STRATEGIC MOVES

Ras Al Khaimah 2017 | ECONOMY & FINANCE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Abdul Mohaymen Kunbargi, CEO of Union Investments, on the changing structure of the company, expanding abroad, and expectations for 2017.

Abdul Mohaymen Kunbargi
BIOGRAPHY
Abdul Mohaymen Kunbargi holds a bachelor of science and engineering in electrical engineering. Before joining Union Investments as CEO, he held numerous managing positions such as Vice President of Ultimax Cement Corporation, Projects Executive at FTR International, and Projects Director at BENA Properties. Since 2014 he has also been Chairman of the Board of Vertex Precision Cement.

How has the structure of the company changed since it was established?

Union was founded by HH Sheikh Tariq Al Qasimi 30 years ago. It started as one company and has since expanded to over 30, covering a diverse range of sectors. A few years ago we underwent a major restructuring, and today Union's portfolio consists of 10 performing companies that hold big potential for expansion and revenue. We have diverse investments, covering numerous sectors from transportation to hospitality, manufacturing, as well as real estate. In the transportation sector, we have shipping and logistics, and the focus of these companies are the 4PL solution or bulk chain supply management, which is a management solution for bulk material. Union has two types of companies involved in manufacturing; the oil and gas sector, including steel fabrication, and water plastic tanks and other plastic products. In F&B, Union is a major partner for the Icons Coffee Couture brand with eight shops in the UAE and four shops in Qatar and Bahrain, with more shops coming in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. By the end of 2017, Icons is planning to have more than 20 operating coffee shops in the GCC region. Icons' brand is health-orientated organic coffee, which is already popular and the trend is starting to gain traction. Union also has a catering business providing industrial catering and event catering in the northern Emirates, serving around 45,000 meals per day. Real estate is one of our biggest divisions, from development to property management.

Where do you hope to expand, geographically and sectorally?

Our future expansion plans will depend on the sector. We have made a conscious decision to concentrate on the current market, but Union's next step we will be to move into the GCC, which is a natural growth area for our company. Our future expansion will be the in GCC, East Africa, and probably Turkey, depending on the situation in these places. Union is also considering the CIS and India as potential growth markets. We do not say no to any investment, but it depends on the investment itself. We are focusing on expanding through our 10 best-performing units because the market is there. Thus far, we have not ventured into the financial sector, but such a move is part of our strategy for the next five years. The health sector is another area in which we see huge potential, in particular health services such as rehabilitation and post-surgery services.

Are there any specific requirements that a company must have before you invest in it?

Union has stringent requirements. We invest in brownfield projects. Once the value of the product has been proven, we look at forming partnerships.

What is your outlook on the future of the UAE economy and what role will Ras Al Khaimah play in that?

Real estate in the UAE and the region will present huge opportunities for the next 10 years. There is a comprehensive government plan in place to transform the UAE from an oil-based to a knowledge-based economy and this will require a great amount of infrastructure and investment. For Ras Al Khaimah, this will translate into a greater focus on industry, related services industries, and the infrastructure to support both. Out of the 11 cement plants in the UAE, seven are in Ras Al Khaimah. Much heavy industry is located here, including RAK Ceramics, which is one of the biggest ceramics manufacturers in the world. There is a long-term vision in place that will take us to 2020. A lot of people think that 2020 is the end point, but for us that date is just a milestone and we will keep improving and moving forward far beyond it.

What are your expectations for 2017?

For us, 2016 was the beginning of the rise. Several projects were put on hold because of low oil prices, but with prices recovering we are expecting those projects to progress. Toward the end of the year we'll not see a total recovery but continued improvement, and I believe this trajectory will endure until 2020.