Al-Arab Group Enterprises (AGE) consists of several companies covering a wide area of businesses. With the growing and booming business capabilities in the Qatari market, AGE Chairman Ali Al Marri talks to Upper Reach about the company’s commitment to high quality and to Qatar
For us it's really interesting when we meet CEOs and people with such big experience in Qatar. Could you share with us your vision about Qatar´s growth in the past years? In terms of GDP, an increase to 400 billion is expected by 2022…How would you evaluate this growth and what is your forecast for the future?
First, I'd like to welcome all of you here. When most people look at the growth of Qatar, and where Qatar is today, they just compare it to any other country in the world, but it's actually incomparable. You are talking about a country that 50, 60 years ago was a complete desert. No roads, no real communication. There was close to nothing.
What you see today is the result of the work of almost 50 years made by the people and the governments. It's like other countries in the Gulf, but people try to compare it to, for example, England, France. Definitely it cannot be. Those countries they have big support behind them and hundreds of years of history to be where they are now. So, it is incomparable, and what Qatar achieved, what you see today, I think it's a miracle.
Today Qatar has the best transportation, best communication and good industries. 50 years ago there was nothing. So, compared to where we came from we have full confidence that we will be where we are planning to be. This is basically it.
The history of Al-Arab Group Enterprises (AGE) goes back to 1987, its main activity being back then the import-export of food. Since then, the group has continued to grow and expanded to a different and diversified range of businesses. Can you tell us about AGE´s genesis and summarize its journey up to date?
Al Arab grew like any other companies, we grew with the country. When the country grew, there was more potential, more business, more jobs, and we participated like other companies in the country as a business. That is where we have ended up, from being a small food products company to where we are now.
Real estate, hospitality, contracting, research developments, environment, by all facilities and businesses we are one of the biggest environmental companies here and in the Gulf also, we are active also in some areas in the Gulf, and that's where we are today.
What strategy is behind your diversification decisions?
We diversified our businesses by chances available. Sometimes we have to shrink our business if there is no business. Sometimes we have to move from an area to different areas where there is more potential. This is normal.
Reframing, reorganizing your business to get benefit of available businesses in the area. For example, companies from all over the world are coming for the football World Cup related projects. There are airport renovation projects, and so on.
There are several other major players in the sectors where AGE operates. Competition is increasing in Qatar due to the diversification of the economy and new regulations to ease FDI in order to boost growth.
Of course. If there are more companies you get more competitors, and in the end of the day, you do business how good and well-structured you are. When competitiveness is there, only strong companies will take business. Strong based companies will get business.
So, what are your competitive advantages compared to other major players in the market?
We think like any other companies, we win and we lose. When we lose we sit back and think how we can improve it, we have advantages in some areas, we have disadvantages in certain areas that we discover sometimes when we do business and we try to rectify them.
We consider our main competitive advantages are quality of services and products and commitments to our tasks and values.
CSR and green initiatives appear an interesting juxtaposition in Qatar, on the one hand they are aligned with the Qatar National Vision 2030, and on the other the country is reliant in the hydrocarbons industry. Haya Environmental seems to be a success story in its sector. Could you tell us a little bit about the company, what products do you offer, and what's the story behind?
We started the environmental company in 2004, once Qatar tried to enforce regulations regarding the environment. Without strong environmental regulations, the state can’t achieve their environmental objectives. This is very important in our success. So we started and we have very good relations with the public authorities, we know what we are targeting, and we work from there.
We started from a very small waste management company and today we have two factories, one for oil recycling degradable plastic factories and we are now in the process for the electronic waste factory. We hope to be the first in the area for electronic waste.
What make Qatar different from other neighboring countries are the regulations. The environmental regulations here are helping to make the environment of Qatar as you see today.
Would you mind explaining for the readers a little bit about how the oil recycling works, and what kind of products come out of the biodegradable plastics?
The oil recycling factory was specially designed to treat all different kind of oils. It was the first in the country of its kind but the way it works like most of the oil factories but the different is in the out product and working procedures. Most of its product is used as a furnace fuel for other factories who suffer from using electricity.
Regarding the bio-degradable plastics factory, the products are mainly bio-degradable plastic bags and different kinds of plastic rolls for different usages.
And this is happening in Qatar because of the raw material that you have?
Well, the raw material is the same, they are from the petrochemical factories like Qapco, Qchem, Sabic…etc, the additives we have that helps it to be environmentally friendly products. We are also helping other conventional plastic factories to be biodegradable by supplying them with this additives.
And how does this fit in with Vision 2030?
We make Qatar green. If you go today outside Doha you'll see a very clean area. It is getting much greener and cleaner than before. It's very important.
Another important pillar of Vision 2030 is human development. Could you tell us a little bit more about your strategies?. What are some of AGE´s programs put in place to foster a knowledge-based economy?
Yes, we have research and scientific center that is also specialize in training, which also provide courses and training in different management and environmental training. Most of our employees undergoes training in the center for better management, better training, better utilization of the communication, that's improving links with the outside world.
GCC countries invest actively into Qatar´s real estate sector due to their proximity. On the other hand, FDI inflows from countries outside the region are still very low. Basar Global Group of New York, a global real estate services company, and AGE signed into a mutual alliance to service clientele in the Americas, Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia. What benefits bring these kind of international joint ventures to AGE?
Basar Group is one of our business partners in the United States. We together are linked with some companies in Europe and in Middle East and trying to trying jointly to go into different countries in Europe and other part of the world. We learn from each other. In Europe for example we work together in Germany and France.
Do you find it challenging to work with international companies?
It is challenging actually, the thing is the business culture here is slightly different from business western hemisphere, so we have to understand each other’s. We also deal with China, where the business culture is also different. Financial transactions there are not so easy with some companies. It happens where in certain areas, the business culture is slightly different. We have to adopt and understand each other’s business culture.
Would you be interested to do further joint ventures perhaps with British companies and in what sectors are you interested in?
We are working already working with some British companies, we are consultants for some of those companies in the area and who are trying to work here. IT and high tech companies can find market for them in Qatar. Industries also are supported here and get Islamic finance where interest free is an advantage over other places.
And what are your activities in Germany and France?
Basically it is IT and for example, in Germany we are dealing with high-tech companies for different solutions. We also deal with Environmental solution providers to support with the monitoring of chemicals, radioactive materials, because it has been a challenging issue for monitoring imported products from the rest of the world.
That sounds very important.
Right. It is. After the Japanese nuclear reactor exploded, some of the Japanese items have been detected in New York airport, infected and contaminated with radioactive materials. So Qatar is a small country, we have to keep it safe. We thank our government for keeping strict regulations regarding importing and exporting.
Why these German, French and British companies partnered with Al Arab?. What makes your company a partner of choice in Qatar and abroad?
We have a strong presence in Qatar and other GCC countries. We have good relation with public and private sector here. We have good records, good products and good after sales support for our clients. Today we have a meeting with one of our Indian partners; they are just starting here now to cover some of the areas we don't have.
Our partners are from India, Europe, United States, and Africa. We are looking for our quest. Our quest is knowledge. And where we can get an edge over others we will not hesitate to do it. Unfortunately we cannot do that all the time because that's the target for everybody.
Talking about that quest, our report talks about how Qatari business are looking East. You established your Classic Furniture company in China, could you tell us how you took that decision, do you see China as a promising market?
China is a promising market. We started that factory in China based on contracts with the Western importers for furniture in Europe and United States and that was before the financial crisis. The market is still there, slightly changed after the financial crisis, but we have that covered by shifting slightly to the Middle East in place of the drop down in the West.
One of the objectives of the upcoming WIEF (World Islamic Economic Forum) is “to package the Muslim world as a lucrative trade and investment caucus that is able to attract foreign investors and business partners from various countries worldwide”. As CEO of AEG, with exceptional international experience in business development, what message would you like to transmit to the international business community in order to foster that interaction?
That's a good question. We are Muslims. When I was in Europe I studied other religions, and in the US I read about the Salt Lake, Mormons. Differently from other religions, Muslims are very close to their religion because it is the source of our culture. I think there are lots of opportunities in the Islamic world that would be interesting for western companies, for example Sharia compliance.
You can find companies to be Sharia compliant; we are now in the process for it. We have been in Finland, Poland, Sweden, visiting some industries and there we found an industry which we are trying to replicate here that will make Sharia compliant food.
The Islamic culture is full of many things that can have businesses for western companies. Unfortunately, in the media you see they are concentrating in Islamic fundamentalism in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon. Those are filling the stories in every newspaper, but Muslim communities know that is not happening.
I think there is a very good cooperation between the Sharia compliant companies with tourism industries, restaurants or whatever, even in Malaysia they are Sharia complaint and there can be a lot of cooperation.
In terms of hotel accommodation for the World Cup, there are two big gaps. One is a lack of 3-4 star accommodation and the other is even a lack of Sharia compliant hotels. How do you think the World Cup is creating opportunities for development for more 3-4 star accommodation and how would you like to welcome business partners to work with you on expanding that opportunity?
They are all welcome; our target is 3-4 stars hotels. Other firms are concentrating on 5 star hotels and they are doing very good, but I think there are a lot of opportunities also in the lower market. We are concentrating on the Sharia compliant which means alcohol free hotels and restaurant. That's the main difference. We try also to do other Sharia compliant services. It's open for everyone. We are also targeting other GCC countries for that.
What would be your final message about Al Arab Group and what you stand for? What would be your tagline?
Al Arab Group is still a growing company with high potential. We give a complete solution in all our product range and we always try to do it perfectly.