MARBELOUS MATERIAL

Oman 2014 | INDUSTRY & MINING | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Sheikh Ali Bin Hamed Al Kalbani, Chairman of International Marble Company (IMC), on capacity and production, international and local markets, and opportunities in the future.

How has International Marble Company (IMC) developed since 1999?

We started mining marble in 1999 after a survey of the mineral reserves and geography of Oman was carried out by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Once we realized that there was marble in Oman, we began operations. Today, we are the largest marble processors in the world offering brands such as Desert Rose, Desert Beige, and Desert Oasis. Our daily production is 14,000 sqm of marble, and we have completed many projects locally and internationally. We have supplied approximately 700,000 sqm of marble for projects in Oman, the largest of which was the Muscat Royal Guest Palace (Qasr Al Alam Al Amer). The Palace required marble 7.5 centimeters thick. We also provided materials for the Royal Opera House, which required approximately 100,000 sqm of marble. We are currently exporting our materials to 52 countries through our network of agents worldwide.

What have been your most successful projects?

The largest project we have undertaken was in Dubai for the Palm Jumeirah. The work included 700,000 sqm of marble and took around 18 months. In China, we carried out a project of around 300,000 sqm, which was not easy. This is the advantage of IMC versus other companies throughout the world for the fulfillment of marble for huge projects. We have one quarry, and from that one location we can deliver all of the materials according to approved samples. Most of the other companies have more than one quarry, which makes them difficult to supply materials in huge quantities.

“We have supplied approximately 700,000 sqm of marble for projects in Oman, the largest of which was the Muscat Royal Guest Palace."

What quantity of reserves do you estimate remain in the quarry?

The study from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, which was carried out by a consultant company, put the depth of the quarry at 30 meters. Today, we have already gone down to more than 200 meters, and we still have approximately 200 meters left before we reach the end of the reserves. We expect that we have enough marble to last the company for 20 years. We are also looking for more mines, which we predict could be located near Ibri. We have already begun work on a new quarry about 10 kilometers from our current work site.

Do you have any plans to expand your capacity?

IMC reached its current capacity in 2012. We have entered the second phase of our factory. Although the factory is huge and we are using only about 30% of its full capacity, we feel that we can increase our production. We have plenty of material to work with in the quarry, but for now, 14,000 sqm daily is enough for IMC. Economically speaking, the requirements of the global market are our main priority. If need be, our factories can cater to the needs the international market demands.

How do you remain ahead of the international competition in the marble mining industry?

Competition is fierce in this market, especially from countries that have similar materials, such as Turkey, Iran, and Egypt. Italy and Spain also have a wealth of mineral resources, but the costs in Europe are high, and we face very little competition from companies in that part of the world. However, competition with low-cost countries remains a factor. A second factor is that in Oman we are not allowed to export blocks. We have to do the processing here, and that adds value to the country. We add value in the processing, not in the quarry. This is thanks to an excellent decision made by the government.

What sets IMC apart in the marble market?

IMC is a specialist for large projects. Other companies struggle to supply the quantities we can, especially if there is limited time. For us, time is not important, and for this reason we are getting many projects at once: we have concurrent initiatives in South America, the Far East, Oman, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, China, and India. In a limited amount of time, we can fulfill the requirements of several large projects, and that is an advantage for us. Saudi Arabia is the largest growth market, in addition to China and India. On the whole, the GCC is the number one market for us. We are not considering opening any mines internationally, but we will always remain open to possibilities.

How are logistics organized for the export of marble?

We ship full containers to different ports worldwide from Oman. Trailer trucks owned by us transport the marble containers to the ports. The government has plans to close the Port of Muscat and use Sohar exclusively. This will not affect us because we use Sohar's port already, and it is not far from our factory. We are ready also to shift to Sohar and work from there. However, for local shipments in Oman, we use our own trailers.

What is your environmental policy?

Oman has strict environmental policies, and for this reason we also have ISO 14001 certification for our protection of the environment. We are the only marble company in the GCC that was awarded the ISO 14001 with the scope of the mining, processing, and supply of natural marble. Therefore, we are very dedicated to conserving the environment. IMC also received the ISO 9001 certificate for its Quality Management System.

What is your outlook for the marble mining industry in Oman?

The industry has already expanded to reach most of the country. There is a future for this business, but it does need more attention from the government. A number of countries have gotten involved in materials production, and many have made mistakes; we are working to ensure that we don't suffer the same fate. First, exporting blocks is a mistake made by many countries. Second, opening more quarries and launching competition among companies to drive prices down leaves no export benefits. In some countries, competition between local companies reached a level where if they were not selling at an extremely low price, then they had to close their factories.

What is your vision for the future of IMC?

Considering our growth from 1999 until today, we have been moving along smoothly and sustainably. We have done a lot of work to reach this level, and it all began in 1999. Today, we are the largest marble processor in the world. IMC is engaged in many projects and the company doesn't depend on local demand. Of our production, around 10% is allocated to the local market, and around 90% is exported. In 2012, we reached a daily production figure of 14,000 sqm, which we are currently satisfied with. However, we want to take steps forward and bring our activity up to the next level, which depends on demand from the international market.

© The Business Year - February 2014