10-YEAR SPECIAL (Part 4) – Pride of Africa

This fourth installment of our series of articles celebrating WKC’s 10 years of success tells the story of one of WKC’s key figures, from his arrival almost 10 years ago, how he has helped shape the business in Africa and beyond, through to what excites him most about the prospect of the next 10 years.

Pride of Africa
(By Marc Blanché, Partner)

I started my environmental consultancy career working for a well-known multinational engineering company in Durban, South Africa, specializing in mining and metropolitan infrastructure projects. My focus was predominantly on assisting with the delivery of environmental impact assessments (EIA’s). Having exposure to a variety of specialist fields during the execution of these projects, I decided that I wanted to gain experience in a technical discipline.

At around this time I was introduced to Dr Ian James by one of my clients who, along with his co-founder Tristan Coleman, had recently set up WKC and was looking to attract specialists to come and work in their newly established South African office. Very fortunately for me, this office was to be based on my doorstep, in my hometown of Ballito, on the outskirts of Durban.

Perhaps what stood out more than anything else was the focus on technical competence that the founders envisaged for WKC. I had never been exposed to such a high technical benchmark, not only in terms of the environmental sciences, but also of the processes and systems that can give rise to environmental impacts. WKC has always been unique in its belief that without having a good, scientific understanding of the causes of environmental impacts, you cannot offer true ‘consultancy’ services.

I had never been exposed to such a high technical benchmark, not only in terms of the environmental sciences, but also of the processes and systems that can give rise to environmental impacts.

“That’s a big engine!” – Marc in East Africa (2018)

I was also excited to be tasked with preparing a business plan for WKC’s South African business as part of my job application! This was an early sign of the entrepreneurial spirit that runs through WKC, one which is encouraged at all levels of the business. When offered a position I jumped at the opportunity, excited at the prospect of helping shape and steer the business in the coming years while continuing to learn about a range of industries and refine my technical skills.

This was an early sign of the entrepreneurial spirit that runs through WKC, one which is encouraged at all levels of the business.

Of course, starting a new business in any market without a local track-record is daunting. But what we lacked in brand recognition was more than made up for in a belief in our abilities to provide great value to our clients. WKC also brought with it an impressive international client base and a growing team of dedicated and talented professionals.

But what we lacked in brand recognition was more than made up for in a belief in our abilities to provide great value to our clients.

I was quickly thrown into the world of international consulting where the projects were massive in terms of capital value, and the delivery deadlines were always “fast track”! With this international experience as our foundation, we were able to carve out a share of the African market, providing support for the mining and power sectors amongst others. Our experience of working on large financed projects, particularly in the Middle East within the framework of the IFC General EHS Guidelines and Performance Standards, allowed us an advantage over our local competition.

Marc with a client at a landfill site in Namibia (2015)

Over the years I have been fortunate to work on and run projects all over the African continent including the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, Libya, Egypt, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, Zambia, Tanzania, Mozambique, Lesotho and of course South Africa.

The fondest memories always seem to come from the field trips! Highlights include an armed convoy in Nigeria concerned about pirates operating along the Niger River, remote northern Tanzania, where the local hyena population caused havoc with our field equipment, animated customs officials in the DRC suspicious of our air quality sampling equipment, the beauty of Lake Kivu in Rwanda, eating Jollof rice on a tropical beach in Ghana, and of course all the people we get to meet and work with on these multidisciplinary teams.

Marc on the shores of Lake Kivu, Rwanda (2018); Lunch in Ghana (2017); Marc’s armed guard in Nigeria (2013)
Marc in Tanzania (2012); Enjoying Refreshments with a colleague in DRC (2019)

It has been truly amazing to have taken a leading role in growing the South African business from its humble beginnings in our “cupboard under the stairs” office, to now having a permanent presence in Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg. 

I am also particularly proud to lead WKC’s graduate engineer program. I have seen so much amazing talent emerge here in South Africa, helping WKC deliver some of the worlds biggest and most complex environmental consultancy projects all over the world, and some of whom have even become leaders in their own right in various parts of the business.

Marc, together with his South African team (2019)

As we commence the next 10-year phase of the WKC story, I am excited to be involved in our push to implement the latest in cutting-edge, innovative technologies to help improve the execution and quality of our consultancy work while keeping our prices amongst the most competitive on the market. Machine-learning, artificial intelligence are phrases we are using more and more… watch this space!

I am excited to be involved in our push to implement the latest in cutting-edge, innovative technologies to help improve the execution and quality of our consultancy work

I have no doubt that the next 10 years will be filled with even more interesting projects, growth and many more great memories!

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