NOT JUST A FAMILY AFFAIR

Qatar 2015 | ECONOMY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Khalifa Khalid Al Rabban, Deputy Chairman of Al Rabban Holding, on how the company has evolved from its pearl trading roots, core business areas, and taking Al Rayyan to IPO.

Al Rabban Holding has grown from its pearl trading roots to become a strong and diverse family company. What do you take from those humble beginnings to strengthen this family business?

Qatar didn't have a lot of choices in previous generations. There were few things to do then, and you didn't really have much of a choice outside of pearl trading. My late father's generation lived in a time that was difficult, but they also saw the way Qatar is today, so they had a perspective on the two different worlds. Unlike in other countries, development in Qatar jumped into a whole new world within one generation. This is what inspires me to carry forward our development, keeping in mind where we come from and not taking anything for granted.

What is your core business and in what areas do you hope to grow in the future?

We have three main activities, the first being FMCGs, which is Al Rayyan and its subsidiaries. The other parts are real estate and construction. We are already in the ready-mix concrete business in construction, and now the family wants to concentrate more on real estate, which is where we see the most opportunity. Real estate includes different segments, such as office space and residential. Even though construction is booming here, the local contractors are not getting much of that business. There are also a lot of companies in Qatar now, and I can't see Qatar being able to absorb this number of foreign companies. The market is quite saturated. Another exciting area is food and beverages. Al Rayyan's subsidiaries are investing in new products that have not been produced in Qatar before. The big news is that we want to take this company to IPO, to turn it from a family business into a public company. We have had excellent feedback on this plan, although it will take time. It will be an addition to the Qatar Exchange (QE), because the exchange is saturated with real estate companies, banks, and insurance companies. I think ours will be the first FMCG company to be listed, and that is exciting—it is a bit of a change. Perhaps we can be an example for others to go into the market.

What do you want to achieve through the IPO?

It is risky after a certain point for any business to be owned by a single person or family; it is important that there is a diversity of investors and shares. Furthermore, by being listed and going public, you have to make certain changes and reforms to your company structure in terms of corporate governance. This is important to keep the business moving forward. The IPO will change the way that Al Rayyan is run, from being a family business to being an institutional entity.

“We have three main activities, the first being FMCGs."

What is the strategy behind your real estate division?

Real estate is an extremely strong sector in Qatar, although prices are rising to the point where it is becoming difficult to invest. Nevertheless, we have always had our eye on this sector, and it is the backbone for many businesses. As we say in Arabic, real estate gets sick, but it never dies. So this sector is always valuable, and we want to make it our company's backbone as well. It also ties in with the new investments we have coming up in hospitality for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, as Qatar is trying to attract more tourists, especially from neighboring countries.

Tell us about Al Rabban Services, a company that helps international companies come to Qatar.

A lot of companies would like to relocate to Qatar. In conducting our business we have had a lot of inquiries and requests, so we decided to create a division to deal with that demand. It is important to know how to enter Qatar, how to set up here, and how to deal with the regulations. We want to share our expertise and resources. However, we are very picky; we receive many requests, but we sign very few deals.

The country has been developing rapidly. What challenges do you see arising for Qatar as part of its National Vision 2030?

I think infrastructure is a major challenge. Qatar has learned from its previous mistakes. Qatar has always hosted large, high-profile international events, so it has that experience, but the infrastructure is crucial. You need roads, airports, and other transport routes. The country has grown in a huge way and the number of companies here has grown spectacularly; however, the infrastructure has to keep up. Qatar needs to deliver at the same pace as the speed at which it is growing. The airport took a long time to be delivered, for example, and I hope the port won't take as long.

What is your personal vision in terms of leading the company into the next generation?

I am working on restructuring our company, in line with our IPO plans. I want to see this company live on for generations to come. So that is the aim, but I am taking my time, because it is a long-term vision. We are trying to implement the right systems, to create better corporate governance, and to create a board that can both take and reject decisions. All of this will be done with a family touch, which will remain.

How is Qatar 2030 an inspiration for you in your own plans?

I think what matters most in the end is human development, and that is what Qatar 2030 means to me first and foremost. There are examples of countries that have developed incredibly, simply based on human capital, countries with no natural resources. I hope Qatar can achieve that goal because our resources won't always be there. And so we have to invest in our people more than anything.

© The Business Year - December 2014