THE ONLY WAY IS UP

Lebanon 2017 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Ziad T. Monla, Chairman & CEO of MG Holding, on the inborn advantages of doing business Lebanese-style, providing top-notch services for the public sector, and how to turn a deadlock into a solution.

Ziad T. Monla
BIOGRAPHY
Ziad T. Monla is the Chairman & CEO of MG Holding, a private equity group focused on three continents with offices in Lebanon, Iraq, Canada, and Nigeria. Today, the group operates in the IT and telecoms sector, security, contracting, oil and gas servicing, FMCG, private aviation, healthcare, and retail clothing. Monla received his bachelor’s degree from Chapman University in Los Angeles and his OPM Degree from Harvard. He managed the family’s healthcare business in Lebanon for 10 years, during which he was an active member of the Lebanese Hospital’s Syndicate and contributed massively to the development of healthcare in Lebanon, before moving on to develop other businesses.

MG Holding has been in the market for 70 years. How would you describe the evolution of the holding since then?

MG Holding is the holding for a group of companies that are mostly fully owned subsidiaries. The group is diversified in many business sectors and geographical areas. The healthcare sector is where we started, and that company is still a family business. We are also in the telecommunications and security business, a domain in which we have several more firms. Here the main ones are Lunasat, a large system integrator company, and Guardia Systems, whose specialties are low current, IT, and security. Another telecom entity is Intrasky, in partnership with the ITG Group. Intrasky is focused on satellite communications whose footprint and areas of operation spans from Afghanistan to the Western Sahara. Aviation services in Lebanon are another aspect, with Sky Lounge Services based at Beirut International Airport. The company is also a licensed air taxi operator and does private air charters. MG Holding is also in the real estate development and contracting business with our own private and commercial development. We do many real estate investments in Lebanon in order to remain diversified. We keep most of our developments and rent them out, rather than selling. We have done large real estate development projects in Iraq and several projects in oil and gas. Our oil and gas company is based in Basra in southern Iraq and works with major IOCs.

Is MG Holding planning to diversify into other sectors?

Not at present. We did all our expansion work in 2012-2013. At that time, the price of oil was around USD120 per barrel, governments had large budgets and were offering numerous infrastructure projects, and there were not enough resources to do all the projects on offer. That is when we diversified our activities to support our main businesses. However, 2014 was a tough year for all of us after the drop in oil prices, the Syrian conflict, and the ISIS invasion in Iraq. Very few of those governments were forecasting or planning for the future. Oil prices fell and their budgets were completely depressed. At the same time, we suffered major setbacks in three of our projects in Iraq. First was our real estate development in Salahuddin, followed by projects in Mosul and Diyala. Therefore, we refocused, concentrated on our core businesses, and diverted some of our resources elsewhere. Diversification is important because it keeps a good balance across the whole portfolio. To give an example from one of our companies, Guardia Systems is by far the largest security integrator company in Lebanon today. It undertook the CCTV surveillance project for the city of Beirut. Many of our competitors claimed that a single Lebanese company could not do the job. It is 100% working today, and we have a five-year operation and maintenance contract with the government.

What are the biggest challenges you face as a leader when doing business in Lebanon?

We are lucky to be born and living in this country. In Lebanon, one is born with plans A, B, and C; this is the true reason for our success. When we work on projects both inside and outside Lebanon, we think about the project itself and about providing electricity, water, transportation, and so forth. We think about everything and make sure we have a solution for everything. This is the biggest advantage we have over other international companies.

What are your goals and priorities at MG Holding for 2018?

We are refocusing and looking to expand around our core businesses. Our goal is to be among the top tier in whatever we do. We are very bullish about the situation and very optimistic by nature. In disruptions, there are opportunities, and in deadlocks, there are solutions. I personally see many opportunities ahead. Lebanon has reached rock bottom economically; the only way forward is to go up.