STRENGTH IN DIVERSITY

Oman 2015 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Dr. Mohammed Al Barwani, Chairman of MB Holding, on broadening the field of activity, Omanization, and core activities.

Dr. Mohammed Al Barwani
BIOGRAPHY
Dr. Mohammed Al Barwani, the founder and Chairman of MB Holding, holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Science from Miami University and received a Master’s Degree and PhD in Petroleum Engineering from Herriot-Watt University, UK. He worked as a petroleum engineer for Petroleum Development Oman from 1976 to 1986. He founded MB Petroleum Services in 1986, Petrogas in 1999, and Mawarid Mining in 1987. He acquired KV Drilling (Hungry) in 1997, Erdol-Endgas Workover (Germany) in 2000, United Engineering Services (Oman) in 2004, Oceanco Shipyard (Netherlands) in 2010, and Hyspec (UK) in 2012. Dr. Barwani is also the founder and Chairman of Musstir, a property, hotels, and resorts development company. He was conferred “Commandeur” in de Orde van Oranje-Nassau by Her Majesty the Queen of The Netherlands in January, 2012. He was also selected as a Global Entrepreneur representing Oman by Ernst & Young in 2012.

Within a short time, MB Petroleum Services, a subsidiary company within MB Holding, became one of the fastest growing and one of the largest oilfield services companies in the Middle East with operations in over 15 countries with 3,500 employees. How is it contributing to in-country value (ICV) generation?

For us it works well, because we are probably one of the larger oilfield service companies in Oman. All our businesses have invested heavily in developing the local economy and local employees. ICV has actually increased our revenues. The problem in the past has been unfair competition from companies overseas. Such companies import workers and equipment into Oman, while we buy most of our machinery and equipment from local dealers and employs locals. The key issue in the contract is the extent to which value remains in the country. I think that ICV has been hugely beneficial to both the Omani economy and those local companies that have built resources within the country.

Do you think Omanization is a challenge or an opportunity for the country?

It is really a case of both. Omanization presents a short-term challenge of training and developing people, but in the long term presents an opportunity, as it is good for both public and private sector companies. It makes economic sense and, after all, the people you train are nationals.

Are you targeting any new geographical areas?

No, in fact we're doing quite the opposite. We expanded quite a bit and entered markets that were not suited for our businesses. We've since pulled our operations from Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos, as we perform better in the Middle Eastern marketplace.

What is the reason behind your recent investments in the tourism sector in Oman?

A diversified economy is vital for the Sultanate. Oil is a commodity that tends to fluctuate in terms of price with global demand, whereby excessive reliance on just one product is unwise. Diversifying is also important for every business, which is why we have been diversifying our businesses over the past few years. And so as part of the process we opted to enter the tourism industry, partly because Oman is developing this sector, which is considered a likely contributor to the economy of Oman. Today we have investments in the Park Inn in Muscat and the Golden Tulip in Nizwa. We are shortly opening the Park Inn in Duqm. We are also developing a five-star hotel in Salalah in a 50-50 private public partnership with Omran. We are also developing resorts on the coastline, and have four hotels under construction from four to five stars.

What is the importance of joint ventures and partnerships for MB Holding?

Generally speaking, we don't enter into joint ventures where ownership is concerned, but rather, we explore them at the technological level. If necessary, we license technology, because we like to retain overall control. The most important business at MB Holding is oil production. We own Petrogas, which owns 50% of Daleel Petroleum, a joint venture of more than 12 years with China National Petroleum Corporation.