A WORD FROM THE WISE

Qatar 2015 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HE Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani, Chairman of Al Faisal Holding, on the Group's main focuses, seeking out sound and unique investments, and international opportunities in the hospitality and industrial sectors.

HE Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani
BIOGRAPHY
HE Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani is one of Qatar’s leading entrepreneurs. He has played a significant role in the development of Qatar’s economy and its infrastructure. Over a career spanning more than 45 years, Sheikh Faisal has launched a succession of new ventures and attracted foreign investment to several sectors of the economy. He began his career in 1964, establishing a small company that traded in auto parts. The business gradually grew into a network of diverse commercial and industrial activities embracing more than 40 well-established and successful companies operating under Al Faisal Holding.

Al Faisal Holding is active in virtually every sector of the Qatari economy. How do you organize such a large enterprise?

We started the business in the 1960s and we now have three major companies under Al Faisal Holding: Aamal Company QSC, Al Jazi Real Estate, and Al Rayyan Tourism Investment Company (ARTIC). Al Faisal is the major shareholder in Aamal, which has been a publicly listed company on the Qatar Exchange since 2007, whilst Al Jazi and ARTIC are fully owned by Al Faisal Holding. Aamal market capitalization is almost $2.5 billion as of October 2014, and it focuses mainly on industrial manufacturing projects. ARTIC has an estimated value of over $4 billion, and is the holding company for our activities in the hospitality sector in Qatar and internationally. For ARTIC, the focus now is to further develop its investment portfolio, through the acquisition and development of valuable, iconic assets with high architectural design quality in prime city and resort locations. Al Jazi Real Estate is one of the leading real estate companies in Qatar and owns several residential compounds, as well as residential and commercial towers.

Property, which makes up a significant part of the business activities of Al Faisal Holding, is a volatile sector both in Qatar and abroad. What is your strategy to mitigate the risks?

We are successful in seeking out unique investment opportunities and we are always looking for high-quality assets. Any sort of success is based on know-how and know-who, and if you have a combination of both your business can fly. We have established a strong reputation as an investor and partner for world-class hotel operators. Looking ahead, we are considering a possible flotation of ARTIC, which will benefit its profile as a publicly listed company with disciplined corporate governance and greater strategic flexibility to support its long-term development as a major global hospitality company. Al Faisal Holding started in Qatar with hospitality and related businesses, such as catering and food supplies. We began looking outside Qatar by expanding into North Africa, then Europe, and most recently the US. Our company is multinational not only in terms of investment, but also in terms of location.

In 2014, the subsidiary ARTIC acquired the Miami Beach, St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort. How does this fit into your overall investment strategy?

ARTIC'S growth strategy is based on three important principles; investing in exceptional quality properties, geographic expansion both regionally and internationally, and a long-term investment approach. The acquisition of St. Regis Hotel is a true reflection of our strategy. The US is an important market for ARTIC; in 2012 we acquired Radisson Aqua Blu Hotel, Chicago, and in 2014 we acquired the iconic St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort, Miami. We also recently acquired the Manhattan Times Square Hotel in New York City. We are also building two new hotels in Chicago with condominiums and apartments. In Europe, ARTIC expanded its footprint in 2014, acquiring our first five-star property in Italy, the Boscola Aleph Hotel in Rome, which has unique architectural qualities and a prime location.

How are you grasping the opportunities provided by the economic drive of the Qatar National Vision 2030?

Through ARTIC, we are developing a significant proportion of Qatar's hotels. And we are studying the market carefully to identify further opportunities to add to our portfolio. Al Faisal Holding is also active in the education sector, where we have signed an agreement with DePaul University in Chicago to create an MBA program in entrepreneurship for both Qataris and Americans. We also have one of the best international British schools, the Gulf English School, as well as Stenden University in Qatar, which is specialized in hospitality management and has its main campus in the Netherlands. We are working hard to improve the quality of education, which for us is not a profit center, but rather an opportunity to contribute to supporting the local community and the development of a knowledge-based economy in line with the National Vision.