Alex Andarakis on Business Strategies and Investing

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Part II of Arabian Gazette’s exclusive interview with Alex Andarakis, Founder/MD, Andarakis Advisory Services. The expat with the most enviable CV.

Alex Andarakis
Alex Andarakis

Alexander John Andarakis, is a highly experienced senior executive and a leading marketing and leadership professional with over 25 years of international, regional, and local experience with multinational companies, large regional companies and large publicly listed companies in Australasia, Middle East, North Africa and Turkey.

Alex has led innovation and transformation in some of the world’s best managed companies and corporations, such as Lipton, Unilever, Aujan Industries and Emaar Properties and Omniyat Properties. He is on the advisory boards of some of the world’s most prestigious organisations.

Alex graduated from the University of New South Wales in Australia, and is a well-known and highly respected respected Harvard Business School alumni. Alex has also completed the Senior Real Estate Executive Program at Harvard Business School. He is a well-known and respected speaker on Leadership and Organizational Change, as well as a popular guest columnist in renowned business magazines within the region. He has been recently named and published as one of fifty CEO’s who have transformed the business environment within the Gulf by Arabian Business.

See Part I of this interview for more information about Alex’s inspiring career and accomplishments.

You are credited for sowing the seeds at Aujan industries, which eventually led to the Coca Cola company acquiring a stake in Aujan. What specific measures did you implement at Aujan to turn around the business?

Again my timing had been perfect, I found a company that had stalled for a few years, yet had a visionary Chairman and Board that wanted to make a major corporate transformation to their business, based on a foundation of meeting the needs of the ’emerging youth population’. The Chairman was tremendous in his support for our change program which was based on:

  • Getting the cost base FIT for growth, which meant removing cost across all aspects of the business
  • Getting the brands FIT for life through the focus on great consumer insight, innovation and most of all, consistent and outstanding communication
  • Getting the business FIT for purpose through the expansion of capacity and distribution capabilities to not only meet the demand we created in the GCC, but allowed us to expand to neighboring markets such as North Africa, Iran, Iraq and Central Asia

The team we assembled at Aujan Industries were as good as any team that I had ever managed, with outstanding talent being recruited from leading multinationals, outstanding local talent from Saudi Arabia and the UAE from the leading universities and all with a common hunger to succeed. Once we had documented the strategic approach to the change program, gained Board approval and had communicated and explained the targets internally, we became a force of one, which fought the larger players in our industry like ‘judo champions’ and won the battles across all of our major categories and markets.

Achieving the USD 500m revenue targets with a lot of time to spare within our 5 year horizon, and with better margins than what we had expected, was a tremendous testimony of the talent and drive of the team we had assembled, which were also rewarded with a wide array of industry awards for marketing and communication, as well as catapulting the organization into the top 15 most admired firms in the Middle East.

Can you share some of the strategies that you pursue for your own business?

Our business model focuses on a vision to inspire, propel and partner with companies, brands and individuals in creating a powerful belief system for what the do. We are a company which focuses on strategy across corporate, marketing, sales, market development, branding and communication to assist our clients to develop a clear and differentiated roadmap for implementation, which allows them to capture the value that they have created with their propositions.

Our product/service offering is experience across a multi-faceted range of industry and functions within the Middle East & North Africa, where we work with the senior management of our clients to define and document the strategy, review and adjust the structure of the organization to support the strategy and then work alongside through mentoring, training and developing local human resource talent to implement the program that we have agreed. We become an integral part of any client team we work with, working as interim management in true partnership to meet each others ambitions.

Part of our strategy is to only hire senior management, and whoever our client meets on the day of the pitch, they are the members that will work on their account, and not allocated to more junior and inexperienced staff. We are a hybrid of what would traditionally be considered a strategic management consultancy firm and a full service communication agency.

What are some of the top challenges/concerns expressed by foreign investors in the UAE?

Investors worldwide have a number of key requirements, with the major requirement being ‘confidence’ in the companies, individuals, brands or countries in which they invest their hard earned money and time. The major challenges/concerns expressed by foreign investors in the UAE that I have interacted with have been focused on the consistency, transparency and clarity of the nations regulatory and legal frameworks, as well as an adherence to strong corporate governance rules and practices amongst companies.

There is no doubt that the region, led in many cases by the dynamic and politically stable environment within the UAE offers a superb alternative, high growth option for foreign investors. Ongoing changes to employment terms and conditions, licensing approvals, banking and legal requirements, as well as clarity in how to operate within the sharia systems in the region are often made highly complex and ambiguous which in many cases increases the risk profile in a manner which should not be the case.

My personal challenges since incorporation is maintaining a track of changes in simple aspects like licensing and then renewing the licensing of my company (where the rules and regulations within the DMCCA have changed 3 times in the past 4 years), attempting to deploy financial instruments such as loans etc. for Small-to-Medium Enterprises from financial institutions which are not well defined and in some cases lack complete logic and design, and finally in the recruitment of human talent who have still not understood the excesses of the golden era of 2001–2008 are no longer as easy to find in remuneration packages.

You are involved in various mentoring programs for startups. What according to you are the most essentials for a startup to succeed in the Middle East?

Wow, what a question but in our case, I offer the following essentials for any start-up in the Middle East

  1. Enter with a clearly defined plan of what you will do, and what you will not do. Have clarity in what is your value proposition to your target audience.
  2. Define your target audience and establish a ‘hit list’ of potentials
  3. Be patient during the establishment process for your organization. The initial frustrations with the regulatory bodies can be emotionally draining.
  4. Ensure you have a strong working capital base, as cash is king in a start – up. Many high potential organizations / ideas have come to nothing through lack of cash flow.
  5. Be lean, very lean in the establishment phase. A fancy office does not represent success, so focus on low fixed cost, higher variable cost base model during the formative years.
  6. Winning clients has a time frame of 0-6 months, relationships take time and nurturing is critical for long term success.
  7. Focus on retention and not always recruitment of clients.
  8. Be prepared to fail occasionally, True learning comes through failure, so embrace these occasions to improve yourself and the organization.
  9. Work hard, and build collaborative, trusting partnerships with like minded companies and individuals.
  10. Enjoy your freedom of running your own organization, trust your capabilities and embrace the challenges it represents each day.

“My greatest achievement over the past 4 years is not in the revenue and profits that I have achieved in my organization, it is in the relationships that I have played a role in creating, and the reinvention of Alex Andarakis as a man, father, husband, friend, partner, and professional.”

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