SIMPLE BEGINNINGS

Lebanon 2012 | REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Karim S. El-Hajjar, Chairman of El-Hajjar Enterprises Co (H.E.C), on its transition to a multinational firm, the role of technology, and its latest projects.

How has H.E.C transformed from being a small family company to becoming a multinational in the course of a generation?

The company was established in 1959 by my father and uncle. They were previously involved in a small leather business. When their father died, they moved to Beirut, opened a small grocery shop and it developed from there. They saved some money and ventured with a couple of landowners and started construction projects. In brief, more than 80 buildings, two hotels, and several companies in the Gulf area were developed. In 2003 I moved back to Lebanon and took over the business. As the second generation, we started reorganizing the different fields we worked in and turned the company into a holding company—H.E.C Holding. During the 2006 war, we ventured into the surrounding Middle East. Our name is a source of pride. For the last 53 years we've inherited an excellent name known for fulfilling its promises, which has helped us to grow dramatically in the last few years.

Can you tell us about your holding structure and your subsidiaries?

“Our name is a source of pride. For the last 53 years we've inherited an excellent name known for fulfilling its promises."

H.E.C is the main business through which we buy, invest, and develop land. H.E.C Wood is our manufacturing business. We produce all kinds of high-quality wood products: doors, kitchens, furniture, and so on. We also established H.E.C Trading, one of H.E.C's subsidiaries; it's not an independent company yet. Through H.E.C Trading we import all kinds of products related to development materials. In 2012 we're establishing H.E.C Fitness, which we've been working on for the past six years. It's a fully automated fitness center and the first of its kind. We are working with Oracle as a software company, and Cisco is providing us with a network system and wiring. We are also working on RFID technology with a local firm in collaboration with a French company to provide us with individual identification technology. What we're doing is making a fully automated gym that can analyze your workout by the second. We also provide screens that will be set up at home, and these will be connected to our software.

What role does technology play in your business?

H.E.C is a technology-oriented developer. We use Cisco for our communication systems and call management, ensuring smooth and secure communications. Furthermore, we run on Oracle, the world's largest business software company, systemizing the whole scope of business; Oracle is the best global business practice solution and is used by the world's top 100 companies. H.E.C further offers potential buyers the “3D Home Builder," a new and exclusive virtual-reality technology for apartment customization. Finally, within H.E.C Wood—our manufacturing company—we use 20-20 Technologies, one of the largest companies in the world offering a single integrated software platform for industry-wide use—from showroom to factory floor—that is tailored specifically to the interior design business and employed across all environments, both desktop and the web.

Can you tell us about your latest projects, Green Leaf and Val Verde?

The Green Leaf project is built in a prime location in Ain Najem, where its residents can escape the pollution and traffic, as well as enjoy the magnificent view and the greenery that encircles the buildings. It includes double walls, double glazing, and complete electrical, mechanical, and European finishes. Everything needed to make these beautiful homes is perfectly designed to fit their residents' every need. As for the Val Verde project, it is a new residential complex in the heart of Adma, comprising nine fully equipped four-story structures. With a pool, waterfall, green areas, and breathtaking landscapes all around, the residents' homes will become their favorite getaway and the place to be when they want to relax, unwind, and enjoy the beautiful moments of life with their family and friends. Most of our apartments are custom made. What we're trying to do is create a different kind of environment for our clients, not just from a design point of view, but also in terms of lifestyle. We study each client's financial structure. We help them to establish a better financial history during the two years between the pre-sale and the construction to provide them with the best housing loan possible. In order to do that, we worked with BLOM Bank to offer H.E.C Housing Loans.

What are the origins of H.E.C Green and H.E.C Heart?

H.E.C Green and H.E.C Heart, two non-profit organizations, were established in 2006 following the war. It started as a personal matter. I wasn't really planning to develop it into an organization, but the war affected us deeply. A campaign stated that Lebanon has less than 13% of its green spaces left, and that was the limit for me. I was shocked to think that this is where our kids are going to grow up and eventually live. This is when we started trying to switch to green building, but the more you go green, the more expensive it is. We're trying to work out the balance. With H.E.C Heart, we're helping people—be it victims of war or elderly people. We endeavor to reach out to whoever needs our help. We're trying to make people hopeful again, and happy. We find elderly people who are unsupported and are living a hard life and we help them by giving them better furniture, painting their houses, and providing provisions for the winter, such as food. Our other goal at H.E.C Heart is to help kids. In 2010 we helped cancer patients at the American University of Beirut Hospital. Instead of providing them with money, we brought gifts and some clowns and actors and we provided them all with one carefree and truly joyful day. When you witness this, it's obvious why giving back is important to any company.