TBY talks to Maqbool Hameed Al Saleh, Chairman of OHI Group of Companies, on the beginnings of the group, the IT sector, and growth areas.

Maqbool Hameed Al Saleh
Maqbool Hameed Al Saleh joined the Sultan’s Armed Forces, where he was appointed as an apprentice with a British Officer in FEME in 1959. After a decade in the Ministry of Palace Affairs (Diwan), he was subsequently transferred to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour, where he served until 1982. He founded Oman Holdings International (OHI) in 1976. The group now includes two operating expenses companies—International Investment Co. and MH and Partners Investment—and several operating companies. Al Saleh also served as the Chairman of the Commercial Bank of Oman for many years.

What are some of the main characteristics of OHI Group?

OHI started as a modest business institution over 35 years ago. Through perseverance, teamwork, and patience, the company has grown into what it is today. We are a completely diversified group, operating through a holding company with several subsidiaries and associates. We participate in the construction sector through a joint venture with a UK company. We are also involved in the technology, oil and gas, hospitality, and financial services sectors, among others. The various components contribute to the whole. There is no one company that can be termed as the major contributor. In 2013, our major contributors are the technology, oil and gas, and marine sectors. The government subsidizes the purchase of engines and boats for fishermen, and we sell the most popular supplies: Yamaha engines, boats and accessories, spare parts, and oil. It is a successful business. Hopefully, our technology and oil and gas business will continue to perform strongly alongside hospitality and financial services. That is the advantage of being diversified; if there is a decline in one particular area, another area will be there to prop it up. We have always believed in the importance of being successful in whatever we do. Success to us is not measured purely by financial results—reputational success has always been key.

What service provisions do you offer in the IT sector?

We are gold partners with Microsoft, Oracle, and Cisco, and have jobs from almost every ministry in this country, as well as an extensive presence in the private sector. The company has partnered with Microsoft in its drive to implement enterprise agreements for the government, for which we have a significant contract. We design software for organizations, and are also involved in structured cabling and the installation of fiber optics. We have the skill set to develop data centers. Our work is predominantly with the public sector, making up perhaps 80% of our overall activity. I believe that the public sector will continue to be the main contributor as government investment continues.

How important is forming partnerships in OHI's business model?

OHI's tagline is the “Power of Partnership," and this has been crucial throughout our business history. Alliances with companies such as Interserve and G4S may appear to be more visible, but we have numerous other flourishing partnerships that date back over three decades. Our UK joint venture has worked on newly built refineries and power plants, one of which is being built in Sohar. Any project that contributes financially and adds value to the Omani economy is important for us.

What do you think about government efforts to encourage SMEs?

It is a very good initiative. For SMEs in the construction sector, the government has created a development fund called Al Rafd that could help support development. Given the finite number of jobs that can be created between the public and private sectors, SMEs are a very useful avenue to gainfully employ people. The successful small entrepreneurs of today will take on the larger enterprises tomorrow. This is how a country's economy keeps growing. I am all for the healthy growth of the SME sector. We at OHI are contributing by taking on several such entrepreneurs under our wing and mentoring them.

What are the growth areas for OHI?

We are an opportunistic group, and see organic growth potential in all the areas that we are already in. We will also look at inorganic growth as and when suitable investment opportunities present themselves. While we are predominantly operating in Oman presently, we have set up companies in Qatar and the UAE to participate in the technology sector there.

What is your outlook for the local economy?

The economy in the Sultanate of Oman is thriving on the back of attractive hydrocarbon prices and the sustained efforts of the government to improve the infrastructure, as well as diversify the economy by encouraging tourism and manufacturing activities. This combined with our well-established presence in Oman's business sector makes us optimistic about organic and inorganic growth in the coming years. We always strive to generate between 20% and 30% annual growth. Overall, our results in 2013 were better than those in 2012. We feel confident that 2013 is going to be a good year for us.