TBY talks to Mourad Aoun, CEO of Net Holding, on the evolution of the company, free zones, and client portfolio.

Mourad Aoun
Mourad Aoun has over 25 years of experience in sales management, leadership, and strategic development. He started Net Holding in 1994 by representing an international network, “Skynet Worldwide Express.” The group grew to own and manage nine subsidiaries in the express and freight forwarding industry in the Middle East.

How has Net Holding evolved since it was established?

We started off in 1994 with SkyNet, an international express company employing three people. Starting small, we initially grew through more of a personal pursuit than rationalized decisions to build a business providing much needed service in a post-war Lebanon; it was a period of heavy rebuilding and prosperity. I think it was something I was wired for in terms of my desire to build a new business model for freight and express services in Lebanon and the region. We grew organically and started thinking more strategically. In 1998, we expanded our line of services to include freight forwarding. As the freight forwarding side of the business developed, we felt the need to separate the two lines and in 2002 we created Net Logistics, a specialized freight forwarding entity handling air, land, sea freight, warehousing, and logistics. With the two lines of business in place, we set out to widen our reach opening up operations into Syria and developing our Syria-Lebanon business. Meanwhile, we worked on developing our brand regionally. As a young company, you are the product of your environment and you should choose that environment very carefully. We wanted to have scale in the areas we chose and Dubai was a very important growth engine for us. We opened our first sales office there in 2007. By 2011 we were implementing a growth strategy, opening in Jordan, another key market of ours. The Iraqi market soon followed suit in that same year where we established operations in Erbil, Basra, and Bagdad. As Net Logistics solidified its Levant base, we started looking at tie ups to ramp up our front end delivery. In 2008, Net Holding signed on for TNT Express representation in Lebanon, a move that propelled Net Holding to be a major express and logistics player in the region. Today, we number more than 175 employees and our company has been growing steadily at an average rate of 40% per year based on a strategic mix of organic and inorganic growth and a carefully thought out market penetration plan. On the local scene, 2007 represented an opportunity for us to be part of the Beirut Port Free Trade, and we opened up our 4,000-sqm warehouse within the zone that same year. It is a project we believe in, despite several setbacks, mainly due to the volatility of our region.

What are the advantages of the free zone at the Port of Beirut?

Being a Levant-based company, we were keen on seeing the Beirut Sea Port become a gateway to the region; you could say we are foreseeing a mini Jebel Ali Free Zone for Lebanon. With giants like Maersk and CMA bringing large short-transit vessels into Lebanon, we strongly believe in the need for a free zone Levant hub serving Syria, Jordan, and Iraq (Iraq being the biggest market). It is a market that could potentially include more than 50 million people, strengthen economic ties, and facilitate the exchange of goods, capital, and information. We remain very committed to this project despite regional instability, and we are optimistic that things will definitely change given greater stability.

What sectors of the economy represent the bulk of your clients?

We cater to a wide range of sectors and companies from large multinationals in the oil and gas sectors to specialized tech and telecom firms, right down to retail and individual consumers. In terms of geographic spread, I think of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Jordan as a single market. While freight movement in Syria at this time is almost at a standstill, we are servicing a large Jordan-based Iraqi community that found itself relocating to Jordan due to the drawn out in-fighting in Iraq. We also service a large client base of Lebanese companies operating out of Jordan and Iraq.

“ Being a Levant-based company, we were keen on seeing the Beirut Sea Port become a gateway to the region. "