Follow The Leader: Roy Nouhra, Founder And President, ASIS Boats

Follow The Leader: Roy Nouhra, Founder And President, ASIS Boats
Image credit: ASIS Boats
Roy Nouhra, founder and President, ASIS Boats
By Sindhu Hariharan

“Innovation is always about giving the customer something to satisfy his needs, and also those needs that the customer is not even aware of. We always sit with our customers, understand their environment, their operations, and requirements, and also try to see needs that they don’t see.”

Having returned to the UAE after a business education in the United States, ASIS Boats founder and President Roy Nouhra’s enthusiasm for water skiing, car racing and everything mechanical -coupled with “a passion for innovation”- prompted him to launch his company as a new arm to his family business, the 50-year old Solico, specializing in the manufacture, contracting and trading of electro-mechanicals. Nouhra established ASIS Boats, manufacturers of Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIB) and providers of end-to-end maritime services, in 2006, catering to three vastly different customer verticals -military, professional and recreational- in a 60%-30%-10% ratio respectively. “We started off as a company catering to the leisure segment in 2006,” Nouhra says. “But then, in 2008, when the leisure market worldwide crashed, as a matter of survival, we decided to diversify.”

That strategy proved to be extremely beneficial for ASIS Boats in the long run. Designing and manufacturing boats from its facility in Dubai, ASIS Boats now sells to almost 80 territories, across the MENA, United States, Europe, South America, the Far East and other regions. With approvals and certifications from both European and the US industry and government bodies, and with offices in the U.S. and the UAE, ASIS Boats has also succeeded in going global, even while its manufacture and R&D facilities continue to be based out of Dubai. When quizzed about his business strategy for breaking geographical barriers, Nouhra says his insistence on quality has been the company’s major differentiator. “To be able to sell to these [global] markets, you need to abide by certain minimum standards,” he explains. “But I decided that we will abide by the maximum standards.” The company’s efforts involved making inroads into the professional vertical (selling to maritime companies), while waiting on government contracts to materialize, thus wasting no time in building a customer base. “The fact that we have been here since the 1960s as a Group also gave us credibility, [signifying] we are not a hit-and-run business, but we are here to stay,” he adds.

Roy Nouhra with the Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2015 from Gulf Capital.Source: ASIS Boats.
In terms of recognition, ASIS Boats was recently named “Business of the Year” at the 2015 Gulf Capital SME Awards, and the company had more to celebrate when Roy Nouhra was declared “Entrepreneur of the Year” at the same event. But this is not to say that it was smooth sailing for ASIS Boats when it started up- curiously enough, the company’s key hurdles were as a result of not having direct competitors in the region, and also for being a first mover. “No one knew anything about the products we were making, so I had to learn it from companies globally, bring the know-how here, and keep it inside,” says Nouhra. Besides talent sourcing, getting the UAE brand accepted across global markets was also a challenge. “[We achieved it] by saying that I am not giving you just a boat, but a full solution from design to engineering to manufacture to delivery to after-sales service,” he says. Advising homegrown SMEs on ways to go global, Nouhra says, “To catch the local market is very important, but make sure to not benchmark yourself based on what other local companies in your industry are doing.” According to Nouhra, SMEs must model their products on global companies, “have a product better than theirs, and offer it locally.”


ASIS Boats' Electric Jet Tenders.Source: ASIS Boats.

While ASIS Boats has a lot to be happy about with its current operations, the company is keen on not being complacent and continues to innovate. For instance, as emphasis on safety and marine technology takes center stage in the industry, ASIS launched an electric jet tender for the environmentally conscious sailor earlier this year. The move is also directed to fulfill its ambition to operate as a green company and achieve sustainable performance. But how does the SME maintain momentum on innovation? When it comes to growth, Nouhra is an advocate of reinvesting profits into business and achieving organic growth. “You can grow smart even by doing something as simple as trying to get advance payments on your orders,” he says. “So go after such orders which will help your working capital.” Even with all the funding alternatives out there, ASIS Boats remains self-funded, and Nouhra says he wants to keep it that way. “Even though you [may] have to grow at a smaller speed, at least you have the freedom to choose a direction [for yourself], and move fast in that direction.” For someone who believes that “entrepreneurship is all about jumping off a building and growing wings as you go down,” Nouhra may well be on to something with that idea of his.


What , according to you, are some of the challenges that SMEs in the UAE should be wary of when setting up shop here?

“Starting a business in the UAE is pretty challenging for several reasons. Depending on what kind of business you are starting, the challenges are different. The challenge that you basically have is that banks are not really backing startups or SMEs. So, as a startup, you have to get your finances right. You can get access to banks, but you have to structure your company in the right way. As a startup, you need to have the right accounting and auditing structure, then you can go to a bank. Also, failure is not an option here. So, that again puts more pressure on you. Before you start anything, make sure that you are going to put in 100%, and there is no option for failure. That makes it harder initially.” 

Related: Follow The Leader: Osman Sultan, CEO, du

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