What was the history of Gulf Mining Materials Co. (GMM) in terms of the origin of the company and the early development of the idea?
Although I was involved in the marble and laterite business in a smaller way since the late 1990’s, the search for chrome ore mines started in 2003. It was then that I heard from some US Engineers in Oman about the possibility of substantial reserves of Chrome ore in Oman. I walked over many mountains in Oman in search of Chrome and other minerals. Sometimes we walked 14 hours at a time.
We finally established GMM in 2005 when we located our first Chrome ore mine in Wadi Maharam. Today we are involved in mining and the processing of chrome ore and marble, the production of chrome concentrate, shipping and logistics; the supply of industrial generators; drilling and blasting; and we have an aluminum alloy plant in UAE.
We have mines in other countries like Turkey and Albania through joint ventures with the owners of these mines. We also have 100% owned companies in Egypt (where we have marble and granite mines) and in the UAE, along with our own offices in China and South Africa.What are the toughest issues you dealt with as you developed your business? How do you normally tackle these issues?
The toughest issue for us is the non-availability of authentic geological data on minerals in Oman, thus forcing us to look for minerals and locations on our own through visual examination. Dealing with very demanding local residents of the areas where our mines are located is a big challenge. However by keeping a harmonious relationship with residents and also by providing regular help to them, we are able to get their cooperation. I have formed a small team of engineers and others who are always on the look out for minerals in the mountains and are visiting places regularly, either through leads by individuals, or on their own in the absence of any useful authentic data.
Another challenge is coping with volatilities in mineral prices. As regards volatility, the solution is to always be ready for a situation like at the end of 2008 when prices of minerals fell by more than 70%.
What potential is there for further expansion in the international markets either through an operational or revenue growth strategy? How do you create and sustain competitive advantage?
Being an expert chrome ore mining company, a lot of opportunities are available to us to operate mines in other countries, particularly in Albania, South Africa, Egypt and Kazakhstan, as identified by us. We are also considering expansion through finding new markets like Russia, South Korea etc.
As regards to the competition in Oman, it is not being felt in a big way as we are already the market leaders and are fixing the market prices for Omani chrome ore. The major competition is coming from chrome ore in South Africa and Turkey, but through our consistent efforts, cost efficiencies and the establishment of the GMM brand name, we have been able to establish our products successfully in China and India. This has resulted in the continuous demand of our product despite the recession and competition.
Reputation, strict quality controls and sticking to the delivery commitments, these three factors have helped us to not only beat the competition, but have also helped to command premium on our products.
In the marble sector, we have competition from companies in Oman like International Marble and Al Nasr Marble. We are the new entrant in the market with regards to marble and are slowly establishing our product in the market.
As mentioned earlier, reputation, strict quality controls and sticking to the delivery commitments have been our three main unique selling points (USPs), which are very important in the mineral business and we have been able to compete successfully abiding by these USPs. As a result, in the last six years our product has never been rejected by any buyer due to quality problems although rejection is very common in the mineral business
How do you ensure that the business continues to be innovative in terms of business processes and customer offerings?
We have always been proactive in terms of meeting customer expectations, be it quality, be it time schedules, be it specific requirements like size etc. A good example of our flexible and proactive approach is when the market crashed and prices fell by more than 70% in September 2008, due to our foresight and proactive approach in offering small discounts and other relevant spot decisions, we could get payment of all our shipments in September 2008 whereas large numbers of miners and suppliers went out of business during this period as their shipments were refused to be accepted by the buyers.
What is your vision for the business?
To be a key player in the mineral industry in the Region particularly in Oman and take the financial position of the company to such a level that we can provide a very sound and safe environment to our staff for working and their future, while also contributing substantially to the community and also to the economy.
I want GMM to be known as the ‘Leader of the mineral industry in Oman’ who contributes substantially to the realization of HM’s goal of reducing Oman’s reliance on oil. This will stem from GMM’s foray into more minerals besides chrome ore and we are steadily moving in that direction. Also, the mission is to help my fellow citizens as much as I can and in whatever way I can.
What are your goals and objectives for the business for the next five years?
To be a USD $500 million company in next 5 years; to establish a ferrochrome plant; to foray into other minerals like iron ore, zinc, gypsum etc.; to give employment to at least 600 additional people in next 5 years to reach a staffing figure of 1000; to make our businesses successful in Albania and South Africa (mineral business), UAE (Aluminum alloy business). We are moving quickly towards the achievement of our goals. Our ferrochrome project is under approval and construction should start this year. We have already applied to the Government for approval of iron ore and other mineral mines which have been identified by us. Albania operations have started recently.What do you consider to be your greatest success as an entrepreneur?
Having been instrumental in placing Oman on the map regarding global Chrome ore mining and exporting it from the country. Until 2006, Oman was nowhere in that list of suppliers of chrome ore and China did not want to buy chrome ore below 38% grade. With our intense marketing and mining efforts today Oman is 3rd largest exporter of chrome ore to China, of which GMM holds more than a 1/3 share. And today China buys chrome ore of grades as low as 24% from Oman. We are the only company producing and exporting chrome concentrate from Oman which again can be considered a big achievement despite initial views of most of the chrome buyers that Oman chrome concentrates may not be successful because of the high aluminum content.
The mineral business in itself has a lot of uncertainties and inherent risks. I have been always taking more than moderate risks, be it mining in Oman, or doing joint mining ventures in Turkey, Albania, Egypt or Sudan, or exploring possibilities in the Philippines. By nature I do not mind taking risks if my instincts tell me there can be the possibility of success.. There have been some successes coupled with some failures.
How would you define the culture within your organization?
Having grown very fast, we have really not been able to concentrate a lot on the professionalism of the middle and lower ranked staff, which we are now working on. With more Omanis and expats at senior level now, we should be able to reach out more to these people, to train them to adopt a professional approach, an attitude of team work and also helping others in learning and preparing them to do their respective jobs well. We have inculcated such a culture in the organization that no one issue is judged as “Omani” or “non Omani” and no distinction is made. What impact has the business expansion had on job creation? How does your business cater to the local communities?
Substantial increases in the number of employees every year is proof of the jobs created by our company. As mentioned earlier our focus has been on the welfare of the staff, the residents of the areas where our mines are located and on society as a whole, as we are generously donating funds for social purposes.
What fascinates and also challenges me all the time is to earn and distribute the benefits, to improve the life of each and everyone around me, be it staff, family or friends, or society. This passion keeps me aiming for higher goals both in terms of making more profits and also establishing new businesses.
What does it mean to you to be selected as the Middle East Entrepreneur of the Year? How do you serve as a role model for the next generation of entrepreneurs?
It is a recognition well earned by GMM and its staff. Even if the nomination is in my personal name, in all fairness it is for the GMM staff who worked day in, day out to make GMM reach where it is today.
Whereas I have a strong passion to be a successful businessman, in the event of things going wrong, I regularly consult my team and particularly my CEO Kanwal Gambhir, to discuss every failure or hurdle in detail and to take steps to stand up again or rectify the situation. My team is my strength and also my guide. What keeps me always going is my staff should not suffer on any account due to any of my business failures or wrong decisions.
Coming from an Army background to be a successful mineral entrepreneur in itself is an achievement, you have to be philanthropic and make team work an essence of the company, these are good indicators for the next generation if you want to be a successful entrepreneur.