Awal Plastics: Signage pioneers in the Middle East

In conversation with Ronnie Surty, Group CEO of Awal Plastics

By Ishtiaq Mehkri

Published: Sun 18 Apr 2021, 1:02 PM

Last updated: Sun 18 Apr 2021, 3:09 PM

Please tell us about your background and professional journey and how you came to be the Group CEO of Awal Plastics?

With very humble beginnings during my formative years in Mumbai, I studied and worked simultaneously and created a successful career that spanned over 36 years in various blue-chip multi-national organisations.

From selling cutlery (forks and spoons) for leading cutlery manufacturing company in Mumbai and then moving to Hong Kong at the age of 19, I managed international brands from a very early stage in my life, ranging from segments in household goods, electronics, automotive, FMCG and manufacturing across the Middle East, Africa and other global geographical locations.

A focused and disciplined approach, coupled with sincere efforts, was the recipe for creating my success story. I have professionally grown with a proven track record within various cross-functional and senior management roles in multiple organisations, thus growing in stature.

I have gained knowledge and expertise in senior management positions within diverse AME regional operational end-markets.

Keeping a single-minded focus that the 'process of learning never ends', keeping an 'open mind in adapting to diverse cultures and working in varied geographical and cultural environments', having worked and lived in over 19 countries over the span of my career, Bahrain is the 19th country, where I have worked and lived in for the last seven years.

Awal Plastics - Bahrain was an established family business for over 44 years when I joined and took over as the Group CEO with the sole aim of transforming the organisation from being a 'family-driven business' to a 'corporate business entity.'

Since 2013, evaluation, planning, leading and implementing an 'Organisation Transformation' by embedding a practical 'Step Change Management Approach' that ensures a 'Future Fit Organisation' that professes the 'Manage to Excel' ethos.

I have led and managed teams with diverse ethnic cultures, factoring in 'People-Process-Technology' being the key drivers within any organisation.

'Continuous Improvement' with a strong focus on 'Sustainable Organic Growth' is what creates a culture to nurture and grow talent through strategic and operational direction, coupled with effective leadership and management at all levels. 'Unless it's not perfect, it can't be the best.'

Being a solid people leader, passionate to nurture talent and develop people through employee engagement and change management attributes that respect cultural and employee diversity, I can attribute the success stories of the last seven years, thanks to my team.

What changes did you bring about in the organisation since you took over, and how did you transform Awal Plastics into a success story?

Factoring that Awal Plastics was already a 44-year organisation when I joined, a thorough understanding of every function and department had to be done by understanding the core competencies of senior managers, functional teams, manufacturing cost and processes, more so, understanding the ROI through various elements of the investments that were already done and 'People-Process-Technology' being the main drivers had to be reinforced in terms of efficiency, cost management, time management, prioritising and above all, achieving the organic growth that would make the company sustainable in a very competitive environment year on year.

Furthermore, understanding the regional market dynamics and creating joint ventures and new product developments would help the company grow, factoring in the restrictions within the geographical territories.

What were the challenges you faced?

I call them 'opportunities' rather than challenges to focus on managing growth and the team through an 'out-of-the-box' thinking approach. The most important factor within any manufacturing or trading organisation is to embed controls 'within your standard operating procedures' managed by a solid and robust ERP solution which, unfortunately, we did not have at the time. 'Freedom through responsibility albeit with accountability' was the factor that was embedded at every level of the organisation to create a success story.

There was a significant investment done to implement a fit-for-purpose ERP solution. Finally, the entire organisation was restructured from an operational perspective through a revised and updated 'Standard Operating Procedure' coupled with a documented 'Business Process Blueprint' that was factored and embedded into the ERP solution of choice.

Once we overcame this challenge, financial, operational, and management reporting was automated. Every department/function became a profit centre where responsibilities are now distributed across the organisation to make the company robust.

Kindly take us through Awal Plastics' history and its core area of business and products?

Mohamed Ahmed Ali Bucheeri and Abdulla Abdulrahim Hasan Bucheeri, the Founding Partners and Joint Chairmen, started the company in 1969 with a few products.

The company's breakthrough was the government contract in the early '70s  with the traffic directorate for the car license number plates. This further evolved into other business diversifications of manufacturing signs and other products when mechanisation and automation were unheard of in the '60s.

Having the financial and business acumen, Mohamed Bucheeri, a banker since the early '50s, used his knowledge to create a company that was built for the future. Abdulla Bucheeri was a creative person by nature and hobby who used his ability to turn concepts into products.

Over the years from 1969, when Awal Plastics was formally formed, both founding partners worked hands-on to build the business to where it is today.

Having worked for various multinational companies for close to 30 years, I joined Awal Plastics in 2013 as the Group Chief Executive Officer. The strategy was defined to move the organisation from a family-run business into a corporate business entity; that's how the strategy for the transformation was created to create a future-fit, sustainable organisation solely on the ethos of year-on-year organic growth.

Jalal Bucheeri, the youngest son of Mohamed Bucheeri, works in the capacity of Group Corporate Affairs Director, who supports me in all areas of marketing coupled with managing the organisation's corporate affairs out of the box thinking approach.

What is your competitive edge and how do you stand out?

The tagline of Awal Plastics is 'The Number One Signage Company in the Middle East'.

To come up to this position and retain the same, year-on-year, it would be noteworthy to dwell upon the history of the yesteryears. Awal Plastics was the first to bring in mechanised signage manufacturing technology in the Middle East.

We are humbly honoured to be contributors to the nation-building process in Bahrain. Currently, we are honoured to be manufacturing the airport's wayfinding, directional, Duty Free signs, etc. at the Bahrain International Airport Expansion Project. As a local Bahraini company, we stood tall against international competitors based on strict merit regarding concept adherence, design, manufacturing, installation methods, process efficiency, and pricing.

2020 has been challenging for most businesses and individuals. What strategies or policies have you adopted to cope with the situation in 2021 and assist those who have suffered due to the pandemic?

The pandemic has been a global issue where most countries have been impacted severely. We are very fortunate and consider ourselves blessed in Bahrain to support the government with various subsidies that ensure the local businesses do not suffer severe impacts and can face the challenges in the best possible manner.

It also depends upon how robust each company is from a financial perspective and how an organisation has embedded the long-term strategic foresight to ensure that these 'ups and downs' are always factored by provisioning certain austerity financials on every balance sheet to overcome the severity of such situations as an interim measure.

Our customers' confidence stems from the robust quality-managed products we manufacture. We have been extremely fortunate to have won the confidence levels to the extent that 2020 was an excellent year amidst the global business downturn that we keep hearing - touchwood!

Can you name a few of your milestone achievements, and what are your future plans?

Milestones are people-process-technology driven within the organisation that has ensured organic growth year on year for the last seven years. The plans shall continue with business diversification and international joint venture partnerships across the globe through technology transfer or manufacturing capability.

 A future-fit organisation needs to be agile to withstand challenges by converting these challenges into opportunities in a challenging environment.

Any message for the upcoming generation or budding entrepreneurs?

The process of learning never ends. Have an open mind to learn, adapt but when it comes to implementation, remember 'one rule can't fit all'. The fit-for-purpose principle should always be at the forefront, keeping in mind change is constant; however, the first question one needs to agree upon within the team sincerely is 'what will the change do for us in the long run?' The world has evolved through technological innovations and many other socio-economic and geopolitical factors. Sustainability in a diverse and complex business environment is vital for every organisation that wants to continue with the legacy that was born through the Founders' efforts.

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