“You can do it. I’m no exception”

Former professional football player, airline entrepreneur and current country manager for Damco in Cameroon, Alphonse Bea lacks neither drive nor ambition. After two promotions in a year, he wants to be CEO of Africa and the Middle East. “If you want to reach the third floor, aim for the fifth,” he says

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Alphonse Bea in brief
Age: 39

Employment:

  • Business Development Manager Mobil’Affiche France (2005-2008)
  • Marketing & Commercial Director INTERFACE SA (2008-2010)
  • Commercial Director Cameroon Airlines Corporation (2010-2013)
  • Sales Manager Damco Cameroon (February 2013-November 2013)
  • Country Manager Damco Came- roon (December 2013-present day)

CCO CAF Area (February 2014-present day)

  • Education:

    BSc in Business Management, International Business Institute, Brussels

Joining Damco in Cameroon in 2013, Alphonse Bea went straight into the fast lane. After six months, he crossed out ‘sales manager’ on his business card and replaced it with ‘country manager’. Soon after, he also took charge of commercial strategy and performance of the Central Africa cluster.

“I think this shows the values of the company. If you work hard then you can make it, no matter how long you’ve been here,” Bea says.

“I like to share the story with people that are new to the company, telling them: ‘You can do it. I’m no exception. You will have your chance if you believe in what you do and you do it the right way.’”

Save a life
Logistics in Central Africa is challenging, and Bea does not soften this fact. People will ask for bribes, trucks will not show up and you cannot send e-mails because the network is down. And then there’s the infrastructure: roads are bad and it can take two weeks to cover what should take only three days.

“These things can happen anywhere once in a while. Here, they happen almost every day. In that sense, you cannot compare logistics in Central Africa to anywhere else in the world,” Bea explains.

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Damco in Central Africa

  • Damco’s Central Africa Cluster serves customers in Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Benin, Togo and the Central African Republic.
  • The physical infrastructure includes a network of own offices, inland depots and reliable local suppliers providing dedicated trucks and train wagons, storage and warehousing availability. Employees on the ground personally manage border checkpoints and inland destinations to guarantee security and reliability of shipments.
  • The cluster has more than 70 full-time employees and its regional office is located in Douala, Cameroon.

When asked what drives him, he tells a story about transporting 300 containers of relief aid to the Central African Republic during the civil war. He could not find a trucking company that would drive into the war zone, but in the end he found a solution involving UNICEF flags and a military escort.

“This is what motives me, and this is why we deal
with the challenges. We are not only working for money; we also work to help people, and sometimes even to help save lives.”

Stay in school
Born in Cameroon, going to Europe to study was a child- hood dream. Luckily for Bea he had a talent for football, and in 1996 he was invited to France to play.

“Before I left Cameroon, I promised my father that I would continue going to school. That was his condition for letting me go,” he says.

Bea started in a training camp, keen to adapt quickly. He trained in the morning, went to school in the after- noon and read books at night, recalling the time as “very, very challenging”. Eventually he was given a contract to play professionally. This enabled him to enrol in business school.

“Being a young man, I did well. I was able to pay for my school, to help my family in Cameroon and also to have a good life for myself.”

Things could have continued like this, but after ten years Bea found himself at a crossroads. His knee was injured and the doctor outlined the options: “Stop playing football or risk your mobility.”

“I did not want to be in a position where I would have to ask myself: ‘What am I going to do tomorrow without football?’ Therefore I decided to finish business school so that I would have a chance to get a proper job that would allow me to plan for the rest of my life. That day, I stopped playing football,” Bea says.

After graduation, Bea worked for more than a decade in France, initially scouting footballers in Africa and then moving into advertisement and computers. In 2009, his homeland came calling. A new airline was on the drawing board and Bea accepted the position of director of sales, building a team from scratch.

“In life, you do things for different reasons. Most of the time, the most important thing is not how you do things or what you do, but why you do it,” he says.

“Going back to Africa was a matter of belief. I believe that I can bring something to my people and that I can help make things better.”

The Cameroon Airlines Company successfully commenced operations in 2011, and the sales team was set up with a network in Paris, Abidjan and across Africa. It was performing well, but Bea was becoming restless.

“I wanted to be part of helping Cameroon have an airline. Whatever happens, you cannot ignore that fact. However, once operations began I had to look for a different challenge to keep moving forward.”

Work hard
When asked about his ambition for the coming years, considering his swift progression at Damco, Alphonse Bea replies with the same confidence and calm tone with which he has told the rest of his story.

“In two years I see myself as the CEO of Africa and the Middle East for Damco. I have always said to myself that if you want to reach the third floor, try to reach the fifth, so even if that does not happen, you can fall at the third floor.”

Bea explains he is confident that he – and anyone else for that matter – can do what he puts his mind to. For him, the only guarantee of failure is to believe that success is not possible.

“I know that Damco will not look at where you are from, but what you can deliver. So in order to reach my goal, I have to deliver at the level that I am now, and then deliver above that. Also, I know it is very challenging to have the kind of position that I am striving for.”

“I want to show future generations that if I have made it, then they can make it too. No matter where you are from, no matter what the colour of your skin, you can make it. I believe only in one thing: hard work.”