Reversing a failing company: Interview with the CEO of Widam Food
Ahmad Nasser Sraiya Al Kaabi, managing director and CEO of Widam Food speaks about the company’s inside operations that reversed the failure of previously-known Mawashi. Just bypassing a government buyout, the company now offers one of the highest stock prices for its 27,000 shareholders.
Qatar’s landscape makes it home to rich hydrocarbon resources, forming the backbone of its economy. However, the country’s arid climate also makes it a difficult territory for agriculture and livestock production. While its economy is dependent on oil exports, 90 percent of the local food market needs are met through imports. According to a figure released in Alpen Capital’s 2013 GCC Food Industry Report, meat and milk constituted 6.6 and 12.9 percent respectively of GCC’s entire food consumption in 2010.
Qatar Company for Meat and Livestock Trading known as Widam Food (previously known as Mawashi) was founded in 2004 with the aim of meeting Qatar’s market needs in meat and livestock. Now operating as one of the leading food and meat providers, Widam Food takes care of the whole process, which includes importing livestock from various countries, monitoring received shipments in the company’s barns and treating these to international standards for animal care, slaughtering and distributing. Other than importing livestock, the company imports chilled meat as well.
QAR44 million - Estimated worth of Widam Food’s planned meat manufacturing plant.
With the influx of expatriates, the food import in Qatar is expected to increase by 153 percent to as much as USD3.3 billion (QAR12 billion) in the next ten years. Dependence on imports from the other countries not only makes Qatar prone to severe fluctuations in commodity prices, but also leaves it vulnerable to the threat of food security in future. Also a part of the Qatar National Food Security Program, Widam Food currently operates in livestock and meat only. But speaking with the company’s managing director and CEO Ahmad Nasser Sraiya Al Kaabi unveiled the food provider’s expansion plans.
“A study has been carried out for the creation of poultry farms in Qatar that would cover a significant portion of the needs of the local market,” said Al Kaabi, who further informed that the finalised comprehensive study of the project has been submitted to the relevant governmental entity in order to procure land so that the other requirements can be processed. Al Kaabi further revealed his company’s plans for another mega project, “We have recently acquired land to establish a meat manufacturing plant, a project that is worth QAR44 million. We are now in the process of finalising registration before we open the way for the tender process to build the plant.”
Before joining Widam Food’s board of directors (BOD) in 2010, Al Kaabi was already managing his family business Al Sraiya Holding. Being COO at family holding group meant looking after the 45 companies operating under it. Al Kaabi is also the CEO of Qatar Project for Agricultural and Animal Farming in Sudan and member on the board of Widam Food in Qatar. Joining Widam Food was due to a mix of reasons explained Al Kaabi, “I wanted to experience a new role in a new line of business, enhancing my knowledge and widening my experience. Finally, it was a challenge to lead the company and transform it into a profitable organisation.”
Restructuring the company
Once a failing company set to be acquired by the government, Widam Food started reporting increasing profits year on year. When asked about the key to this turnaround, Al Kaabi said, “These successes are owing to the efforts, the innovations, the ethics and the clear vision we have, and to our team of experts.”
The proposal of government buyout, according to Al Kaabi, came seven months after he took over the company, “We were still assessing the company and the staff, the changes that should be done, the right training which the staff should be subject to, major enhancements to the slaughter house, applying the basic food safety issues, working on the future plans and strategies etcetera.”
Undoubtedly, the pressure for buyout was an additional challenge for the new BOD, but instead of discouraging them, the CEO claims that it “made us more determined to go further and take the extra step in order to prove them wrong.” For Al Kaabi, a number of strengths played a vital role in avoiding the buyout. “The board’s guidance, the team’s extra efforts, the radical changes and extreme measures we introduced and several other factors followed by tremendous financial results helped us prove the government’s misjudgement and the buyout was cancelled,”
According to Al Kabi, Widam Food, today, is a multi-million dollar organisation saving the investments of 27,000 shareholders and recording one of the highest stock prices, which reached QAR60 in 2012 up from QAR10 in 2009.
“We have recently announced our financial results for the year 2012 with net profits reaching QAR75 million for the year ending on December 2011. Our net profits surged by around 29 percent, an increase by QAR17 million compared with the same period last year when the company registered QAR58 million,” he informed.
“A study has been carried out for the creation of poultry farms in Qatar that would cover a significant portion of local market needs.”
In 2012, Forbes Middle East named the company’s management on the list of top executives management in the Arab world in the service sector of listed companies. Widam Food was also recognised at the 16th International Star for Quality in Leadership Convention in France in June 2012, “adding another accolade to four recognitions from Meat and Livestock Australia for quality management, attesting to the company’s business success and solid contribution to the local and regional food industry by being the “guardian” of food safety and public health,” said Al Kaabi, who is also a member of Qatar-Sudan Business Board, Islamic Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Qatar Chamber of Commerce’s Environmental and Agricultural Committee and BOD of Dawhat Al Khaleej in Sudan.
When asked how he manages his time and responsibilities, he replied, “From my experience at Al Sraiya Holding and being in control of 45 companies, I learned specific strategies and techniques which allowed me to manage my time and responsibilities,” he said, “some of those techniques consist of yearly planning and identifying targets, using a highly experienced team from around the globe operating to international standards which allow me to keep track of all important details and matters.”
For his professional success and time management, Al Kaabi was recently nominated fourth in a list of most powerful CEOs of listed companies in the Arab world. Expressing his thoughts on this achievement, he made a rather humble comment, “I’m extremely honoured to hold this coveted title, which reflects not only a personal achievement but also the combined steadfast efforts of the company and the entire team.”
Giving Widam Food’s team the due credit behind his accomplishment, Al Kaabi further said, “These successes are owing to the innovations, the ethics and the clear vision of our experts from across the globe, who have come together to introduce radical changes to Widam Food by adopting international standards in food quality, hygiene, technology and security alongside digital, state-of-the-art consumer and business services.”
Talking about the Qatar Project for Livestock in Sudan and his hope from these subsidiaries, Al Kaabi noted that in Sudan, the company has invested in fodder farms, which covers a considerable part of local consumption in Qatar, “There is also a study for a project to establish a slaughterhouse and a poultry farm in Sudan.”
Food quality and hygiene of meat and livestock have recently come into the limelight with the horsemeat scandal in Europe, urging the food provider companies to take necessary protective steps to safeguard their customers. In meeting these standards, Al Kaabi informed, “Our imports are mostly livestock subject to inspections in the country of origin with official certificates, all done according to official global conventions provided by the relevant organisations such as the global health and animal health bureau in Paris.” As a further precaution, he explained that Widam Food’s imports from live cattle come from countries free from known veterinary diseases or health risks.
Finally, he explained that the chilled meat sent from Australia is Australian sheep meat that is freshly slaughtered and has all official identification certificates attached before entering the country through airports only, not seaports. “In other words, the imported Australian meat is chilled and not frozen and is subjected to official testing at Doha airport and intensive veterinary examination takes place when it reaches the company’s freezers,” he said, adding that, “This examination includes visual inspection, HP level check and temperature level, along with other more technical and
Amid all the recent decisions Widam Food took which led to a positive turnaround, one wonders why the company gave away its previously established identity “Mawashi” when the organisation already had many other areas to take care of. When asked about the logic behind the change of brand name, Al Kaabi said, “The rebranding of Mawashi to become Widam Food is the outcome of a series of internal discussions we carried over the past few months based on our firm belief that it is now the right time to further expand our horizons by embracing a name that has international appeal while remaining true to our Qatari identity and origin.”
With the new brand name, Widam Food’s CEO revealed the company’s future vision, “This decision underlines our commitment to position Widam Food as the best and largest provider of food and food resources in the future without being associated, solely, with the business of red meat trading. This is also in line with our plans to start catering to market needs of poultry.”