Follow The Leader: Ahmed Alkhoshaibi, Group CEO, KBW Investments
Founded by HRH Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal in 2013, KBW Investments has managed to steadily make its mark in the region's business landscape, thanks to the various enterprises under its helm carving out successes of their own in their respective industry sectors.
As the Group CEO of KBW Investments, Ahmed Alkhoshaibi oversees a portfolio group whose member companies operate in a diverse range of sectors, which include property (ARADA), construction (Klampfer Electro Mechanical Contracting (KEMC)), manufacturing (Raimondi Cranes), engineering (Arcadia Engineering), finance (Crestmount Capital), and more. Founded by HRH Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal in 2013, KBW Investments has managed to steadily make its mark in the region’s business landscape, thanks to the various enterprises under its helm carving out successes of their own in their respective industry sectors.
“From a personal perspective, I was extremely proud when ARADA’s first project, Nasma Residences, sold out its first phase in a little less than a month,” Alkhoshaibi says, as he recalls the achievements KBW Investments currently has to its credit. “Coming up with a vision and a strategy to support that vision is certainly important, but having that strategy tested in the market and seeing such a strong result in so short a time vindicated the significant efforts that our shareholders and staff had put in to get this project off the drawing board. In a span of 12 months, Raimondi has launched three new products applying Silicon Valley-type approaches like UX and UI that have never before been used in that sector. Arcadia Engineering recently began work on Bucharest’s new IKEA, a landmark for the company, and also developed detailed plans as the general designer of an Olympic-level skating rink, adding to its portfolio of high-level sporting facilities. Our mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) enterprise, KEMC, has showed so much promise, that we recently acquired the shares of one of the founding partners.”
With KBW Investments operating in what is arguably a heady mix of sectors, Alkhoshaibi admits to the challenges involved in leading such a portfolio group, but also adds that adhering to a few key principles has helped him manage the task well all the same. “Running a company with many different segments that all require analysis in decision making is probably one of the most challenging things anyone will ever do,” Alkhoshaibi says. “Being detail-oriented is extremely important, whether working with small or large amounts of capital, and the bigger the bid, the pickier you need to be. That isn’t to say you need to micromanage every single facet of the business, but you need to know your books. If you don’t know your numbers, you’re headed for difficulties quite quickly. What I consider to be absolutely essential to growth is the recruitment of tier one talent. Many times, I have made note of exceptional people, only later to have offered them a role when the situation arose. Don’t ignore these exceptional people in the market, and do establish a relationship, as later on, they might be the key to the next expansion level you are looking to undertake.”
Of course, it’s one thing to keep an eye out for good talent- but Alkhoshaibi adds that KBW Investments has also made it a priority to make sure the best come to it as well. “We are flooded across every tier of the business with people who are looking to join our company,” he notes. “One of the reasons we are able to attract quality talent is our communications schema. When you share news regularly, transparently and across multiple mediums, including social media, you gradually become known in the market. Communicating responsibly can help you to attract tier one people to your organization, despite not having large budgets, and other add-ons like stock options.”
For an organization of its scale, KBW Investments may not seem like an enterprise that’d work with a startup-like atmosphere, but then again, for an enterprise driven by the entrepreneurial vision of its founder and Chairman Prince Khaled, it shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that it’s keen on employing innovation in all that it does as well. But in an era where entrepreneurship and innovation have almost become buzzwords of sorts, Alkhoshaibi is clear that his enterprise needs to be built up on the true meanings of those terms. “Every business finds it desirable to be associated with the intrepid life of an entrepreneur, but what’s often forgotten is the day-to-day struggle of mobilizing a startup,” he says.
“That said, innovating in a larger organization, even at the conglomerate level, is often just as -if not morechallenging, because you are dealing with layers of approval and bureaucracy. There is always room for innovation. The label of what is and what isn’t innovative often comes down to clever marketing and strong communications. Some of the least innovative but most stable entities are considered innovative, when they are actually just using a tried and tested business model. In the current economic climate, innovation can take on the meaning of being able to continue to drum up new revenue channels, consistent commercial activity, and maintaining strong operating capital.”
Given the state of the market today, new enterprises considering starting up in the region may feel like the environment is not particularly favorable for them- but Alkhoshaibi says it’s all a matter of perspective. “There is never going to be a perfect time to start a business,” he declares. “Many products taken to market are ahead of trend, and many, similarly, are behind trend. Both of these scenarios are common and carry high levels of risk. The essential questions to ask when deciding whether or not you should go forward with your startup are not about timing; they are more about market fit. I believe the match of location and service offering are more important as benchmarks of success.”
And for those of you seeking motivation to go ahead with your entrepreneurial ideas, Alkhoshabi points toward the past to look toward the future. “There are many rehashed stories of products that have been successful in the past three years but were rejected by some of the world’s greatest investors a decade ago,” he explains. “So, the questions you should be asking are: how much competition do you have? What is your USP? Are you able to gain a sizeable market share, and if so, how? If there are 10 other companies with greater resources and stronger infrastructure, then you must have a differentiator that will enable you to generate traction. These questions hold true across the many continents in which we at KBW Investments operate, and they can be applied across a variety of sectors. Market need and how well you answer that need is always the essential element that needs to be examined prior to investing your capital in new venture.”
ASK THE EXEC
Ahmed Alkhoshaibi, Group CEO, KBW Investments
What are your five tips for entrepreneurs to achieve success with their enterprises?
1. EMPOWER SENIOR STAFF TO MAKE DECISIONS “If you cripple your senior staff, you will end up becoming a one-man show. There is strength in numbers, allowing respective team members to draw on different knowledge bases and skillsets. Crippling your team’s decision-making ability leads to inertia, meaning nothing gets done until you as the founder can sign off.”
2. ADVOCATE FOR WORK-LIFE BALANCE ACROSS ALL LEVELS OF YOUR COMPANY “Startups often do the 24/7 work mode, and consider it as business as usual. This is a fallacy; all that will do is generate discontent, distraction, and a run-down organization.”
3. ENSURE THAT YOU HAVE A MARKETING BUDGET “Startups often push marketing and communications to the wayside. Where there is no marketing, there is no lead generation, and therefore, there are no customers. Reaching profitability is directly impacted by your brand awareness quotient.”
4. BUILD RELATIONSHIPS “Your vendors and your clients are more likely to support you with premium budgets and business allocation if you have a strong relationship. Relationships, while not directly quantifiable, will both save and generate money in the long run.”
5. SERVICE IS AN ONGOING CRITERION FOR SUCCESS “After you’ve made the sale or sealed that deal, your service levels are just beginning. Oftentimes, companies make the mistake of neglecting existing or past clientele. This goes back to both relationship and reputation management. There is opportunity cost in ignoring commercial service that goes over and above what is actually laid out in the contract.”
Aby Sam Thomas is the Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur Middle East. In this role, Aby is responsible for leading the publication on its editorial front, while also working to build the brand and grow its presence across the MENA region through the development and execution of events and other programming, as well as through representation in conferences, media, etc.
Aby has been working in journalism since 2011, prior to which he was an analyst programmer with Accenture, where he worked with J. P. Morgan Chase's investment banking arm at offices in Mumbai, London, and New York. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.