjoys a very good market position. We are clearly the market leader.But Pakistan has a fragmented paint industry. There are lots of players with small market shares. Another concern for us is the informal economy which can create an unlevel playing field for many companies.

Q: Do you feel these challenges are faced by other South East and South Asian countries like India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Indonesia too?

A: Challenges are faced by every country. It’s just a matter of the extent of it. Pakistan is more vulnerable in times like these because many of our raw materials are imported from outside the country and the exchange rate significantly impacts our business position. Raw material prices in general have been unstable in the paint industry. Compounded with the exchange rate fluctuations, this can impose a challenge.

Q: Looking at the South Asian markets, how do you see the similarities

and differences with regards

to the paints business?

A: What I really like about this region is that it has great growth potential and attracts investment despite global challenges. From a global point of view, that is a unique situation. The region in general and Pakistan in particular has the largest percentage of youth population in its history. This is a generation that wants to take initiative, reinvent rules and lead change.

And you can see the drive and passion, for example, we see creative expression growing on local and global platforms such as Lahore Biennale Foundation’s event LBF02 and we are proud to be the color partners again this year as well. We know that architects, interior designers and patrons in Pakistan keenly look forward to our annual ColourFutures event where we reveal the Colour of the Year – as part of our work with specialists and leading design professionals to study the annual trend research findings. The colors are then translated for use with specific products to offer on-trend selections to customers in various markets.

This energy is visible across all industries. You can see young Pakistani men and women excelling in all walks of life everywhere in the world.We have people from AkzoNobel Pakistan in our offices in Singapore and elsewhere in the world. It is gratifying to see the amount of talent that this country and the region has.

Q: Investment interest in Pakistan means new industrial units,

new power plants and promising

trade routes – seemingly there is

some potential for the paints and coatings industry too. Your thoughts?

A: Well, it’s difficult to comment on the specific agreements and deals but it does fit in the picture that there is definitely movement – we see economic movement in the right direction. So, we see it as an area in which we would like to invest and grow.

Q: What is AkzoNobel’s take

on sustainability and how are

you contributing towards the UN

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

A: AkzoNobel’s sustainability agenda can be summarized into ‘People.Planet.Paint’. It’s how we treat our people, our suppliers and inspire and empower the communities around us.This is also translated to how we consistently innovate to give our customers choice and competitive advantage through product and service offerings designed to bring tangible benefits and deliver positive social and environmental impact. Broadly speaking, it encompasses how we protect the environment and preserve our planet to realize our ambition to reduce waste, become carbon neutral and transition to renewable energy by 2050.

We invest significant time and energy to ensure that we practice what we preach. I was very happy to inaugurate our solar panel energy project at AkzoNobel Pakistan’s head office in Lahore last year. The installation will provide 520MWH/year of green energy and reduce 387,000 kg of carbon emissions/year. This equates to 10,000 trees grown for 10 years.

With products & sustainable solutions that are ecofriendly – for example, ‘Weathershield’ a heat reflective exterior paint shows that we have made strong commitments towards helping our suppliers, partners and customers in reducing the carbon footprint.

Sustainability is also one of the most important metrics for us when we make investment decisions. Our partners play a key role in helping us contribute to the global cause. We are the co-founders of the Green Building Council in Pakistan. As responsible citizens, we want to make the ultimate difference.