How do you manage your portfolio to ensure a stable stream of revenue?
Salam International has diversified its business interests. We have divided our business into five sectors; real estate, technology, retail, construction, and oil and gas. Under each of those sectors sits a number of companies that are managed by a managing director specialized in his line of business. They manage the business, project flows, and they have budgets, which are reported to the head office. Being diversified means less volatility and more stability. Our company has five legs, and it can move around. This is like the 1940s and 1950s used to be in Europe. Most of the new companies are specialized. Because we are in a developing economy, it is working so far.
What is your advice to companies that want to take family businesses public?
We were the first company in Qatar to go public, though we have been through really tough times. The market in Qatar, when we started 10 years ago, was still undergoing a learning curve. The rules and regulations were not clear. We started the fund in 1996. Then, in 2002 and 2005 we went through our first, second, and third mergers. We took it in steps. Right now, it is settling down and I think our experience was not great, but it was an important step, not only for us, but also for Qatar. Today, it is showing results. The market is maturing gradually, but it has a long way to go.
Would you advise other companies to follow your lead?
Yes, if they are willing to take on the challenges of becoming a public shareholding company and go through the learning curve. Switching the mindset from a private to a public company is not simple. My mindset now is that I own shares, not the company. This is the mindset that the families have to realize and accept. Everybody should worry about their shareholding, but the performance of the company is the responsibility of the management.
Could you talk about your international operations?
We are a regional company, though not exactly international. We operate in the GCC and Levant area, from Lebanon to Jordan and across the countries of the GCC. That is our footprint right now, operationally. We have investments in Saudi Arabia and different places, and we have operations in five markets: Oman, UAE, Qatar, Lebanon, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. We manage the company in those markets. In the future, we are looking to expand. It is a generic style of growth, because we completed all our investments in the last five years. We upgraded our systems, and now we are in Phase II of upgrading the management and financial systems.
There are many international expectations of Qatar. What are the main challenges you can identify in this process of economic growth?
The problem is that it is over publicized in the media. Qatar is a small economy and there has been an oversell. While many countries suffered during the recession, Qatar was sticking its neck out and talking about megaprojects. Actually, in reality, they are humble projects. It is a boom for the people of Qatar, but not for the world. Many companies entered the Qatari market and were disappointed. They came to do a project, but then there was no continuity of work afterwards. While the country has a strong economy in the oil and gas industry that is about it. In five to seven years, many major infrastructure projects will finish, and the country will then experience more normalized growth. It is a window of opportunity now when the boom will continue. We don't see Qatar becoming a destination like Dubai; it is a small country, and I think it will stay small. There will be some development in the oil and gas fields, and a little bit in the SME sector, but that is it. Our tourism is limited to a special niche in the market.