I: Abu Dhabi's economy is projected to grow by 8.2 percent this year. What are the factors fueling this growth?
CEO: Today, if you look at Abu Dhabi, for so long we were associated with crude oil, and only being a producer of crude oil. The growth is really coming from our strategy to have a well-diversified economy in Abu Dhabi rather than just focusing on one product. It's about diversification, it's about the value added from diversifying away from one product, it's about the opportunities that will be generated in some of the sectors, as well as the attraction of new investments into Abu Dhabi.
I: How would you define the appeal Abu Dhabi has for investors and tourists?
CEO: Regarding tourism, I think we have our own flavor, mainly because we are focusing on heritage and culture. This is quite different from the tourism you usually see in the region. We are really differentiating our tourism to cater to a certain type of tourist with different tastes.
I: The construction and real estate investments are expected to contribute 40 billion to Abu Dhabi's GDP. How important is the real estate sector for Abu Dhabi's economy?
CEO: Well, it is one of the most important sectors, but is not the only one. Yes, it will add that much, but so will other sectors. The economy is diversifying away from crude oil, and the same way it is doing that with crude oil it will do with real estate as well. We will see other services and products come online that will give a true sense of diversification. So if you are talking about 40 billion today, we might see other numbers of the same significance coming from other sectors down the road.
I: What other sectors are we talking about?
CEO: Besides real estate there is the utilities sector, infrastructure, and industrial production, among others.
I: Abu Dhabi's economic vision is expected to involve expanding over the next ten years, with more than 300 billion US dollars on major projects in oil, gas, basic Industries, infrastructure, real estate, tourism and other sectors. You yourself, Al Qudra Holding, have more than 30 units, and are also diversified into industrial, infrastructure and agriculture. Is there any complementarity between the vision of Abu Dhabi and Al Qudra's diversification?
CEO: Yes. The complementarity comes from the fact that today Al Qudra is a private player, a private investor in Abu Dhabi. To achieve what the government is trying to do in terms of diversification, it is very important that private investors like us take the initiative. We have basically created 30 companies up until now. We are focusing on five main sectors: real estate, infrastructure, utilities, industrial production, and agriculture. We are doing this because basically we are achieving the amount of diversification that is required, and we are complementing other developers in the region as well and in Abu Dhabi in particular. Today we are not really just a real estate company; like I said, we are the five main sectors and we provide a lot of added value to other real estate developers.
I: Is there a lot of interaction between the public and the private sectors in Abu Dhabi? Is there a joint cooperation?
CEO: Yes, absolutely. We have seen the level of cooperation there increase over the last few years. There is a privatization scheme that was started a while ago and we are going to see more of it down the road as well. As Al-Qudra, I think we are one of the players that will enhance the impact of such schemes.
I: How do you choose your businesses that you are diversifying into? What are your requirements?
CEO: Well, when we started, we envisioned what we wanted to do as Al Qudra. It was clear what was to be done in Abu Dhabi. We tried to position ourselves as leaders of the developers here, as leaders of the private sector players, so we decided to get into those five main sectors. If you ask me how that is different from our position today, we look at what adds value to what we are doing. Today, Al-Qudra has integration as the main source of its differentiation from others. We have not only vertically integrated but horizontally among the sectors as well, and I think this is something very unique to Al-Qudra when it comes to private investors and investment firms out of Abu Dhabi. We strive to provide complete, integrated solutions across fundamental sectors to address the unique needs of each area and region.
I: So you have a holistic approach?
CEO: Yes, it's a holistic approach in a way, but one thing that needs to be clarified is that we are not doing everything; we don't want to do everything. It is just about what adds value to our current set-up.
I: Is this part of your international expansion strategy?
CEO: Absolutely, yes.
I: What are the implications for the company's corporate structure? Are you ready for this move?
CEO: I think we are. Basically when it comes to corporate governance I think we are ahead of others. Not only are we serving our financial strategy and our financial ambition, but we try to add value to Abu Dhabi and to other markets we are entering, and we are focusing on doing things from a very strict corporate social responsibility approach.
I: Is that the main source of your strategy?
CEO: Well, if we are talking about the region. Of course, we are from Abu Dhabi and we have seen this done in Abu Dhabi, and it is only right that we use that towards being successful. I think it is only fair that you give back to the region that you operate out of, whether it is Abu Dhabi or other markets. That is one of the key secrets to having a win-win situation.
I: Being diversified must be very challenging. What are the main challenges Al-Qudra is facing?
CEO: Like you said, the growth is very fast, so sometimes you see some opportunities that are interesting, but when it comes to adding value to what you have, the numbers might look right but the value is not there. This is one of the challenges. Another is being innovative, and that is personally my number one challenge. Innovation does not only come in know-how or new products, but in several forms, be it interacting with people and trying to find out what is needed, addressing the requirements and needs of the region, focusing on the product that is being delivered, or coming up with integration in a unique set-up that really adds value to what we are doing and is creative in itself. We are looking at different types of innovation, and that's a challenge. The other challenge is that in some of our markets too much is needed and we can't provide it all ourselves. So, we attract some other partners in regions in addition to Abu Dhabi.
I: What are some of the strategic relationships you are looking into, and what particular regions are you targeting?
CEO: Today we are focusing on the Middle East and North Africa region, besides Abu Dhabi. We are trying to attract local talent, in these markets or local companies with their talents, where they would add value to the products we are providing. We need to add value to what we are doing. There might be some interesting players in the market but we would not approach them if they do not add value to us. We are all about enhancing the market and staying in for the long-term. To have a long-term presence we need to have strategic partnerships, which will be defined by several factors: know-how, market-share that is already there, or accessibility to certain sectors of the market. It varies from one market to the other, but we are focusing on the MENA region in the short and medium term; in the long-term we are looking at the global market. That is our aim in the long-term.
I: What practical fields would you like to expand into?
CEO: Today we are focusing on only those fields, currently, but the requirements might change over time. So I would say we will focus on what we are doing today, but down the road it could change. It could be one month from now that some other needs will appear, or ten years from now it could be completely different. Like I said, the needs are differing from one market to the other, the region that is involved is moving very fast and I think that will be a critical factor. I am very comfortable with what we have today but definitely we will look at other opportunities.
I: Describing your current state, are you in the consolidation or growth phase?
CEO: Right now we are definitely in the growth phase, we are adding businesses, we are pursuing being the leading investment firm out of the region, and that is growth.
I: Looking closely at your real estate division, you are one of the leading players in the market; you are one of the top five. How do you assess your competition? Is it more about competition or complementarity?
CEO: It is interesting that you ask this question. Today, if you just look at the real estate, you might come up as competitors, but we would rather not deal with you in that way. In the other sectors we have, we definitely complement the other players in the market. That is really what we are trying to achieve; a win-win situation for us and other players because the opportunities are there, and the market is very encouraging. The way I would like to put it is that it is a pity to fight over the same stake; rather, we should enlarge that stake for everybody. I think that is a win-win situation, and that is what Al-Qudra is doing.
I: Do you think that with the maturing of the market, competition might intensify?
CEO: That is the norm in any market. As markets mature, they become more appealing to others, and interest definitely grows from different parties, which leads to competition over time. But what we are doing with Al-Qudra is that we are really trying to identify these trends ahead of time and really position Al-Qudra to be the leader in the development of these markets.
I: You are helping developing some of the iconic projects such as Danat Abu Dhabi. How will this development impact the city and the emirate of Abu Dhabi?
CEO: If you look at Abu Dhabi City, it is really concentrated on the island of Abu Dhabi. The new plan, the 2030 plan, is basically reducing the density of the population in one area. Our project is fulfilling that requirement, number one. Number two, we are presenting a project that is unique and very sustainable.
I: What are some individual investors, who are the prime investors coming to invest in Abu Dhabi and with Al-Qudra?
CEO: With Al-Qudra today, investors are split into individuals and private institutions. The interesting thing about the mix of investors that we have, is that none of them are government investors which really gives an edge to Al-Qudra. I think we are much more agile than other investment entities that might be either government or civic government.
I: Where are these investors coming from, mainly from GCC?
CEO: Our investor base today is mainly from Abu Dhabi.
I: And in the real estate sector?
CEO: Mainly from Abu Dhabi, as well. Part of our initial offering is to open the door to other investors from the region to come in. Today our shareholder base is mainly from Abu Dhabi, as I mentioned. Our investors are mainly from Abu Dhabi. We are open to partnerships; currently, not all of our partnerships are from Abu Dhabi, we do have some partners from Europe, some partners from other parts of the region. We are open to any partnership that adds value, not only to what we are doing as a company but to the region as a whole.
I: As one of the leading conglomerates, what effects do you think Al-Qudra has had on Abu Dhabi in terms of direct and indirect impact?
CEO: Regarding direct impact, I think we are demonstrating that Abu Dhabi's economy is not only surviving on the government's support. It is a healthy economy and there is room for investment to be done by the private sector. Indirectly, I think we inspired a lot of people and companies to come and invest, let alone investors that are interested in building a model that is sustainable in Abu Dhabi. I think today we can say that within Abu Dhabi we are being benchmarked for newcomers.
I: To get to corporate social responsibility, corporations are run by the belief that success is the balance between objective and the extent to which this contributes to the development of the society. How do you address corporate social responsibility, and what is your ultimate goal?
CEO: Our ultimate goal is to enhance the environment we are in, whether it is just the environment on its own or the social environment. I think it is only normal that someone adds value to one where lives, to where one invests. So our social responsibility is not only towards Abu Dhabi, but is really towards every market, because it is only fair that you act in such a responsible manner if you are going to benefit within a market. So really it is creating sustainability in our process, and social responsibility is one of the key factors in that.
I: In your opinion, what is the Al-Qudra brand associated with?
CEO: As we speak, it is associated with elevation, with pioneering, and with delivery on time. When you say Al-Qudra today, people think that they have a solid strategy, are taking initiative and so are leading the development of Abu Dhabi's private sector, are pioneering the products that they deliver and are always keep their promises.
I: What would you like this association to be in 2017?
CEO: In 2017, I would like Al-Qudra to be associated with the same things but globally. Of course, Al-Qudra is always a socially responsible company, and that will always be the case.
I: Through many of your subsidiaries you are an international company established in Morocco, Yemen, Algeria, and Senegal, among others. Can you tell us more about your expansion strategy - what you would like to achieve?
CEO: In the process of building this integration over the five sectors, our expansion was usually done through real estate. Today, since we've established all these sectors, our expansion is usually through delivering an integrated solution, whereby when we talk to investors or to policy-makers in Abu Dhabi or in other markets, they'll see that Al-Qudra is robust in their operations, and that Al-Qudra is a one-stop shop in terms of integrated solutions, and that just encourages their decision to be faster and much more interesting for us as well.
I: Is there any final message you would like to direct to our audience, our readers and viewers, about Abu Dhabi and Al-Qudra?
CEO: Well, Abu Dhabi is an interesting city; it is taking the initiative and the lead in so many fields. Al-Qudra is following in those footsteps. We like to be viewed as developing the private sector, and we are here to really enhance not only Abu Dhabi but also all the markets that we enter. Again, we touched on this issue of social responsibility; we are socially responsible. That will be one of our main guidelines in operations.