As president and CEO of GE Africa, Jay Ireland is the first senior manager to be based on the continent. He says the company will grow by being flexible.
A year into his job, General Electric's Africa chief executive Jay Ireland says growth will come from all sectors – from locomotives, gas, power generation and healthcare.
Nine new hospitals in Ghana will be using General Electric (GE) technology, and the company is also eyeing the opportunities presented by oil and gas finds in East Africa.
Ireland says GE is "open for business" when it comes to pipeline projects in Uganda and South Sudan.
GE established its first African office in Johannesburg in 1898. "We've been here a long time," says Ireland.
Despite more than a century on the continent, Ireland's move to Nairobi in March 2011 was the first time GE had a member of executive management based in Africa.
The former head of GE Asset Management, Ireland moved to Nairobi soon after vice chairman John Rice relocated to Hong Kong as part of a company strategy to focus on emerging markets.
"Sixty per cent of our sales are outside the United States, even though we're a US company," says Ireland, but he admits that only 1% – or $1.8bn – of the company's revenue comes from Africa.
Ireland says that as an equipment supplier, GE is in the middle of the debate over whether there is plenty of financing but no bankable projects, or plenty of projects but no finance, in Africa.
"Some people think Africa's too risky, so they're asking too high a price to finance or too many security provisions and contracts," says Ireland.
"Or, on the other side, there's not a good enough power purchase or off-take agreement that's structured appropriately and that protects you through administration changes where you need that consistency for long-term financing."
As a result, he says companies like GE will have to become more flexible. Already, GE is getting much more involved in the financing side of deals, bringing in consortiums of investors to help to fund projects.
In 2010, it helped to secure the finance for the national airline RwandAir to buy two Boeing airplanes.
GE is also assembling diesel locomotives through a partnership with South Africa's logistics parastatal Transnet in Pretoria. The venture delivered its first train in January.
"The model that we have in the Transnet partnership is one we'd like to replicate around Africa where it makes sense," says Ireland.
"We're hoping to get up to 65% local content of what we do in locomotives and look at that in other areas." GE is also pushing to set up more service shops for its equipment, such as those it already has in Nigeria and Angola●