With the Midas touch

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Areej Mohsin Darwish, Chairperson of MHD Group, talks about her vision for the group and the company’s strategy to tackle new business challenges. Excerpts from an interview with Muhammed Nafie

As the chairperson of MHD Group, could you talk about your vision for the group? What are your immediate priorities?

As the chairperson of Mohsin Haider Darwish (MHD) Group, my role is to ensure that the company continues to be successful. Growth and profitability are key components for a business to be successful. My focus will be to improve the growth trajectory of the company. I would like the company to expand its footprint by acquiring more agencies within its existing business areas while also selectively getting into new projects and agencies.

Though planning and implementation of the business strategy plays an important role, we attribute our success to our employees as they play an integral role and are our true assets. At MHD, we are constantly looking at developing the human resources. Omanisation is a key focus area for the company and we believe that the youth is the potential of today and power of the future. Our HR department liaises with the Ministry of Manpower and our MHD Training Institute to find candidates and ensure that Omani work force is given every opportunity to grow and contribute to the future of our group and country. We aim to inspire the young Omani generation to steer ahead in their careers and provide them with training from time to time to enhance their skill sets and entrusting them with higher and more responsible positions. As employers, we always give priority towards hiring Omanis, which has enabled us to get the most out of our talented youth by giving them opportunities to grow.

I also believe that there is always room for further improvement and development for any organisation. I am constantly looking at ways and means to improve our operations. MHD LLC, like every organisation encounters challenges from time to time and my focus is to meet these challenges and make the requisite changes in order to improve efficiency in our operations.

Your father, the late Mohsin Darwish was one of the iconic businessmen Oman had ever seen. How are you going to build on his legacy?

I started off and developed my career under the tutelage of the founder of MHD Group, my father, Late Mohsin Haider Darwish. Working under him, I learnt the ropes of business and what it takes for a business to be successful. Whatever I am and stand for today, is all because of him.

As I have been involved in the business operations over two decades, I am familiar with the style and strategy which made MHD Group successful. I would like to build on my father’s legacy by focusing on the long term perspective of our organisation. MHD Group has some of the oldest franchises in the country and I will endeavor to further strengthen business relations with our business partners. In order to ensure that the company continues to be successful, we are always looking to identifying opportunities and new business ventures. Collaboration with new partners will play an essential role in the future growth of the company.

How are you preparing the company to meet new business challenges such as AI, disruptive technology etc.?

Every business faces a range of challenges. We live in uncertain times and with the changes happening around the globe and the changing consumer preference, we are faced with the formidable task of finding solutions to these challenges. Needless to say, every challenge and opportunity demands different solutions.

At MHD, we constantly keep a check on the market trends. At the strategic level, we have an in-house team which specialises in identifying and exploring opportunities, new business ventures and pursuing them through high-level dialogues. At the operations level, our core business team is also tasked with keeping a track of market movements and trends related to consumer choices, technological advancements, and new product development. We are planning to upgrade our business processes and systems to streamline our operations.

What are the other challenges facing you now?

In addition to the challenges thrown up by the general slowdown in the economy, one of the key challenges that we or for that matter any organisation faces is competition. Due to increasing choices available to the customer and changing preferences, the competition is very intense. I believe that the more an organisation succeeds, the more competitors notice and react to it. As a consumer has the distinct advantage of choosing their products, it is crucial that we remain connected with our customers and maximise our growth with them. We constantly collect the minutest of details regarding customer needs, preferences and convey the same to our principals.

How was your performance in 2018?

Due to the low oil prices over the last couple of years, the economy in general has been restrained. Though the economy did rebound in 2018 due to higher oil and natural gas production, the uncertainty lingered. This coupled with intense competition proved challenging for us. However, we managed to tide through the constantly changing market conditions as we revisited and updated our business plan regularly.

That trend is going to persist. What is your strategy to tackle it?

With Oman’s GDP now back on track and forecast to grow between 2.5 per cent and 5 per cent over the course of 2019, we are optimistic that 2019 will be a turnaround year due to economic expansion and diversification.

I plan to continue my father’s diversification policy and aim to move beyond niche segments. We need to foray into all segments as we need to look at the sectors we aren’t covering as yet as there exists potential for growth. Diversification will not only prove beneficial for us but also contributes to the overall growth of the economy. We have collaborated with other companies and recently entered the logistics space through a JV partner with special focus on Duqm. We are also stakeholders in Salam Air, which is expanding to new destinations steadily. Education is another focus area where we have a stake in Muscat University. Tourism is another sector which holds a lot of promise.

In addition to the above collaborations, we are endeavoring to increase our product portfolio and enhance the efficiency of our services. Our strategy is that we are looking to introduce multiple products from across the sectors that will cater to the different segments of the population. However, merely introduction of new products will not ensure growth. Satisfying the customers with our services is equally important. Our after sales service team ensure that they are in regular contact with our customers. A satisfied customer will always spread a positive word of mouth which will help us capture further business. Likewise, we are aiming to expand our footprint to cater to all the categories of people.

I am also looking to elevating the company’s profile by showcasing MHD brands and increasing the brand visibility to the general public and visitors arriving at Muscat International Airport.

You recently won Al Mara magazine’s Excellence in Corporate Leadership Award 2018. You are also a recipient of the CEO Today Middle East Award 2018. Can you give us a brief on these accolades?

The CEO Middle East Awards 2018 recognises a total of 100 CEOs/business owners/executive officers operating within the Middle East region as voted for by the readers of CEO Today magazine. Recognition of each executive is based on volume of votes received as well as independent research assessing; growth in revenues and/or profits, turnaround transformation, exceeding expectations in difficult markets, growth within new markets, leading market share, successful M&A integration, delivering and producing new products and services. They only recognise 100 CEOs within the Middle East and there is only one Middle East Award each year. I have been chosen as the CEO Middle East 2018.

I also won Forbes Middle East’s Most Influential Women 2018 award. This award celebrates the achievements of extraordinary women in the region and I received this award in September 2018.

In addition, this year the Middle-East, North Africa & Asia Award Organisation (MENAAO) has conferred on me the Best Business Leader award for being one of the most influential leaders in the regional market in 2018.

Oman is one of the first countries in the GCC region to give equal rights and opportunities to women. Your views on the potential of Omani women…

Oman is a role model among many other countries for gender equality and women’s empowerment. I fully agree and endorse this move. Omani women are playing a remarkable role in social, cultural and political life of Oman. They have scaled several summits and occupy the highest posts in government, corporate and social organisations and have also excelled in different arenas. Omani women have demonstrated that they are not of lesser importance compared to their male counterparts across the public and private sectors. They have proved their mettle.

What is your advice to young Omani women?

Women play an integral role in the growth and success of a nation. I would advise the young Omani women to follow their dreams and work hard to make them come true. They should take advantage of all opportunities that come their way. Obstacles and challenges will confront them but they need to face them with confidence and should not give up easily. Focus, determination and perseverance are the keys to the success of any individual.

Can you talk about your management style? Is it authoritative, delegative or a mix of both?

The Group is too large and complex to be run single-handedly or in an authoritative manner. We have professionals running the various divisions and together we roll out the vision for each division and for the company as a whole. The management ensures that it creates the right environment to achieve the objectives by providing full support of resources and policies.

As per our company policy, we accord utmost priority to meetings, consultations and collective decision making. Collaborative discussion, listening and study of the issues are the key. We listen to our employees’ ideas and opinion on various business matters as they give us additional insight into the business operations. If I take a decision as a chairperson, it is not my decision per se. It is a shared decision. In our meetings, we seek the opinions of each and every participant and take a collective decision based on them. So it means every person in the company has a role. We, at MHD, are equipped with experienced employees who have worked with us since decades.

They are an asset to us; they know the policies and procedures and played a pivotal role in the growth of the company. I would thus like to believe that our management style is co-operative rather than authoritative or delegative.

How are you walking the thin line between the personal and professional commitments?

It’s essential that a working woman strikes a balance between work and family, although it’s far from easy. My children mean the world to me and I accord equal importance to their education and growth as I do at work. My commitment to my children and workplace is alike. The key to striking a balance is to prioritise, focus and organise my work and family commitments.