CONCRETE IDEAS

Kuwait 2017 | INFRASTRUCTURE & CONSTRUCTION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Ghosson Ghassan Al-Khaled, Deputy CEO of ACICO Group, on striving for synergy across the group and the firm's approach to expansion.

Ghosson Ghassan Al-Khaled
BIOGRAPHY
Ghosson Ghassan Al-Khaled was recently promoted to Deputy CEO of ACICO Group, the industrial manufacturer of a wide array of building materials. Before she assumed this role, she headed up the industrial division as COO for a number of years. Throughout her tenure with ACICO, Ghosson has proved herself as a savvy operations leader with an indelible reputation for delivering inventive business strategies and client-focused solutions, remarkable profits, sustainable growth, and the rapid launch of new industry-leading products and services. She has been widely acknowledged as one of most powerful Arab women, amongst others by the Arabian Business Magazine and Forbes. She holds an executive MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona, and an Aluma of the Harvard Business School as well.

How do you strive for synergies within the diversified portfolio of ACICO?

As COO for the industrial division I was more operational, more into factories, sales, and meeting customers' demands. In my current position, the nature of my work has changed entirely and I focus on managing five COOs for the different divisions we have, and monitoring the numbers, the growth, their budgets, and ensuring harmony. As our operations span from manufacturing, construction, infrastructure development, and hospitality to logistics, it is a challenge to align all corporate cultures and to strive for synergies. One of the major processes that I currently lead is to reinforce HR, to make it a strategic partner and to eliminate the cultural gaps in our organization. We jointly engage on strategy brainstorm sessions to work on our long-term objectives and the execution plan for those. ACICO started as an autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC) manufacturer with just one plant in Kuwait, so our DNA is in the industrial sector. All other divisions still learn from our expertise and experience here, and the concept of AAC is a key driver of our groups' performance. After this factory, we moved into building materials, cement, ready mixes, interlock, and precast concretes, which are all used in our other divisions. So the AAC technology is one that we take pride in, having been the pioneers in it in our region. But we did not stop there as we supplemented this advanced technology with additional building-material products and services, from design to finishing, to come up with what we refer to now as ACICO System—an integrated building solution rather than separate products and services. The ACICO System is the child of the synergies we achieved throughout our various sectors. In non-materialistic terms, the management and operational practices of the industrial division are exemplary for the other segments of our business. We have translated this know-how into manufacturing, real estate development, our contracting business, and the hotel industry. It was my father's vision to never shy away from opportunities and to hire experts to bring in knowledge and learn in the process.

How do you envision further expansion of the group in the region?

In any new market we penetrate, we ensure we are fully integrated in that market, and then we look for other markets. Our key driver here is the integration of our existing offerings as sometimes we find it necessary to be in one market or another, so we are able to cater to an existing demand for what we offer. Now we are doing well in the region, and although the demand is high, there is also a lot of competition. In Kuwait, the government subsidizes electricity and land, which gives us a great competitive advantage to be manufacturing from here. We are grateful for the government here, and if we need more land we stand strong as we have a strong track record of exporting to neighboring countries. ACICO has businesses throughout the region but our best profits are made in Kuwait. We are even relocating our best operational managers to come back here and further develop our business. Kuwait is our primary focus for now, and especially with the upcoming public projects. Although large-scale projects are not our specialization, we acquired a pre-cast concrete factory two years ago to deliver larger structured items. It is not our mission to be a major contractor as that market segment is already quite saturated and we would rather focus on delivering on our expertise without getting distracted. At a later stage, we could be looking into these mixed-development projects and eventually we will be able to compete because we produce concrete and ready-mix, so our whole solution is competitive. In summary, when we experience success in one area, we do not feel content and sit back—any new success drives us to attain more success and reach for even higher limits; hence, I often remind our staff that the sky is the limit when it comes to creativity and innovation.