What is your outlook for the UAE market since the recovery following the financial crisis?
AL GHURAIR: The UAE is well ahead of the curve. It is recovering in all aspects of the economy since it hit the stumbling block in 2008. The construction industry may need a little time to heal from the wounds inflicted. We have witnessed Emaar and Nakheel launching their properties, which is a positive sign for the property market. Other indicators, such as the increase in trade by 18%, and the successes of the export and hospitality industries are evidence that the UAE is on the right track.
What aspects of your business are showing the most positive trends, and what aspects represent challenges?
AL GHURAIR: We have a diversified business portfolio because it is not good to put all of your eggs in the same basket. Banking is doing fine. The food sector is also doing well. It earns a small marginal income, but it is always a steady income. Construction and real estate are much more volatile industries. Our contracting business is expanding inside the UAE, as well as outside the country, to capitalize on our know-how. We are sharing this with the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and other regions too.
What international markets represent the most promising areas for growth for Al Ghurair?
AL GHURAIR: We are focused on the GCC, as well as North Africa and India. We are focusing on India because we see strong signs of success. We have partnerships there, and we are leveraging our capabilities to penetrate this market. India used to be a sleeping giant, but now is a great time to do business and benefit from their boom. I believe that if you do not have a competitive edge, you should not grow. If you do not have a competitive edge, you will get lost. I have told the younger generation that you have to capitalize on your strengths, rather than your weaknesses. Your weaknesses will always hinder you and bring you down. We have a small investment in plantations here in Malaysia. Malaysia is familiar to us because of their culture and their religion. We know the people and they know us. In comparison, it is very difficult for me to go to China. It is a different market. Knowing your limits can be very valuable.
How has Al Ghurair Investments grown in depth and sophistication in the GCC?
AL GHURAIR: In our business, we are constantly learning. You cannot stop once you hit the summit. There is always a mountain behind the mountain you are climbing. There are always challenges, and things to learn. There is always something new happening in the GCC. You must capitalize on the resources you have. The GCC has oil and gas, and there are great opportunities for upstream and downstream activities. Our abilities to harness these opportunities depend on the end market. For example, in Dubai we have a crushing plant. We import canola from Canada, Australia, and Bahrain, and we crush it. We export it back and charge 5%. Our location near the Jebel Ali Port, allows us to use bigger vessels, and utilize the extra empty containers. Creativity has allowed us to find ways to benefit from our location.
The UAE is well ahead of the curve. It is recovering in all aspects of the economy since it hit the stumbling block in 2008.
What is the likelihood of Al Ghurair or one of its subsidiaries going public in the coming years?
AL GHURAIR: Our company has debated the pros and cons of going public. At the beginning, the percentages were somewhat distracting because we would have to offer 55% to the market. Recently, it has been reduced to either 30% or 25%. Our constraints in this matter center around our family name. If the businesses that we float into the market do not do well, our family name is spoiled. Deciding how much to leverage can be a problem. When a family business chooses to go public their name is exposed.