The Sultanate has been experiencing an amazing moment of growth and development. What is the recipe for success in Oman?
First of all, it is attributed to His Majesty’s leadership. His vision has actually led the country into strides from day one. We are very proud to have such a leader. No matter what you see going on in the world, many ups and downs, always there has been stability within the economy, within the country, it is secure; the economy has always been well thought after and good planning which has benefited the country and the people.
Over the past forty years, what have been the most exciting developments you have witnessed?
Well, I have seen developments of course, and basically I myself landed here from Zanzibar where I was born. Oman had many other relations from outside Oman - Oman was basically running some of the east African countries. Oman helped build those countries and when time came and those countries got their independence and policies changed and people like my father were not able to keep their business going. There was socialism, a centralized economy, confiscation of property, etc. My father was a businessman and it has been a part of my whole life, since I was 14 years old. We then decided to come back to Oman on the call of His Majesty to help build the country.
Under the vision 20/20, diversification is vital. In your opinion, do you believe the government should intensify the policies for the development of the private sector?
Yes, the government of Oman has had that vision, knowing that the oil will run out and we need to prepare for this future. We are reaping the benefits of the natural resources now but have to think about the future generations. Using the current resources to enhance the GDP, and I think the government has successfully introduced various projects, like petrochemicals in Sohar, and being also a seafaring people and place, I think Oman is poised to contribute a lot, for example the dry dock in Duqm. At Teejan, we are using the resources we have today to build for tomorrow.
Specifically, with Teejan group, a diversified holding, how do you refocus the company to contribute to the diversification?
Basically, if you look at businesses in Oman, the most successful ones have diversified. The reason being, they see this country by itself as a small market so they have to create an opportunity to spread their sources of income in case one doesn't work out. It is the vision of the government and the vision of the companies as well. We think that if we can add value, for example, for Teejan to go into IT was natural. My son graduated from the United States in IT and so it was natural to move into this field. We are the gold partners with Microsoft to license the government and the big institutions— and we have been successful in that. We have another partnership into virtual reality with a company called EON, from Silicon Valley, and we run the Centre for ITA.
As a conglomerate in Oman, here since the beginning, could you give us a short history of the company?
I worked for the U.S. embassy in Oman for a short stint, and during that period in 1974, His Majesty issued a decree to form commercial registration, and that inspired me to register a company. Soon after, I registered a company and we were number 108—now there are about half a million.
Which businesses within the diversification of Teejan group do you see as vital for the future?
I think construction. In the beginning, it was natural since the country was building from scratch. Teejan has built at least 150 schools in the country. We have also built about nine hospitals and health centers across Oman. That is where we started. Later on we built malls, Lulu malls and others, their logistics, factories in Sohar, a power plant in Salalah and other buildings, but these are the iconic buildings. Like in Muttrah, the cruise ship terminal building, it appears like an airport traffic control tower. It is a very nice entrance to the country for cruise tourists. We are proud of the landmark.
Can you tell us more about your current largest project?
We are building an iconic building in Salalah for the municipality, offices for the free zone in Salalah, as well as others in the desert for the ROP. I think we are most proud of the businesses we have built and we are able to employ other people, sustaining their lives. We employ about 300 Omanis.
Myself, as an outsider, learning about His Majesty’s vision, it seems that you are truly in line with that.
What is required is a shared vision. People who have a similar vision must work together, and support from the government and with support from friendly countries, like the U.S. with the FTA, they can bring investment and jobs and with that comes stability. You know, this Arab Spring started with one man in Tunis; he had no job but a family to support, his mother and brothers. So he got himself a cart to sell things, some true entrepreneurial spirit you know, but he was stopped and authorities took his cart. They could have said, hey this is a good idea and given him a proper place to sell, support him and let him slowly grow, and then soon maybe he brings in his brother and so on…
So, this kind of instability and unrest can be avoided if both visions of the government and the entrepreneurs align properly. I would like to see the government take ideas from entrepreneurs because most of their ideas are good and if they put their efforts together, there won't be people on the streets.
It is that kind of vision and attitude that we want to show the world. Can you discuss any community programs or CSR initiatives that Teejan is doing to support the youth in employment?
Basically we work with institutions that train those people, coming from schools, they receive technical training, then they get some more training in Teejan and when they complete their training they join our company.
Oman is a key ally here for the U.S. in the Middle East. With the Free Trade Agreement, which has not yet reached its potential in terms of trade and investments, how do you assess the FTA so far and future prospects for Omani and U.S. relations?
I think Omani relations with the U.S. are very old, at least 200 years or something, and that started because of trade, at that time Oman was a small empire. Now, Oman is prepared to continue this history of trade and start taking advantage of this free trade agreement. The U.S. is a great country and there is a lot of development there that could be useful here, to benefit both sides. There is more to be done though. It is too official, I want to see it more relaxed, more personal, company to company, no barriers, open forums, more interactive visiting from Oman to U.S. and vice versa, through exhibitions and so on.
Finally, from a more personal side, what makes Teejan a success story?
We started with 3 people and today we are more than 3,000 people. We are a major employer of Omanis and we participate in their training as well. We are touching lives in every aspect. We proud of the things we have built when we see them. Also, we are into furnishing, so we enter into people’s houses. Also, through the institutions we help, we are interactive with the ministries; for example the ministry wanted special furniture for the disabled in the schools. So, things like this make us proud. If someone brings business into the country, it helps the community, not just for profits.