Some of Qatar’s top companies lead their sectors internationally in innovation and technology, while fostering economic and community development, as well as connectivity
As Group CEO of the Qatar National Bank (QNB) since 2014, Ali Ahmed Al-Kuwari is at the helm of the largest bank in Africa and the Middle East. QNB holds roughly half the assets in the local banking market, leaving it ideally positioned to offer a full range of conventional bank products and services, as well as targeted activities aimed at producing a high return on equity such as transaction banking, asset management, brokerage, custody and investment banking services.
Net profits for the group were up 7.1% in the first quarter of 2016, much to the satisfaction of international ratings agencies like Standard & Poor’s (A+), Moody’s (Aa3) and Fitch (AA-). Five decades after QNB became Qatar’s first locally owned bank, ownership is currently divided equally between the government, through the Qatar Investment Authority, and the private sector.
With 615 QNB branch offices operating in 27 countries, Mr. Al Kuwari and his colleagues are understandably optimistic on the subject of developing new overseas markets. By the time numbers are in for 2017, 40% of the group’s net profits could be coming from its foreign affiliates, so it is not to be wondered that the group has identified a set of markets in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia for further expansion.
“International expansion is one of the cornerstones of the QNB Group’s strategy for achieving its vision of becoming a leading bank in the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia by 2020, and a truly global bank by 2030,” the CEO says. Already QNB has some 30 banks operating on three continents, where they provide a comprehensive range of advanced products and services.
Meanwhile, the home market continues to be of primary importance, Mr. Al-Kuwari adds, but given Qatar’s small population (2.5 million), growth has to be powered by the group’s foreign assets. To that end, this year the the QNB Group has acquired existing banks such as Turkey’s Finansbank, as well as preparing to operate under its own brand in India. The banking giant has likewise taken the first steps towards establishing a presence in Cuba.
Domestically, Qatari banks are preparing to operate in a high volume environment in which the government serves as an incubator for private enterprise. The investment drive coincides with a population surge and together they are driving an economic transformation with double-digit growth in the non-oil sector.
“As the largest bank in Qatar, QNB is fully dedicated to contributing to that initiative,” says Mr. Al-Kuwari. “Our mission is to nurture the development of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) by acting as a one-stop shop for this segment.”
A city as spectacularly modern as the Qatar capital Doha depends totally on its telecommunications network. A good many billion-dollar buildings would be standing empty if the quality of telecom services were anything less than world class, with guarantees of absolute reliability. In Qatar, the go-to place for connectivity solutions is Ooredoo Qatar, a partly state-owned telecom whose CEO, Waleed Al Sayed, has plenty of good reasons for thinking, as he does, that Internet-connected mobile devices are probably the most important tools any of us possess.
“One of Ooredoo Group’s main strategies is to stay on top of the demands of today’s rapidly changing customer and business environment by recognizing when our competition and our key offerings have changed,” says Mr. Al Sayed, “such as when over the past few years we have witnessed growing demand for smart services, integrated features and an unquenchable thirst for data extending across our footprint.”
As of September 2015, Ooredoo’s results were sustained by a worldwide customer base numbering 114 million individuals located chiefly in countries in the Middle East, Europe and Asia. According to Mr. Al Sayed, the aim is to have Ooredooo transform its brand identity from that of a regional service provider to become universally recognized as a beacon of technological innovation.
In terms of revenue, Ooredoo has been universally acknowledged as the world’s fastest-growing telecom every year since 2006, while its enterprise value has more than tripled since 2005. Since first venturing beyond its home market, the company has achieved significant results in countries such as Myanmar, Indonesia, Algeria and Tunisia.
Mr. Al Sayed is convinced that the future of Qatar’s knowledge-based economy will depend on the technological expertise that fuels it. “We believe that the technology we provide to our people, be it state-of-the-art products or high speed connectivity, can ensure access to the best educational tools available,” he says.
Left: Ali Ahmed Al-Kuwari, Group CEO, QNB | Right: Waleed Al Sayed, CEO, Ooredoo Qatar
Thanks to Ooredoo’s skills in satisfying institutional and private customers’ boundless appetite for state-of-the-art broadband access, Qatar was ranked first worldwide in 2014 on an indicator measuring percentage of individual Internet usage in developing countries, with a score of 91.5%. At the same time, it placed first on the list of the most Internet-friendly Arab countries. Since the company rolled out its global brand in February 2013, Ooredoo’s estimated brand value grew 169% to surpass $2.1 billion in 2016.
Ooredoo’s Supernet package offers unparalleled coverage extending from the inland deserts of the Arabian Peninsula to the exclusive resorts of its offshore islands. Its 4G+ data network guarantees users the speed and capacity needed to handle video calls, ultra-fast downloads or high-volume Internet transmissions. The crisp quality of its high-definition voice service has attracted praise from numerous users. Ooredoo’s engineers are already working on the next phase, developing and perfecting what will someday be sustainable 5G technology.
To be sure, profitability and technology are far from being the whole story of what Ooredoo–formerly known as Qtel–is all about. Officers and employees at all levels are deeply committed to corporate responsibility initiatives, especially those promoting sport and quality education for youth, as set out in the Qatar National Vision 2030 development plan.
Soccer star Leo Messi was signed as a global brand ambassador, and since 2013 Ooredoo has maintained a high-profile sponsorship of France’s Ligue 1 club Paris Saint-Germain. Working in tandem, the French team and Qatari telecom sponsor a highly regarded community coaching program aimed at training and motivating the soccer stars of the future. It may not be entirely a coincidence that Mr. Al Ayed, who has been with the firm since 1987, is a former captain of the Qatar national handball team and also played with the company soccer selection. All he wishes to comment in that respect is, “We believe the technology we provide to our people, be it state-of-the-art products or high-speed connectivity, can ensure access to the best educational tools available.”
A taste for the iconic
After developing and managing world-class hotels for nearly half a century and acquiring a reputation for their superior quality, it must be pleasant for Hamad Abdulla Al-Mulla and his colleagues in the Katara Hospitality group to reflect that, in addition to their high standing within the sector, their vision and efforts will long be remembered for endowing Qatar with what is sure to be its defining landmark.
If the word iconic has any meaning at all, surely it applies to the Katara Towers, a 40-story architectural showpiece whose designers opted for ambitiously blending tradition with modernity by having its twin futuristic towers curl into a shape that mimics the crossed swords on the Qatari flag as they soar upwards 700 feet above the shorefront.
Located right on the water’s edge in the fast-evolving, ultra-modern Lusail City district, the development covers 38 square kilometers, on which skyscrapers and tower blocks extend from the mainland to four man-made islands. The Katara’s pincher-shaped towers will house a 614-room complex that serves variously as dazzling five and six-star luxury hotel-style suites, as well as branded apartments for long-term residents.
On the water side, a man-made, beach-front island is planned as a venue for a water park, leisure and sports facilities, and lavish locales for refreshment, dining and entertainment.
Katara Hospitality’s CEO, Mr. Al Mulla, is pleased to be associated with so challenging a project. He is aware, though, that showy and spectacular is far from the only way to attract a high-end international clientele. “We are industry pioneers in developing high-quality environments characterized by true Arabic hospitality with a global appeal,” he says. “Our ongoing contributions are synonymous with our passion for the industry, and bear witness to our strategic intent as we pursue growth in key travel destinations.”
Oil & gas still the mainstays
Oil brought prosperity to Qatar, but even prosperity is subject to the irrevocable law of consequences that begins “too much of a good thing...” Luckily for Qatar, government-mandated diversification away from oil dependency has succeeded in creating a new kind of oil-enhanced economy, one that is driven by a non-oil sector in which services and construction provide the forward momentum.
Trained as an engineer at Penn State University, President and CPO of Qatar Petroleum (QP) Saad Sherida Al-Kaabi has plenty of hands-on experience in the sector to draw on. He is committed to his company’s role in furthering the expansion and growth of the economy and the sustainable management of his country’s resources for the benefit of future generations. Optimization of procedures, safety and asset integrity are among his primary concerns.
“The petroleum sector has always been, and always will be, an international industry that affects and is affected by all kinds of economic and political unrest,” he says. “It requires huge and continuous investment and ongoing technological progress. Our initiatives invariably require a greater start-up time and take longer to show a real return on investment.”
Since taking the helm at QP, Mr. Al-Kaabi has undertaken a series of divestitures aimed at allowing the company to focus more closely on its core activities: extracting, processing and transporting hydrocarbons. Unfortunately, the mandate that saw him assume executive duties in September 2104 also required Mr. Al-Kaabi to lay off many veteran workers, “right sizing” for the sake of greater dynamism and efficiency. “This will be a stable organization going forward,” he assures.
One prominent item on the to-do list is the start of development of the recently discovered and potentially enormous Al Shaheed offshore natural gas field, beginning in 2017, in partnership with the French firm Total. Qatar is already the world’s number one exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG), and earlier this year loaded its custom-designed cargo carrier with the 10,000th LNG shipment to depart from the port of Ras Laffan.
On that occasion, the president remarked that the milestone event “demonstrates QP’s commitment, as developer and operator of the world’s largest LNG port facility, to giving the utmost priority to safety, security and efficiency” and added that he was confident it would cement Ras Laffan’s position as the premier port for cleaner energy.”
Comfort with commitment
“Complacency” is not a word you will find in Akbar Al Baker’s dictionary. “We are constantly moving the goalposts,” Qatar Airways’ (QA) dynamic CEO affirms. “As long as I am in charge, there will be constant innovation.” That is the fundamental policy that has made QA the world’s fastest growing airline as it acquires new routes and new aircraft. At the latest count, 177 different planes display the QA logo on their flights to some 150 destinations worldwide. In 1997 the QA fleet consisted of four just aircraft. QA also operates the world’s third largest air cargo fleet.
“Qatar Airways has the youngest international fleet in the world, averaging just five years old, and our experience is second to none,” Mr. Al Baker says. The same superlatives apply to its attentive service and luxurious in-flight amenities aimed at maximizing passengers’ comfort.
QA also operates Doha’s Hamad International Airport, which is set to double in size and handling capacity after undergoing the physical and smart technology upgrades needed to accommodate visitors for the 2022 FIFA World Cup soccer championship. The state-owned airline bought a 10% stake in British Airways’ parent company IAG SA this past year and added Atlanta, Boston and Los Angeles to the list of destinations in the United States operating direct flights linking the airline’s Doha hub to the the ten largest U.S. metro areas. (The others are Chicago, Dallas/Ft.Worth, New York JFK, Philadelphia, Houston and Miami).
Mr. Al Baker is no stranger to the applause and approval QA receives for its five-star customer service. The carrier was acclaimed as “Airline of the Year” by Skytrax in 2011, 2012 and 2015. Less well known outside the industry is its commitment to supporting a global response to climate change by helping to develop – and naturally adhere to – international policy initiatives for managing aviation-related greenhouse gas emissions.
“Aviation will make a significant contribution to the global response to climate change, and Qatar Airways is contributing towards the development of local and international solutions,” says Mr. Al Baker. Our investment in flying fuel efficient aircraft and focus on optimizing environmental performance across our modern fleet demonstrates our leadership in the continued pursuit for lower carbon air travel.”