In Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city, an eight-story building by the sea is now in ruins, with a big hole on the top floor and the steel bars exposed straight up. There are not many rooms facing the street that still have intact glass in their windows. The outer walls are speckled with black spots that appear to be bullet holes. After the fall of African strongman Gaddafi, the once-rich North African oil state has been associated with civil war and unrest. Such ruins are not uncommon in the center of Benghazi, the "economic capital" of Libya, as a result of the devastation and chaos caused by several years of war. On the ground floor of this crumbling-looking building, a cafe huddles in a street-level shop, with its red facade illuminated by two searchlights hanging on the third floor. It was here in this cafe that Zhang Shaoyun had a cup of coffee with his new business partner, Abdulloula, as they had just finished an eight-day marketing tour.
"When I joined Mindray and took over the Africa business in 2017, the Libyan market was in a state of flux waiting for rebuilding. After years of war, the local market was severely damaged and Mindray's business in Libya hit rock bottom." Mr. Zhang re-organized the market in 2018 by introducing new distributors and inviting them to Shenzhen HQ for training. In March 2019, Mr. Zhang and his team held a marketing campaign in the central Libyan city of Misrata, with more than 200 people attending, generating demand for dozens of pieces of equipment after the event. With the business gaining ground, they decided to strike while the iron was hot. The eastern city of Benghazi is the economic center of Libya, and Mr. Zhang planned to do a customer visit in September with his new distributor Abdulloula.
Less than a month after Mindray's marketing campaign in March, the situation in Libya suddenly deteriorated, with multiple rounds of conflicts resulting in hundreds of deaths. When Mr. Zhang finished his trip to Zimbabwe at the end of August and was ready to travel to Benghazi as planned, all the flights had been canceled for security reasons. His Libyan visa was no longer valid for entry and additional permission from the military authority was required for him to enter the country.
"It was the first time I encountered a situation like this since I came to work here in Africa two years ago." Security first was the directive from Mindray HQ, and Mr. Zhang walked into the Zimbabwean distributor's office wondering whether to still go to Libya. Considering the business improvement and the support needed for the new distributors, Mr. Zhang decided to move forward after talking to Abdulloula to understand the local situation in Benghazi. "Without telling the truth to my wife, who had just had a baby, I sent my insurance information to one of my friends and then flew to Tunisia, the neighbor of Libya, on August 31 to wait for the air traffic to resume. Abdulloula helped coordinate my air tickets and the military documentation required for entry into Benghazi. I had been in the Tunis airport three times with my tickets changed twice since September 2, and finally got the required documents to fly to Benghazi and met Abdulloula on the 4th. "
Mr. Zhang and Abdulloula spent the next 8 days intensively visiting 45 end customers in Benghazi, including clinics, laboratories, and hospitals. On the afternoon of the day Mr. Zhang was to return home, the two men took a walk down to the Benghazi seaside after finishing the day's work, and had a cup of coffee together at the cafe on the ground floor of that dangerous building. They posed for a photo outside the cafe, with the devastated old city of Benghazi faintly visible in the background, smiles clear on both faces. The business in Libya ramped up rapidly and doubled its annual sales target planned for that year. This African country, with a total population of 6 million and still in the midst of a civil war, ranked in the top seven of Mindray's international business in sales of in-vitro diagnostic devices that year.
On April 15, Ayoub Elbaamrani flew from Morocco to Kenya to support product service for a local teaching hospital. On the day of arrival, Morocco announced the suspension of all international flights in order to control the spread of COVID-19, and the Kenyan government immediately took the same decision.
On what was supposed to be a four-day short-term support service, Ayoub was suddenly stranded in Kenya with an uncertain return date, and he didn't even bring enough changes of clothes. With a worsening epidemic situation and a pregnant wife at home to care for, Ayoub was plagued with anxiety and worry.
But after communicating with his family, his Moroccan colleagues, and Mindray HQ, Ayoub adjusted his mindset. Taking things as they come, the French-speaking African product specialist converted his role and began servicing the end customers in Kenya, an English-speaking country. He conducted product training for medical staff at the teaching hospital, visited local distributors, supported the work of the Mindray Kenya team in person and also the Moroccan team remotely.
"Kenya has become my home from afar and even my 28th birthday was celebrated with my colleagues from Mindray Kenya. An unexpected trip paid off differently, but with rewards far beyond my expectations, and the experience will stay with me for life. "