WHERE EAGLES DARE

UAE, Abu Dhabi 2015 | INDUSTRY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Badr Al-Olama, CEO of Strata Manufacturing, on establishing high-tech manufacturing in Abu Dhabi, moving up the manufacturing chain, and regional manufacturing strategies that promote competitiveness.

Badr Al-Olama
BIOGRAPHY
Badr Al-Olama has been an Associate Director for Mubadala Aerospace & Engineering Services since 2005, and is the CEO at Strata Manufacturing. In his role with Mubadala, he was responsible for the development of Nibras, the Al Ain Aerospace Park that is a joint initiative between Mubadala Aerospace and Abu Dhabi Airports Company. Prior to his tenure with Mubadala, he was an advocate and legal consultant at Habib Al-Mulla and Company. A graduate of Harvard Law School in 2005 and the College of Shari’ah and Law at the UAE University in 2002, Al-Olama has also contributed to a number of seminars, panels and delegations. He serves as Chairman of Bidayaat—the region’s first childcare company—and also serves as the President of the UAE Harvard Alumni Society.

Strata Manufacturing, which is a subsidiary of Mubadala, was set up in 2010. What would you consider to be some of the key landmarks, and what were their impacts on the company?

Our vision was inspired by the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 to diversify and building a knowledge-based economy in which UAE nationals will take leadership roles. The vision has identified aerospace as a key sector, and Mubadala decided to invest in composite aero structure manufacturing. This vision drove us to our first successful milestone, which was building our 21,000sqm manufacturing facility in 10 months and delivering our first A330 flap track fairings shipset to Airbus three months thereafter. Another milestone is our progress within the aerospace global value chain. We have moved from becoming a Tier 2 to a Tier 1 supplier for both Airbus and Boeing. Our third milestone has been earning the trust of our customers to manufacture their primary parts, as opposed to the secondary parts that we initially manufactured. Today, we are the single source supplier for every part we produce.

How would you describe the overall growth strategy of Strata?

We started out with simple and moveable parts on the wing. However, our fascination has been with the wing and empennage of an aircraft. The empennage is important because it is almost always made out of composites, and these parts are critical for the safety of an aircraft. Therefore, it requires high level of capability development. In terms of revenue, it has high margins. By creating different parts of the wing, we can integrate and assemble a complete wing. We are not going to go towards the wings, however, rather Strata have a commitment from Boeing to manufacture the vertical fin in Al-Ain, which is part of the empennage of the new Boeing B787. In terms of people, this would be our greatest achievement. Most of the technicians that are working on the shop floor and manufacturing parts are high school graduates that went through a training program with four months of foundation training, six months of technical training with Lockheed-Martin, and then 12 months of on-the-job training. Once they complete 22 months, we certify that this person is a qualified aerospace technician.

What factors will contribute to achieving your AED1 billion target by 2020?

Strategy is of no use if you cannot deliver products on time, to the high standard that has been promised, and manage the cost parameters to make sure that you are profitable. The number one factor for success is to ensure that you deliver on time within the quality standards that have been promised and at a manageable cost. Once you do that, you gain credibility. Once you gain credibility, you can gain more commitments from the OEMs.

How would you describe your international expansion strategy?

Two elements play a role here. The first is competitiveness. The customer, despite offering many commitments, is always going to insist that you be competitive. To be competitive, we need to have a low-cost partner. For us, this would probably come from the North African or East Asian region. They will be from India, China, or Malaysia. However, because we are close to Europe, the potential exists to partner with an entity in North Africa, either Morocco, or Tunisia. The customer will also think about minimizing risk. What the customer will want is proximity to the final assembly line. By being closer to the customer, you can essentially fabricate the parts but assemble closer to the location, which minimizes risk, cost of shipping, and increases competitiveness. This sort of cooperation is what we are hoping to bring in to the industry to be more competitive.