Lebanon 2013 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Nabil Kettaneh, Chairman of the Board of Kettaneh Group, on company milestones, the international market, and sectors with potential.

Nabil Kettaneh
Born in 1946, Nabil Kettaneh has an education in business and is currently Chairman of the Board of Kettaneh Group. He is also associated with several councils and chambers, including the Lebanese-German Business Council, the International Chamber of Commerce, the Beirut Traders Association, and the Syrian-Lebanese Businessmen Council.

What have been the milestones during the company's long history?

The company was founded in 1922, when four brothers decided to establish a business. My uncle, Francis, started bringing in US companies to all over the Middle East. Little by little these Middle Eastern countries started to develop and wanted their own people to work and we had to recede and recede, which is normal—it has nothing to do with good or bad business. There was a boom in Tehran, which helped us a lot. There, we worked a great deal in the automotive sector. Iran has an automobile industry of medium quality, but it is fully integrated. As a country, Iran is very rich, agriculture-wise, tourism-wise, and industry-wise, and that helped us a lot at that time to grow—but not when the revolution came because we had to stop all imports and become smaller. My plan for Tehran was to stay because we have land in Iran and we want to have someone present all the time. Things change and we want to have someone on the ground. In the meantime, we are in talks to see if it is legally possible to import Chinese-made cars into the country. We have a small company in Jordan, and it is a profitable. It is working very seriously on industrial projects with electricity, importing AC units from Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, as well as with finished units. Apart from that we are in Lebanon, of course, and that is quite successful. The company has experienced a lot of ups and downs, but in the last few years we cleaned up all the problems and it is quite a successful company.

What are your prospects for the Medawar building?

This building will be constructed where our Audi showroom is, as Audi changed the specifications for its showrooms. We convinced the people at Audi that it wasn't good business to use a prime piece of land just for a showroom, so now we are developing the showroom alongside a workshop that is integrated into a high-rise building with a mix of apartments and offices. The apartments will be on the higher levels for people wanting a sea view. It will have the deepest foundations in Lebanon, going below 38 meters. Three or four levels will be dedicated to the showroom and it should be completed in the next four years.

Are you planning any other new developments?

Kettaneh Construction, which is a completely separate and independent entity with its own shareholders, started business in the real estate sector. Achrafieh 442 will be 16 or 17 stories high, and almost 50% of the units have already been sold. For the company's second project, the people at Kettaneh Construction are working on a site where famous writer Amin Maalouf lived for six or seven years. Also, we have many projects at the planning stages, although nothing has been finalized yet.

How is Kettaneh's pharmaceutical business progressing?

It used to be a strong sector for us, but it has nearly disappeared. Now, we have started with small, over-the-counter products, and little by little we will start with some pharmaceuticals and baby products. We have expanded a lot and we have opened an office in Dubai just to gain access to bigger and richer markets.

What other sectors have more potential for investment?

Another sector that has potential is electricity. We have many dealings with Siemens and with companies that used to be under Siemens's umbrella, but that are independent today. We have overhauled two large power stations that needed upgrading and thus permitted an increase in their production of 50 MW each. There are now tenders coming up for new power plants.