Gulf Firms Look Beyond Crisis and Plan for Growth

DUBAI — In spite of a harsher economic reality, many businesses in the Gulf see opportunities to grow over the long term by acquiring other firms and diversifying into non-traditional markets, executives from the region said on Wednesday.

By T. Ramavarman

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Published: Fri 13 Mar 2009, 12:10 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 9:42 PM

A number of multinational companies in the Gulf are already preparing for a post-recession expansion by recruiting and training new staff, said participants in a panel discussion at the Wharton Global Alumni Forum.

The panel addressed the prospects for home-grown multinational firms in the Middle East and North Africa, as part of the first forum of Wharton School alumni ever to be held in the region. Their experiences, while varied, pointed towards a common optimistic outlook for Gulf-based firms with international ambitions.

Sami Bargoum, Managing Director of Saudi Arabia’s Savola Group, highlighted the need for companies to tailor their brands for the region and focus on their cultural links with customers.

At the same time, the ethnic and national origins of companies are not constraints to growth, particularly under the new generation of regional business leaders, said Rami Makhzoumi, President and Chief Executive Officer of UAE-based Future Pipe Industries.

Mohamed Alshaya, Executive Chairman of Kuwait’s M.H. Alshaya Co., said the key to his company’s success has been in selecting the right talent and ensuring fair deals for all its stakeholders. Both Alshaya and Bargoum said they are investing in human resources and acquiring new assets.

“This is a good time to take a pause, look inward and look at how we can reduce costs. That is because businesses are concerned and must make contingency plans. But this is also the time to identify opportunities and act on them,” Alshaya said.

Among other strategies, the panel proposed that multinational companies explore non-traditional markets that call for cheaper products but larger volumes.

In an address to the same forum, Ammar Al Khudairy, Chief Executive Officer of Saudi-based private equity firm Amwal AlKhaleej, said he foresaw 2010 as a promising year for his industry in the region. The fundamentals of the economy in the Gulf were strong, and they included huge national financial surpluses and stronger regulatory frameworks, he said.

Investors who weren’t careful or serious enough might suffer in the current economic turmoil. But those who take a long term view and make a critical assessment of the ownership and managements of the companies in which they are investing will find 2010 to be a good period for investments. The current year, however, would be “peaceful,” Al Khudairy said.

The bulk of companies in the region are owned by families that have adequate surpluses and can afford to pump in money to revive their firms in times of crisis. Private equity investors should therefore look closely at who owns a company and who manages it, he said.

Fluctuations in oil prices will not have a significant effect on a revival of capital markets in the region, he added, arguing that capital markets and oil prices historically have not been linked.

“The crisis can be resolved only after taking its natural course,” Al Khudairy said. “There cannot be any artificial solution for this. I’m opposed to any short terms measures like government investing in the share markets. They are not healthy measures and are not good for the economy.”

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