RECIPE FOR SUCCESS

Abu Dhabi 2019 | AGRIBUSINESS & FOOD SECURITY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Tariq Al Wahedi, CEO of Agthia, on on the growth of the company in past decades, its innovative products, and investing in its people.

Tariq Al Wahedi
BIOGRAPHY
Tariq Al Wahedi joined Agthia in September 2015 as COO, leading the manufacturing and supply chain operations of the group. In November 2016, he was appointed as Acting Executive Vice President of Agri Business in addition to his COO responsibilities. He is currently the CEO. He graduated in engineering from the University of Tulsa and holds an Executive MBA from Kellogg School of Management. He also serves on numerous boards as a board member and advisor to various non-profit organizations and companies across diversified industries including logistics, building materials, and industrial development. Prior to joining Agthia, he held senior executive positions, most recently at Senaat, and prior to that in the Abu Dhabi Basic Industries Corp. for eight years.

How does your portfolio evolution reflect the trends and opportunities in the F&B market in Abu Dhabi and UAE?

The roots of Agthia go back to four decades ago, when it was founded by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan as a flour mills and animal feed company. When Agthia was established as part of the government's privatization initiative in 2004, it had already added a water plant onto its business base. From these two building blocks, in less than a decade it grew its assets over 10 times, becoming today one of the largest F&B companies in the UAE. A solid determination to make Agthia one of the UAE economy's non-oil diversification pillars in line with the vision of our leadership has been a major driver of this exponential growth. While accomplishing our commercial objectives, we also constituted a major backbone for food security in Abu Dhabi and the UAE over these years. Although it was not an easy task, Agthia has proven to the market and investors over the years that its business model is sustainable and profitable and goes hand in hand with the growth of the UAE. Today, our ambition is to become a USD1-billion company by 2020, and one of our strategic priorities to achieve this goal is to remain dynamic and expand: we want to think beyond our region, we want to think global. In the UAE and the GCC, we have expanded through acquisitions, and we have also entered Turkey and Egypt. To support this expansion, we had to transform ourselves from being a majority agribusiness to a more consumer business. As such, we embraced a total mind shift from a B2B model to a B2C one, requiring special attention to the latest marketing and innovation trends around us.

Can you briefly touch on the investments to develop both human capacity and brand equity within your group strategy?

Developing and retaining a top-caliber human resource is important to ensure stability and alignment with our strategy, regardless of the ups and downs of the UAE and GCC economies. As a company, we have been focusing heavily on training and developing our employees at different stages of their careers, whether one is a fresh graduate, a middle manager or an executive. Through our Agthia Academy in our own Al Wathba facilities, we liaise with many academic institutions and bring in prominent people to share their invaluable experiences and learning with us. Regarding our brand equity, our flagship Al Ain Water is not only a well-known brand but also a highly trusted one by the UAE consumers. This is why we are the market leaders in water, and our other products are in almost every shelf of modern trade shops. Our relentless focus on the highest quality products and customer service in addition to our passion to listen to and address the evolving needs of the consumers has been our recipe.

How do you project e-commerce and new digital technologies to impact the UAE market?

E-commerce is not new to us and it has become an indispensable milestone for our growth. For example, a significant portion of our B2B business is already based on e-commerce, and we are actively leading the conversion from analog to digital of the municipality retail stores which we are operating on behalf of the Abu Dhabi Municipality. Our Agthia mobile app has been in the service for a number of years at the fingertips of our customers: clearly, this highlights our strategy aimed at fully integrating our brick and mortar, ecommerce and home delivery operations. This integration is an interesting challenge for a company within the F&B sector: just think that even major diversified multinationals had their challenges in providing fresh food online only and had to figure out ways to integrate bricks and mortars within their business. That being said, it is a fact that e-commerce is taking away business from the physical retail store segment, and the market is adjusting to what is undoubtedly a global trend.