Mohamed Ahmed-Yahia

General Manager – Near & Middle East of LegrandPeople are looking for more commerce, more comfort, more security, more energy saving, in India for instance we found out in a study that there are 300 million people able to buy Le Grand products. Imagine 300 million people out of 1.1 billion, this is huge for us and is a great opportunity for us.

Sheikh Mohammed said that in 5 years we have realized that economic achievement beyond those which were planned for a ten year period. How satisfied are you with the results of the governmental policies and as a foreign actor, what is your frank assessment of the economic business development in the UAE?

As far as I’m concerned I believe that the UAE is a success gained from a geographical environment. You have nearby Iran, India, Saudi Arabia and other countries which make the UAE a great success. Also, the second impact is the infrastructure built in the UAE and specifically Dubai. It really allows people to come here and invest in a good atmosphere, freedom, tolerance, respect and also giving the possibility to earn money, to invest and make money. These are very important issues for me it offers a free zone so that foreign companies can invest, and private people can create their own company: they come with ideas, they implement them and they see the results.

France has invested more than 3 billion into oil, banking and other investments in the UAE to become one of the gulf countries largest economic partners. Trade between the UAE and France exceeded 12 billion dollars last year while about 309 French companies operate in Dubai. In what fields do you see the major areas of cooperation between France and the UAE and in your opinion where do you see the further space for business cooperation?

It is sure that first of all there is a historical link between France and the UAE and also an economic relation when we talk about EADS, the Airbus success which is very famous but you also have major companies coming into different fields of activity for example luxury goods, electrical products so it is true that in the last few years we’ve seen a tremendous growth in political, economic and business relations. However, I believe we can really improve this especially coming in medium and small sized companies. What we see here are medium and small sized companies that are French but aren’t well structured to improve their exports to the area and they need help for instance personally I’m a commercial consoler so I try to give advice to these small sized businesses and we can even see there is a demand for high and good quality products coming from France but they need to be organized.

So the opportunities within the sector lie within the small and medium sized businesses?

There is clearly a demand not only for Airbus or other major well known products, luxury goods for instance. There is a demand for medium sized products there is a niche market with a large demand but French companies need to be organized, this is what is extremely important.

This brings me to the second question: what are your areas and domains where facilitator operations could be improved?

Generally speaking, when I go into Carrefour for instance you have good brands like Carrefour or Geant and you can definitely notice that there is room for improvement for French made products in the food department and all home related products these areas are what we should concentrate on. But again it depends on the company itself, they have to build up an export department for example I gave advice to one of the companies in our region of Limoges which is very well known for porcelain: we advised them to create a group of companies and to open here a representative office to represent 6 different companies from one area in France. This gave the idea to other regions in France, from the north region West region to come as a group, individual companies: medium or small sized companies will not be able to do it. They have to concentrate and come and make a proper market survey, it is very important to see the many opportunities that we have here. You don’t just have the local consumers but you have a huge community for Indians or Europeans or Americans, as you know the UAE is composed of different nationalities and they request different products, not just low products but also medium and high standard products but it has to be done in a methodic way.

Do you think that the French companies are aware of the possibilities here in the UAE?

Not necessarily, they know more and more about Dubai it is true, thanks to the media Dubai is more and more known, Abu Dhabi is more and more known with this new cultural approach so from the business point of view things are definitely improving; I believe there is still room for improvement, people should come here and discover: this is the first advice I gave to businessmen: come and spend a few days in the area and you will see that it’s a great, fantastic area full of opportunities. It’s not easy but there are many opportunities.

Le Grand has adopted a multi-polar strategy as Mr. Jiles Jiles said: emerging markets represent 25% of our total sales and other emerging market economies are around 21% of the world market, Le Grand has 25% of the sales in those regions. Can you comment on your corporate strategy and how does it transmit onto your day to day operations here in the UAE?

You know we are doing quite well in Europe, Eastern Europe and America; it’s definitely true that we see major demand in the emerging market and this is why we adopted a global strategy in order to match our business model with the existing situation in these countries. People are looking for more commerce, more comfort, more security, more energy saving, in India for instance we found out in a study that there are 300 million people able to buy Le Grand products. Imagine 300 million people out of 1.1 billion, this is huge for us and is a great opportunity for us. So we definitely have to adapt our products to the local markets, we have to adapt our approach and as far as the Middle East is concerned what we did is we really adapted for the last 6 to 7 years using many people in the field here, we really try to match the local requirements. We really need to be close to our customers by having our own team and it’s extremely important because when you are dealing on a daily basis with consultants, investors, architects, interior designers you need to have a Le Grand team on the field, of course we have authorized distributors we have partners but also we have to do our job we have to get the people to know about our products and this should be done by our own trained team, this is very important. The major change we did is that we came with heavy investment, re-organization because it is matching the local market demand.

How do you see the Le Grand presences develop in the UAE market and the GCC countries?

It’s very simple, just to give an example I joined Le Grand Dubai after 6 years in Saudi Arabia in September 2000 at that time we have a 25m2 office with one secretary, ones sales engineer and myself, three people. Today, in June 2008 we have about 2400m2 of office space: 14002 at Dubai Silicon Oasis, Jabel Ali and Dubai Downtown plus we are opening offices in Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman just to talk about the Gulf countries. In addition as far as the Middle East is concerned we have offices in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and we have about 130 employees in the region excluding Saudi Arabia, there we have about 60 people. So this gives you the trend from September 2000 with 3 people to June 2008 we have 130 people.

You said that you can easily increase sales by 30-40% within the next 3-5 years, due to the increase in demand for your products and the development of the markets sophistication. How confident are you that you will be able to maintain such a rapid growth in the wake of the US economic slowdown?

I believe that what is amazing is that Dubai or the UAE has been built based on a business model, it started with a freezone and it gave the opportunity for a few companies to establish themselves and to choose Dubai as a major hub for the entire region. In addition it came with a link with the airport development, the creation of the emirates airline gave people the opportunity to come or to transit in Dubai, then you have tourism: they say why not? The fact that we have major a major company: Emirates airlines, we can also welcome tourism then we go ahead with the development of the hotels, you have seen the number of hotels built then finally they said why not give the opportunity to foreigners to own their own apartment or villas then we went through a major boom in real estate which is the freehold and the freehold gives the opportunity to foreigners to own their apartment or villa gave a perfect opening and I can say that Dubai came with this idea and now you can see that this idea went to Abu Dhabi and extended to other countries: Oman, Qatar is coming up, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and so on. Definitely in addition to the potential of the existence of oil it also gives the opportunity to launch a major service area with the freehold, infrastructure, transport and real estate. We have seen over the last few years a major change and the thing that I like very much is that it has been built with consistency, with method and you can defiantly see that there is a strategy behind it which is a very clever strategy so the idea is that it gives confidence to foreign investors to come to Dubai because we have the freedom to do business, we have a very nice atmosphere and we can make it the hub of the region and I also know some companies that even operate from here while serving the Indian market. So that is how Dubai became a major hub for the entire region through this whole process, through freedom given to foreign investors and by creating a safe and enjoyable environment. The country also is very tolerant, it respects all religions, all habits, I have 16 different nationalities in my team and we all live in harmony. I can say it’s a great success and quite unique in the world.

As a foreign actor what is your major responsibility towards your host country?

I believe our major responsibility to our host country is apart from the fact that we have to respect the country and its culture it is very important for me and for us to try and understand the needs of the country for instance coming from a major multinational we have a certain know-how, we have expertise in our field of activity we are for example a world leader in switches and circuits we are a major player in different fields like energy saving for example and anything that is related to power and distribution. So what I believe is that we need to bring in a certain way, this know-how and that’s what we did through our major investment here, I decided to invest in a major training centre so we are about to open up 1400m2 office and training centre a real training centre for our team, for our customers but also for our potential future engineers in our field of activity giving them the opportunity to be trained. So we created an educated training department with trainers who are specialized in our field of activity giving free of charge specific training or internship for students. This is one of the major achievements I want to build because I think is extremely important, for me it’s like building a small stone in the growth of the area and also I believe in the different cultures, the relation between for instance the Middle East and Europe, the UAE and France, I believe in this I think being a businessman I used to say we are not here to hit and run, we are here for the long term, we are here to build a very strong relation with not only the local people but all the people that are here but knowing that we are also under certain obligations: we need to bring something here not to go and meet customers just to take orders, I’m not only interested in taking orders I want to give as well.

You are also a pioneer in environmentally friendly technology and this goes hand in hand with the green buildings initiative, what role is Le Grand going to play in this field?

We were one of the first companies to come up with this idea, we had a company in America which was the leader in energy saving in our field of activity. When it comes to green buildings you ask the different departments and one of the major assets is the electrical consumption and energy saving. So this company wants to approach Le Grand they are very good in energy saving, we invested heavily in seminars, we gave training too and it came in conjunction with the decision made by Sheikh Mohammed to implement the green building concept which is a great idea, it gives great initiative because even though the UAE or all the Middle East countries are very rich, we have to be careful about our future when it comes to consumption and energy saving and so on. So we are part of this concept also worldwide and we were very pleased to be one of the first companies organizing this kind of events in Dubai and we will continue and the idea is we work very closely with the local authorities, all the investors, developers in order to convince them that it is very important to be somehow aware about energy saving. So through our products, but not only products also training and this is what we are going to organize in our training centre: how to use our products, how to install them, how to save energy, electricity it is very important and we are coming up with a major training program in the coming months.

So, this is how you are going to promote the image of Dubai?

Yes, but I don’t think much needs to be done there because Dubai is starting to be quite well known! The green image? Yes, I think it’s very important these are the initiatives taken and as I say: I believe that Dubai is growing and the UAE as well, slowly other countries in the Gulf are coming up with the same thing like a business model. There is also a kind of consistency, harmony it is not easy and as you know this region is quite young so when I have a picture of Dubai in 1995 and today it’s a major change and we have to respect this, I respect very much the UAE development, it is not easy because you have so many things, you can go in the street and there are so many projects, there is always construction there are so many things going on: the Metro, new roads, new buildings but it is meant in a way that in the coming years it will be a reference in the whole region and it is already a reference in the region. So it is true, taking into consideration some problems it is important, energy saving is one of the problems we have to be aware that the consequences might be bad if we don’t take initiative also training is a major issue I really believe in training, I think we should train our future engineers and not just in Dubai, this whole process we have is for the Middle East we built the training centre in Dubai because it’s a very good operation base for us and Dubai became our base but we want to train Syrians, Lebanese and anyone in our field of activity. So it is true that all these initiatives are good for the region and for Dubai. I recently met with the general manager of Accord, the hotel chain they told me that they opened up a training school which is fantastic I think it’s a great opportunity to give the future people that are working in the hotel business proper training, it is very important.

You mentioned that you are expanding rapidly in the region, how are you gearing up to build your own brand, to build a brand for the region?

In fact we have already built the brand, we have been here for almost the last 30 years so when you talk to consultants and you become consultants in our field or area of activity they definitely know the Le Grand brand it’s well known, the only thing they do not know is that Le Grand group operates in different fields of activity. They know the brand but they don’t know that we are into switch gear, energy saving, into cable management, switches and cables and they don’t know that we are entering a new era which is what we call systems which is home automation, building management systems, intercom, structure cabling and so on. So we are building this complete organization and structuring ourselves, opening new offices, hiring more and more engineers in order to be able to be in touch with the different economic actors in the chain. In an economic chain you have investors, developers, consultants, contracting companies but also specialized companies like system integrators and system installers and these are new customers for us, they need to know that we are coming up with a very wide range offering complete solutions and this one I discuss with developers I used to tell them: you are a global player. For instance if you take Nakheel or Emaar they are global players they build different types of buildings: residential, commercial, offices, malls so what we are offering is a relation as a global partner specialized in our field of activity. We are almost the only company frankly speaking having such a variety of products and this is why through our team we try to convince all our potential customers that Le Grand group can offer a complete solution when it comes to electrical and data and it is a very important strength for the Le Grand group, we want to build a real and professional and long term relation with our customers which means that we want to act as an advisor, as a partner not only to come here and sell for instance when we are working with a developer they have so many issues : they have to deal with the marble, the ACs and it’s not that easy so when they find a company like Le Grand our engineers sitting with them giving them honest and the best advice we can give, we will not give advice for example when we need an economic range, we offer a luxury range and sometimes when they need a luxury range we will not offer something else or maybe we shouldn’t offer a home automation system. It depends on what they want and accordingly we will give them the proper advice and this is why we managed to build for the last few years excellent relations with major developers because they see us as an advisor, a partner and not only a product supplier and this is a major strength for Le Grand group and this creates a very nice atmosphere and way of doing business. We also base it on training, for instance we targeted certain clients and we proposed dedicated training for their team free of charge and it means that we are not only here to sell our products but also to give the best technical backup. I believe myself the sales start when we already sold the product, I believe in after sales and that when the customer will call again for advice or for a change, so many companies sell and then run. No, I will start my business after I sell because when I convince the customer it is very good but it’s not enough, he will be very happy but he will challenge me, he will say ok I’m calling a have such a request I need to be there, even though I sold the product to him he is what makes a major difference and that is why in order to reach such a major strategy you need to have people, you need to invest, you need to have good backup, you need to have for instance course centers, you need people on the field meeting up on a daily basis with your customers. These points are very important and this is why we hire so many people and we are planning to hire more people this year, more in 2009 and in 2010.

Would you consider partnering up with other companies in order to further develop your relationship?

For the time being we don’t need to because we are quite big we have the whole Le Grand group, different companies in our portfolio covering different types of products so frankly speaking for the time being we don’t need a partnership, what we need to is build this training centre, we are about to finish this training centre and will be launching it this year, we need to strengthen our relations with developers, consultants, major contracting companies and system integrators giving them the proper approach and the proper backup this is very important to do on a daily basis. Building of the training centre is very important.

To finalize the interview is there any message you would like to give to our audience?

I would like to invite people to come to the area, I’ve been living here for the last 8 years and I respect greatly this area because apart from the possibility to do business we can meet people: locals and foreigners which gives a great opening, I have 2 children and I see them speaking different languages; we learn respect and tolerance and that is why I respect this area. We learn how to respect people which isn’t always the case in some European countries and it’s very important. Doing business is very good but doing business in such a nice environment is much better.

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