An Exclusive Interview with Mr. Muhannad Al-Sane by Peninsula Press Magazine - Kuwait Investment Outreach - London 2015
AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH:MUHANNAD AL-SANE
Well positioned in the regional finance market
Chairman & CEO, Al-Riyada Finance & investment
As the country seeks future ways to diversify the economy, given falling oil prices, what do you think Kuwait must do to expand and diversify its economy?
Everyone agrees that we must move away from the oil sector and focus on other segments. Everyone understands that diversification is now a necessity. We have sixteen consecutive years of budget surplus. Sixty percent of the Kuwaiti population is under the age of twenty-five. Kuwait, per capita, has the most high-level graduates in the Gulf. We have the surplus, youth, and education. These elements can boost Kuwait in the right direction for diversifying the economy. It is easy to start building on these advantages.
Everyone believes that oil will not continue to support the economy. The youth are passionate about their future and have a clear vision of the future: we need to diversify.
Do you perceive a strong will from the younger population to move into the private sector, or do you still think the public sector is too appealing?
Unfortunately it is too appealing. They are getting good benefits and stability.
Do you think that this will change in the coming years, that they will have to shift away from the public sector?
Not only the government but the private sector should also give incentives for people to want to work in the private sector. But this happen based on the economic environment. If the economic environment is good, the companies will do well and they will attract people. They will offer incentives to them, good packages, similar to what happened in the beginning of the 2000s until 2008.
What role do you think the private sector will have in the near future and how can foreign companies help the private sector to function more efficiently?
As the private sector has a strong influence on the economy and has to be its main player, it needs to be encouraged to do well and boost this needed diversification of the economy. Considering Kuwait began as a merchant economy at the start of the nineteenth century, trade with foreigners goes back a long way so we have experience in dealing with foreign companies. It is important that foreign companies transfer their expertise, technology, and know-how.
How do you see the entrepreneurial environment in Kuwait?
It is fantastic. All Kuwaitis have expertise in trade and how to start and run a business. All families are encouraging their kids to start new businesses. The new generation is happy running their own businesses. Entrepreneurs are working alone without any support and that should be addressed. The big difference here in Kuwait is in the passion Kuwaitis have to start their own businesses.
Al-Riyada was founded in the midst of the recession and is now in its seventh year, with operations in other countries in the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] and the MENA [Middle East and North Africa] region. What is your current strategy or philosophy for growth?
Investing in our success, focusing on our experience; that is our ongoing strategy. We started with small projects and now we have ended up with good-sized projects. We need to develop our experience even more and focus on bigger projects.
Before the crisis in 2008, there were ninety investment and finance companies here in Kuwait. That is a huge number for the country. A finance and investment license is a very unique one to have; it is for a small bank or an investment firm. It is a very sensitive license as you will advise people and invest customers’ money. Today there are no more than twenty-five companies with this license and Al-Riyada is one of them. If you are one of the twenty-five, your market segment will be smaller than before, so you can play a very big role with very healthy balance sheets.
We are pioneers of project development and structured finance. We have all the know-how to start businesses, but we are now looking for the investment environment here in Kuwait. We are looking to establish funds for private equity to grow small businesses. The development of small and medium enterprises is my main priority.
What kind of international partnerships would Al-Riyada be interested in? What type of relationships would you like to form with the international business community?
We can work together to establish funds and then focus on certain segments. We have seven certified management accountant (CMA) licenses.
Are you looking for investments in other sectors or are you sticking to what you know?
We want to remain in the same sector. This is a finance and project advising company. And our focus now is small and medium enterprises.
What is your priority for the next five years?
Five years ago, it was not that clear for me that we would be in today’s position. Now that we are in a very strong financial position, it is easier to think about our strategy. I think Al-Riyada will maintain a level of sustainable profit for the shareholder. That is our main objective. We must maintain our assets, which are our employees, on whom we rely and who are the real beneficiaries of the company.
You serve as secretary-general and board member for the Kuwait Economic Society (KES). Could you talk a little bit about the society and your role within that?
The KES is a nonprofit organization established in 1970. It collects unique members highly educated in economics. It is an influential player in setting, implementing, and reforming legislation, regulations, and other needs of the economic environment.
If you could summarize your vision for Kuwait and its international identity for future decades…
Kuwait is well-recognized as a very stable place and to be an open country is our main objective.
There are many changes taking place and we need to attract investments. There is a huge focus on how to encourage direct investment to Kuwait. These things can help foreign companies open a new window, a new market. Business in Kuwait is a great opportunity for them.
What sectors do you think would benefit from foreign partnerships?
Services. For example, Kuwait was the main hub for the U.S. military operations in Iraq back in 2003-2006 and our services sector grew and really benefited from it. It proved it
could deliver. They can certainly expand to the whole region so that is a sector that could benefit from alliances.
Education is growing, healthcare is growing, services are thriving, IT is flourishing. There are a lot of opportunities in which foreign companies can share their experience. That is what Kuwait needs—foreign experience to help develop these sectors and move forward.