Can you provide some background into MEAC's operations in Saudi Arabia?
MEAC has been listed in the group since 1994. It used to execute and deliver new designs for agriculture and agronomy projects in the 1980s, when there was a push for a strong homegrown agriculture industry in Saudi Arabia. Our parent business started in pharma, but in farming we introduced the first diesel powered pumps in the Kingdom. From there, we needed generators and then developed the water business, getting into water treatment plants, desalination, and subsequently power plants, with aqua power today as an extension. We also have other development companies that are part of the water side. MEAC was focused on the agronomy business, and as of 1Q2020 it has been growing less on the agronomy side and more on the landscaping side. Later, we grew in the GCC and now have branches in Doha and Dubai, with plans to enter Oman and Kuwait in 2021. We are going back to our roots of agronomy, with the team that was responsible for agronomy 20 years ago still with us. We will rely on its expertise and experience and also bring in new experts as we will be heavily involved in hydroponic farming.
What strategy do you follow in developing local technology and the transfer of knowledge?
We cover both internal and external knowledge sharing and have clear KPIs for our engineers to conduct seminars and training. Even before the curfew, we were heavy users of Microsoft Teams. We arrange calls for education and to discuss new methods and solutions that we can use to design according to customers' needs. Many of our engineers are part-time teachers and lecturers in universities, and we encourage them to continue teaching as part of our social responsibility. We do seminars and training for our clients and sometimes prefer to take them to a retreat out of the office with exclusive focus on the intensive training and development that we conduct.
What is the role and capabilities of Saudi Arabia in the regional agriculture sector, and will it continue to be import dependent?
Saudi Arabia has the PIF investment arm, SALIC, which specializes in food security, though that is more during a crisis and not related to a viral pandemic. Every country in the region should be able to fend for itself with at least one homegrown portion that it is able to increase over time. Each country needs to ensure it has the right mechanism and expertise required to meet consumers' needs on a daily business. Furthermore, many of these farms run on manual labor, where there is no problem with demand but rather supply, particularly manpower. Other business partners have automated products, and that will be the driver of the future. Another solution is the remote farm management solution, where we developed a solution to manage farms through drones, with scheduled scans at certain times of the day taking aerial images that can pinpoint an infection in a certain part of the farm. The system also gives daily seeding and irrigation reports.
What has the epidemic taught you in terms of leadership during a crisis?
You always have to be lean and mean, because when things are tough, companies need to be agile to get through it and be proactive so that it can take the decisions needed to navigate the crisis. Post-crisis, we will be in a better position, market wise, regarding our opposition and clients' needs. A great deal of the decentralization of decision-making had to be done down to the department level, where each department head was responsible for ensuring the safety of their employees and that they followed safety protocols, worked from home, and so on. You have to decentralize these, as it is not just about accountability but also freedom, agility, and on-hand experience to manage their own section of the company.