For some Idealists, their work at for-profit organizations doesn’t mean that their urge to give back and make a difference has been quieted. Many make their mark in the social impact sphere by doing business. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak with one such individual, Luis Silva, CEO of AJS Corporation, a leading full-service solutions and logistics company for the transportation industry. Settle in and read on to learn more about Luis!
Hi Luis, thank you for speaking with me today. I’d love to hear a little more about your background. Is your family native to Angola?
My grandfather came from Portugal and parents are Angolan, as am I. My parents were entrepreneurs- they started with clothing, then agriculture, and then transportation logistics. We’ve been operating that business ever since.
How did your family get involved in the transportation business?
My parents started in agriculture at the end of the chain and realized they needed transportation to get the agricultural products to their clients. They knew of a company with a truck that was not running, so they purchased and refurbished it to transport their produce. They saw that there was a need for transporting agricultural products throughout the area. They purchased another truck and the fleet grew from there.
It sounds like your parents served as role models for you. What impact have they had on you?
My real role models and mentors are my parents and to this day, I still follow their lead and learn from them. I was able to capture their qualities and way of doing business and I credit them with my growth and knowledge. They are the ones who have driven me to where I am.
What I learned and how it affects me currently is that my parents have always been conservative in their investments and growth of the company. That still drive me in my operations as well, the mentality of being conservative whether in investments or operations of the company.
How has your company overcome challenges? What has been your key to success?
When they (my parents) started the company it was around the time of the civil war. There were some difficulties in transportation in the country from the interior to the coast. They weathered the storm and continued delivering goods where possible. Once the civil war was over, the roads opened and they were able to expand.
Idealist Careers readers love to volunteer. What are some of your own favorite ways to give back?
The school program we have is ongoing and is repeated annually. We do it every year for one or two schools. We also help in areas in the country where there are dry areas and we help as we can on a case by case basis and help as we go along.
What inspired your commitment to Angolan education?
There are a number of reasons why I am interested in Angolan education and why AJS has chosen schools as the primary focus for our philanthropic efforts. I believe that education is the fundamental basis for individuals and society to thrive and excel.
I got interested in providing resources to schools when I saw a TV ad asking for help for a local school. The school building was physically in shambles, and there were no supplies for the teachers or students. With our engineering expertise, we were able to contribute considerably to the renovation of the building and we then also bought supplies. We were so happy with the success of that effort that we did two schools that year. After that, we began focusing on provinces and cities where we have operations. We expanded to five additional provinces in Angola over the last few years. As we have done that, we have seen that many of the local schools need help and we want to give back to regions where we have operations. We have renovated a total of 6 schools thus far.
What outcomes do you like to see when you give back to the community?
We like to get involved with activities that have a ripple effect, so the effort we make is magnified. As we help children with their education, we hope to see them become successful as they grow up.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get involved in an intensive volunteer program?
My advice to anyone who wants to get involved in a corporate volunteer program is to pick an area of interest and focus on that. There are many needs in Angola, chief of which are healthcare and education. We chose to focus on education as an area where we think we can make a direct impact.
What do you look for in an employee?
Unlike most other organizations that look for experienced workers, we like to hire someone who is new and inexperienced in the field but is eager to learn new skills and has the willpower and drive to work. From there on out, we teach them everything they need to know in our company.
What are three things you do to maintain a sustainable business? How do you reduce your environmental impact?
We’ve been building three hydroelectric plants, which we’ve been working on as we speak. We also refurbish schools structurally and provide materials such as chalk boards and books. We created an internship program and training system to expand upon our workers’ painting and welding skills and to improve their careers.
What are some ways your company reduces waste and/or contributes to environmental sustainability?
We have a tremendous emphasis on reduction of waste and sustainability. First, we emphasize to all employees to reduce waste, and we use largely recycled paper. In addition, we recycle the oil used in our fleet of 200 large trucks and trailers. We take the used oil to companies that need oil to burn, largely for the production of bricks and ceramics. In all, we recycle about 3000 liters of oil per month.
Finally, AJS works in the actual production of renewable energy. We are building a mini hydro (which generates electric power from the movement of water) and will be involved in its operations as well. Mini hydros serve small communities and industrial plants and we are pleased to be part of the African renewable energy boom.
Thank you for your time, today Luis! We appreciate you giving Idealist Careers' readers some insights into your industry and your commitment to sustainability!
By Victoria Crispo