Alex Andarakis, Founder/MD, Andarakis Advisory Services

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Alex Andarakis_1 Meet Alex Andarakis

The Expat with the most enviable CV.

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 led the regional and global brand, channel and innovation development agenda for Lipton, and was the Regional Media Vice President for Unilever across the Middle East, Africa, Turkey and Russia, and led a company transformation (2004-2006) under the ‘555 Strategy’ with Aujan Industries, the largest independent regional Beverages and Confectionery manufacturing and distribution company, which recently had 49% of their shares acquired by The Coca-Cola Company for USD 980 million.

Switching industries in late 2006, saw Alex lead the Global Sales and Marketing program for Emaar Properties business sectors, including Property Development, Hotels & Hospitality, Education, Healthcare and Retail Malls, before moving to Omniyat Properties as Managing Director. In recent times, Alex has been appointed as the Strategic Adviser to Al Islami Foods, as well as the Middle East ambassador and Advisory Board member for the European Chief Marketing Officer’s Forum, Europe’s leading platform for Marketing Chiefs to exchange insights and thoughts thus turning this event into a ‘Davos’ for marketing professionals.

Additionally, Alex has been appointed as an Adviser on the Board of the Faculty of Business Management for the University of Wollongong in Dubai, as well as an Adviser to the innovative Beach Head program for developing New Zealand based companies throughout the Middle East by the New Zealand Trade & Enterprise department of the New Zealand Government.

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.

Can you please tell us something about Andarakis Advisory Services and its focus areas?

Andarakis Advisory Services has enjoyed tremendous success since its commencement in mid-2010, with over 50 account wins across a wide spectrum of industry and geographies. We started as a pure corporate and marketing strategy firm, and have now expanded to include sales, customer management, branding, communication, market development, human resource management, and most recently financial structuring and strategy services for our wide portfolio of clients.

Our recent history suggests that we are becoming famous for our real estate marketing and commercial skills and capabilities, with the company having worked or currently engaged with many of the leading real estate development companies and Investment Banks who manage large land parcels on behalf of their client base in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as well as frequently being asked to subcontract for the leading marketing/branding, and/or real estate consultancy companies in the capacity of marketing strategy for their clients.

Having said that our portfolio is well balanced with Real Estate, Fast Moving Consumer Goods, Hotels & Hospitality, Retail, Financial Services, and Waste Management clients across the GCC and North Africa/Levant region.

How did the global financial crisis affect Andarakis Advisory Services approach to business and outlook on global markets?

We have and will always be optimistic, and we believed the global economic crisis was the major catalyst for driving our initiative to move into private business. The global economic crisis presented Andarakis Advisory Services with a rare opportunity to offer organizations, highly experienced, interim management solutions in the Middle East, specialized, experienced resources which they could turn on or turn off whenever they required to conceptualize, develop and/or implement marketing or business development solutions. Without the need to recruit, train, and manage full time resources, company’s had a solution to get what they needed completed with specialists without the fixed cost of full time employment.

Coupled with the ongoing drive and initiative for nationalization in both the UAE and Saudi Arabia, Andarakis Advisory Services also embraced the concept of mentoring and training the long term full time National in senior roles on an interim basis, which has been universally embraced by many of our target clients in the region.

That combination created a value proposition for our organization which has represented superb value to our clients, and that has been demonstrated by their awarding key assignments to our firm.

According to various media and research reports, Dubai has made a strong comeback after the financial crisis. How do you see the future of investment advisory industry in the Middle East and UAE in particular?

The momentum within the media has certainly been in overdrive for the comeback of Dubai, post-financial crisis. However, we need to be cautious as to how we try and capitalize on this second major thrust, because if the lessons of the downturn/fade within the region were not fully understood and analysed, we will all fall back into the same trap.

This region, led by the UAE offers an outstanding value proposition for young, dynamic and energetic individuals and corporations. The population is young, the market is hungry for the very best the world has to offer, and the leaders have clear visions of improving the living standards of their nationals through the creation of employment opportunities, improvement in housing, education, healthcare, hospitality, retail and leisure facilities, and a tolerance and understanding of co-existence with the full spectrum of people from around the world, which has created a region rich in diversity of nationality and religion. Government and private investment initiatives are plentiful, funding is available, and with the correct governance, regulatory and legal framework, a greater portion of these funds will lead to a sustained period of economic growth and prosperity.

Our role within this environment as an Advisory firm is to find partner companies who would like to enter the Middle East, and then play the supportive role of incubating them for a period of time through a combination of consultancy services and experienced, interim management solutions to allow them to have a ‘soft and unencumbered’ landing in the region. As Andarakis Advisory Services we have played this role with a number of companies from India and Turkey who are entering the Middle East market, and as an individual, I am personally playing this role as part of the New Zealand Trade & Enterprise ‘Beach Heads’ program as a Board Advisor for a number of New Zealand companies entering the region.

What is your top investment advice to investors in the MENA region and emerging markets?

My top investment advice to investors in the MENA region and emerging markets is not to lose focus on the policies and procedures fundamentals that they would normally deploy in their home markets when they arrive to establish business operations in our region. I was horrified when I personally experienced many small to medium sized investors sign real estate ‘sales and purchase’ agreements without ever reading the contracts in full, or asking for independent legal advice during my days in Emaar Properties and Omniyat Properties. We now know how these stories have played out for many of the investors since 2009.

My other piece of advice is to avoid the temptation of intellectual arrogance with their counterparts in the Middle East region. This is no longer a back block for the ‘C’ teams of corporations, it is now the playground of many ‘A’ teams, as the white space potential has growth which is at a far superior rate than that of the traditional power geographies such as Europe and North America. Winning the mind before spending the time to win the heart is fatal in this environment, This is a cultural phenomena missed by many expatriates and foreign companies which if not understood can delay success for many years.

How can legislative changes help in attracting greater investments to UAE?

Legislative changes in whatever form, content or design can help attracting greater investments to the UAE simply by being better defined, better communicated and by not being altered on an ongoing basis. Put simply, make it simple, easy to understand, and finally give it tenure.

You took a plunge into the Entrepreneurship world after 24 years of working in executive levels in some of the globally reputed companies. What made you take the decision to start your own company?

Timing was perfect, companies were removing their best talent from their books, yet, in times of great challenge, never before seen within the Middle East, the time had come to capture some of the brand equity and value that had been created by my hard work and efforts over the years in the region. A multi-skilled, proven performer who has run the full range of companies from large multinationals, large family owned conglomerates, and lastly, large publicly listed companies such as Emaar Properties, and with the general management knowledge could be very useful as an interim resource with a specific task to perform.

Secondly, the focus on nationalization of the workforce was another insight into gaining an edge and a position for my firm. Mentoring, training and shadowing the long term resource in a senior role was something which had been overlooked in the market, with expats becoming frustrated with the situation, rather than sitting back and finding a way to make it work. It takes you out of the limelight, but it creates tremendous value through regular and varied employment opportunities across the region.

Quite simply, I needed a new challenge, a chance to reinvent myself and prove to myself once and for all, that I could actually run my own business without the full weight of backing that large organizations provide for their leadership teams. At 45, it was now or never!

Are there any companies in the Middle East that you admire? If yes, can you name them and tell us why you admire them?

There are a number of companies that I admire within the region, and the basis for my admiration is the fact that they demonstrate 5 major qualities including:

a) Clear and easily understood vision and mission

b) Brave approach to winning in their competitive space

c) Quality of management

d) Excellent approach to corporate governance

e) A differentiated and proven value proposition to their target audiences.

The companies that fit this set of criteria for me in the region include Emaar Properties, SEDCO Holding, Emirates Airlines/DNATA and Majid Al Futtaim.

From the international players, I still rate Unilever as my all time favorite employer, and I continue to remain in admiration to their ability to run an international footprint, yet find outstanding means of driving localized activation to build brands and more importantly remain strong corporate citizens amongst the communities they work within as well as provide an excellent environment for learning and job satisfaction for their employees.

This is Part I of a two part exclusive interview with Alex Andarakis, CEO, Andarakis Advisory Services. To read Part II of this exclusive interview, visit Arabian Gazette on Sunday, June 9th when Alex Andarakis gives us his best Investment advice and Rules for Success.

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