Sharjah 2015 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Ishaque Noor, Group Managing Director of Albatha Group, on the nuances of the regional market, ongoing training and development, and opportunities for foreign investment.

Ishaque Noor
Ishaque Noor joined Albatha in 1990 and has held various responsible positions such as Group Director of Albatha Treasury & Investment and Corporate Development and was the Group Director of Finance. In 2012, he was appointed as the Group Managing Director of Albatha Group. A professional Chartered Accountant (FCA). He started his career in 1976 with A.F. Ferguson & Co. In 1980, he joined KPMG Peat Marwick. During his stint with KPMG, he worked in their Dubai and London offices. From his role as Manager of the Audit and Consultancy Departments, he has given a wider role as Computer Audit Coordinator for Gulf Countries—also working in the Banking Department in KPMG London.

Which areas of your diversified business portfolio are most important in your overall growth plans?

We aspire to being an international group. For us, being international means being defined in a number of different ways. Having regional operations is fundamental. Five years ago, we started focusing on Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. We have started selecting other countries to expand—such as Malaysia. Currently, we are exporting to over 40 countries around the world. Our vision for the future definitely focuses on growing this international capacity, as well as continuously improving the professionalism of our business and people. Our healthcare group is a specific area where I see a lot of potential for growth, as the entire sector is growing very rapidly in the UAE and GCC. Specifically, we want to provide home healthcare services to the aging population, which is still a very much underdeveloped segment. In healthcare, we enjoy a large market share in the UAE. In order to support our international partners/agencies to better market and distribute their products, we will concentrate on growing our distribution services. We are also considering getting involved in PPPs in the various Emirates in the context of diagnostic services, but this is not something that has come up yet. Other areas for growth largely revolve around our consumer goods group, where I see good opportunities for expansion. Tourism is witnessing a lot of growth at the moment across the UAE, and with it the retail food sector.

How have training programs enabled the Group to create a competitive advantage along its range of diversified businesses?

We hold regular formal training sessions for our employees, and separately conduct leadership training. We also host an annual Albatha Learning Festival, where we gather all of our employees for voluntary learning sessions across a wide range of subjects. The first day is reserved for blue-collar workers, and the next two days of the three-day festival are for all of the other staff. Human development is highly valued within our Group, and we want to be a learning organization. We aim to grow and instill professionalism throughout our group by seeking and retaining talent, and through professionalizing processes in our system. Improving the professionalism and training the workforce is complemented by our aim to create the right kind of environment for our employees. We try our utmost to have a positive environment throughout the Group that inspire people and motivate them to work hard and stay with us for a long-term career, because they believe in the values of the group. Majority of our management leadership has been in place for more than 15 years, and we are living and practicing the values that we are teaching to our employees. It is important for us to instill work ethics that harbor creativity as well

How would you assess the initiatives of Sharjah's government to open up the Emirate's economy to foreign investment?

The government has been supportive in terms of facilitating foreign investment. Sharjah has a large, small and medium scale industry that dates back to early days, and this SME sector really is Sharjah's niche. Sharjah is welcoming to foreign investors, and that is why people have invested into the industries here, which have turned out to be highly successful. Our manufacturing facilities are in Sharjah, where a lot of ancillary products and services are readily available. Sharjah has done well to attract investment, especially via the two free zones. The Emirate has also announced plans for Sharjah Healthcare City, we see a lot of new initiatives on the cultural and tourism side, as well as improving infrastructure. As a result, the economy here continues to flourish.