ON THE RIGHT TRACK

Saudi Arabia 2020 | ENTERTAINMENT, CULTURE & SPORTS | INTERVIEW

Leejam Sports Company, which operates a chain of fitness centers in Saudi Arabia, is in the right place at the right time to benefit from the openness promised by Vision 2030.

Ahmar Azam Former
BIOGRAPHY
Ahmar Azam joined Leejam Sports Company, the company behind Fitness Time brand, as CFO in 2014. After the company’s successful IPO in September 2018, he was appointed CEO. In 2011, he came to Saudi Arabia as the Divisional CFO of the Obeikan Investment Group. Prior to that, he built his career between the US and UK. He holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and finance from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is a chartered accountant from the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW). He is also an advisory board member of ICAEW and an honorary board member of the International Cricket Council.

How would you evaluate the company's journey and the current positioning in the market?

Over the past 12 years, our company has evolved from Leejam 1.0 and Leejam 2.0 to Leejam 3.0. Back in 2006, when the company was formed, the owners began with opening fitness centers. This caught on rapidly, and Saudis began to include fitness as part of their lifestyle, bringing growth opportunities for the company. That was Leejam 1.0. However, as the business grew, the founders decided to take the company public. In 2013, they were advised to have a private equity partner on board to help lead the company through its next phase of growth—Leejam 2.0. At that time, we had three missions: corporate transformation, investment in senior management for business continuity, and a successful IPO. Around 75%+ of the current management was hired during this phase. Leejam went through its IPO in September 2018. It was in fact the most successful IPO in the GCC in the past couple of years, with a stock price that has increased 78% since IPO. Today, Leejam is worth well over USD1 billion and has around 4,000 employees.

What are some of the trends in the market following the increased attention on sports under Vision 2030?

Two things happened in Saudi Arabia, and we could not have been in a better place at a better time for our fitness business. The first major development was more opportunities for women and the approval of female gyms in Saudi Arabia. With that, the market grew overnight by 50% in 2017. Since then, we have opened 29 female fitness centers in Saudi Arabia. By the end of 2019, we will have 40 female centers, making us the largest player in this category today. Also, in 2018, we took over the Princess Noura University Fitness Center, the largest female fitness center in the world. The second major development was the Quality of Life program under Vision 2030, with great attention paid to encouraging healthy lifestyles. We work in close coordination with the government on how gyms should be operated, with male and female sections.

How can companies benefit from Fitness Time?

Leejam has a growing corporate wellness initiative with over 350 corporate clients/companies across the Kingdom. In some cases, we run fitness facilities exclusively for companies in their office location. We have a B2B concept, where companies buy corporate memberships at a discount for their employees as part of their employment benefits, and a B2C concept, where employees get discounts when they purchase memberships at the Fitness Time locations. Both B2B and B2C partnerships are a win-win situation for corporate clients—they not only improve employee benefits at a discounted rate, but also reduce medical insurance costs and sick days with healthier employees.

What are your thoughts on future expansion, both within the Kingdom and in the GCC region?

We already have a presence in the UAE with locations in four of the Emirates. There is also strong interest from Kuwait and Oman. However, when the female opportunity in the Kingdom opened up, we did not want to miss it. We have not opened up other locations in the GCC yet. In the next four to five years, we will continue to add 15 or more centers each year across all categories, focusing on our existing geographic footprint, which is Saudi Arabia and UAE, as well as expanding in the GCC.