Patient Pursuit: Khaled Al Huraimel, Group CEO, BEEAH Group "In the last 10 years, we grew by about 10x. And now, we expect to grow by another 10x in the next 10 years."
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"Continued growth" was the headline I gave the piece that I wrote after interviewing BEEAH Group CEO Khaled Al Huraimel in 2014, which was a nod to the underlying principle that I felt was driving his ambitions and aspirations for the UAE-born enterprise at that time. Nearly a decade later, as I chatted with Al Huraimel in March this year, I felt like not much had changed in terms of this Emirati executive's psyche with respect to the business he leads- but I certainly cannot say the same about the company itself.
Under Al Huraimel's stewardship, BEEAH has undergone a massive transformation in the last couple of years- while it had come into being in 2007 in Sharjah as a public-private partnership company primarily focused on environmental and waste management, it is today a diversified investment holding group with operations in a variety of sectors, as well as a plethora of geographies. As such, its newly opened headquarters in Sharjah -a stunningly grandiose structure designed by the Pritzker Architecture Prize-winning Zaha Hadid- can therefore be easily seen as a symbol of the striking success that BEEAH has seen so far- but it can also be portrayed as a portent of its wins to come as well. "In the last 10 years, we grew by about 10x," Al Huraimel says. "And now, we expect to grow by another 10x in the next 10 years."
Now, as much as BEEAH has changed in the years since it was established, the company's vision -much like Al Huraimel's own mindset- hasn't wavered- it continues to, as its website declares, envision a future built on sustainability, empowered by digitalization. "We've been focused on two pillars always- sustainability and digitalization," Al Huraimel says. "When we started 15 years ago, our aim was to tackle environmental challenges this region is facing, and the first challenge we looked at was waste management. Our region, the GCC, had, at that time, the highest generation of waste per capita in the world- in the UAE, it was about 2.5kg per person, per day. So, we started our journey with the aim to tackle that problem." BEEAH was founded following a decree from H.H. Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, the Ruler of Sharjah, which was how it embarked on a mission to make the city the first in the Middle East to achieve zero waste to landfill, a target that the organization grows closer to every day. Driven by the vision of the Ruler of Sharjah and the UAE's national sustainability agenda, BEEAH's innovative waste management efforts already achieved the Middle East's highest landfill waste diversion rate- over 76%.
Such an achievement has been made possible thanks to BEEAH putting together a state-of-the-art waste management center, which includes a material recovery facility (which processes over 600,000 tons of municipal solid waste annually), a construction and demolition waste recycling facility (which processes over 500,000 tons of this kind of waste annually), as well as a biomass facility (which processes 200 tons of waste daily to generate alternative fuel), among others. Last year, BEEAH inaugurated a commercial scale waste-to-energy plant in Sharjah that is set to divert 300,000 tons of waste from landfills yearly, while producing 30 megawatts of low-carbon electricity- it's the first facility of its kind in the Middle East, and it is what is expected to push the Emirate to become the region's first zero-waste city. After reaching this target, BEEAH is then going to repurpose Sharjah's Al Saja'a landfill into becoming a solar energy farm- the first phase of the project will see it converted into 270,565 sq. m. of solar area with a projected output of 24 megawatts, and the second phase will convert an additional 200,099 sq. m. of solar area to produce 16 megawatts of solar power.
BEEAH Group's aptitude for leading by example s best showcased at the organization's new headquarters- designed by the world-renowned Zaha Hadid Architects, the headquarters redefines the benchmark for green buildings. Source: BEEAH Group
BEEAH has thus been doing some pioneering work in Sharjah, and its achievements in the Emirate have certainly got it noticed, with the company becoming the recipient of several industry awards and international accolades over the years. At the same time, with growth always being a target for BEEAH, such accomplishments have also allowed it to make inroads into new markets as well. Al Huraimel points out here the company had realized quite early on in its journey that Sharjah alone is a comparatively small market for it to tackle, and so, it always had a plan in mind to make its presence felt in other locations as well. BEEAH thus started to secure deals and launch operations in the UAE's other cities like Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Al Ain, and Ajman, and this has now made it one of the largest waste management companies in the country. "That being said, we saw this coming years ago," Al Huraimel interjects. "So, we asked ourselves: how can BEEAH keep growing? We saw two ways in which we could do it: geographic expansion, or diversification. We did both."
BEEAH started securing non-UAE contracts in 2020. The first of these was announced in January that year, with the company being appointed as the waste management partner for Egypt's New Administrative Capital (NAC), a new urban development that's been aimed as an extension of its capital city of Cairo, which will be spread across 71,400 hectares and is expected to house a population of 6.5 million. At the time, the deal was billed as largest waste management contract in the MENA, and BEEAH decided to set the bar high for itself by aiming for an 80% waste diversion rate in the new city. In August that same year, BEEAH was awarded three contracts for waste management in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Madinah, which covered its North, West, and East regions. BEEAH's services are thus spread over 70% of the city today, with Al Huraimel noting that the company has currently got more than 3,000 of its staff there, all of whom serve a population of 1.2 million people. Last year, BEEAH went on to secure its second contract in Egypt, with it partnering with Green Planet -one of the country's emerging environmental services company- to deliver waste management and city cleaning services for a period of 10 years in the city of Sharm el-Sheikh, the site for 2022's Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, aka COP27.
According to Al Huraimel, BEEAH is currently settling itself into the new markets it is operating in, but its growth ambitions aren't done yet- East Africa is on the cards, he says, as are other promising locations around the world. At the same time, the company has also been pursuing an aggressive diversification strategy, with BEEAH setting up ventures in a number of sectors other than waste management. One of these is Evoteq, "a solutions provider that champions technological innovations and digital transformation," which BEEAH launched in 2017.
Artificial Intelligence has been put into use in a lot of BEEAH Group's operations, including at its waste recycling center. Source: BEEAH Group
Having developed a platform called SmartTrack, a system that allows one to track and trace products from the point of production all the way to the consumer, Evoteq has since adapted its solution for the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention to deploy as Tatmeen, the country's first track and trace solution for pharmaceuticals. Another of BEEAH's ventures is re.life, an enterprise that launched in 2021 and currently has two platforms under it: re.life collect, an on-demand solution that connects users to "a verified community of moving and transportation companies," and re.life market, a virtual marketplace for the buying and selling of recyclables.
Of the two, it's re.life market that I'd now like to draw your attention to- it was the winner of the B2B Platform of the Year award at Entrepreneur Middle East's 2023 E-Business Awards, which was in recognition of the platform being able to record over AED100 million worth of trades of recyclable material in 2022. "This year, we expect over AED300 million worth of trade to happen on re.life market," Al Huraimel says. "We've already opened an office in India, and the vision for re.life market is for it to be a global marketplace -the number one marketplace- for trading recyclable commodities, bringing buyers and sellers together, and eliminating the middlemen."
Much like Evoteq, re.life has been operating as a startup since it launched, which makes its achievements so far no small feat, and the fact that Al Huraimel is proud of both ventures is pretty apparent in the way he talks about them. Their successes also bode well for the prospects of BEEAH's newest digital undertaking, which is a joint venture with Khazna Data Centers (one of the largest wholesale data center providers in the MENA) to develop and launch the first Tier 3 data center in Sharjah. Its tech ventures notwithstanding, Al Huraimel adds here that BEEAH is also diversifying into new but more traditional sectors like real estate, energy, and healthcare. The first of these is tied to the work BEEAH did to develop its new headquarters in Sharjah- it is, after all, one of the most sustainable and most technologically advanced buildings in the region, and the experience and expertise the company gained while building it has led to the creation of its own real estate arm. Al Huraimel reveals that a real estate development is in the works in the same location as that of BEEAH's headquarters, with the area set to become "a smart and sustainable district" in Sharjah.
Meanwhile, in the energy sector, BEEAH has already shown what it's capable of with the launch of its waste-to-energy plant last year; in the works is a waste-to-hydrogen plant, also the first of its kind in the region. While aligning with BEEAH's zero-waste targets, the plant will also produce fuel cell grade hydrogen in support of zero-emissions mobility in the UAE. Al Huraimel also shares that BEEAH is looking into building a medical district in Sharjah- this will host what he calls "the hospital of the future," which will be built in partnership with a consortium of Harvard Medical School-affiliated hospitals from the US. All of what BEEAH is doing now is certainly a rapid evolution from its origins as a waste management company with about 40 people on its payroll- but it is also a testament to the dynamic and visionary outlook with which this business -now with over 13,000 employees- has been led since its start. "It is imperative that future cities and future economies are sustainable," Al Huraimel says. "Achieving and maintaining sustainability is not possible without technology. I knew that we needed to keep exploring what's coming next in technology, because that's going to help us be more sustainable. In our DNA as an organization, it was clear that both sustainability and technology needed to come together in all that we do."
Khaled Al Huraimel, Group CEO, BEEAH Group. Source: BEEAH Group
Al Huraimel's ethos can thus explain why his company has been ahead of the curve in terms of its interest in and adoption of cutting-edge tech- for instance, the rest of the world might only now be catching up with the potential presented by artificial intelligence (AI), but BEEAH has been working with it for the last few years now. For instance, the technology has, for one, been put to use in robots that segregate waste at its commercial and industrial waste recycling facility, and it's also been deployed in its command center to track all of its vehicles and advise on the most efficient routes, depending on when bins tagged by radio frequency identification (RFID) indicate they are full and ready for pick up, as well as traffic conditions.
But if one needs a more visible example of AI at work at BEEAH, one needs to only take a look at its beautifully headquarters, operating at LEED Platinum standards. Johnson Controls, "the global leader for smart, healthy, and sustainable buildings," powers the building with its OpenBlue digital technology, thereby making it the first fully AI-integrated building in the Middle East. As for what this actually translates into: well, for starters, think secure, friction-free access into the building, not just for regular occupants, but visitors as well.
Meanwhile, predictive AI helps control light and temperature based on number of occupants, individual preferences, time of day and, of course, optimizing energy consumption for the highest levels of efficiency. Work is also underway on the OpenBlue companion app, which, when activated in the headquarters, can act as a concierge helping building occupants with everything from locating meeting spaces, to ordering a beverage, or even as a personal assistant for employees to book appointments with their peers, or simply to access news and information. From an operational standpoint, Al Huraimel points out that AI-based tools like ChatGPT are already being made use of by BEEAH's marketing and comms teams, and he also reveals that he hopes to see such technologies having a more active role in its finance department as well. If it isn't already clear by now, then let me state for the record that Al Huraimel is obviously the man at BEEAH spearheading its forward-thinking initiatives, and a lot of that has to do with his innate personality as well.
"I think that when I see an opportunity, it just stays in my mind until I do it," Al Huraimel says, in response to my question about his personal drivers for doing what he does on a day-to-day basis. Such a philosophy would also explain why Al Huraimel has quite a few business interests outside of BEEAH- you see, besides being a seasoned executive who has previously worked at companies like ENOC and Nakheel, he is also a serial entrepreneur with a number of ventures under his belt. One of them is Bait Al Kandora, which Al Huraimel launched in 2015 as the first Emirati designer menswear brand in the UAE, and then went on to become a market leader. There's also Omada, which is today a full-fledged marketing technology group, as well as Dar Al Aqar Real Estate, which Al Huraimel describes as "a boutique premier real estate advisory and investment and brokerage."
More recently, Al Huraimel had an active role to play in the 2022 launch of Bedu, which today bills itself as "a Dubai-based digital pioneer that operates at the outer reaches of the Web3 frontier, providing metaverse, blockchain, and non-fungible token (NFT) solutions." While Al Huraimel says he is typically quite hands-on when it comes to the early days of the enterprises he launches, he is happy to take on a back seat when they come into their own, and then let them have their own leaders, teams, etc. governing them.
This is true of Al Huraimel's current association with all of the aforementioned ventures, and that is also an indicator of his personal mentalities as a business leader. "I want to see others succeed," Al Huraimel tells me. "For instance, with Bedu, I have a CEO, and I want him and his team to succeed, and I want to provide them with the and the foundation, then let them run with it. At BEEAH too, now, I want to build the next level of leadership to take charge of the enterprise. BEEAH has grown quite well in the last 10 years, and now for the next 10 years, we want to see much bigger growth; that's our plan. But this 'bigger growth' is not me- I need to develop the next generation of leaders to take BEEAH to the next level. So, if I want to grow by 10 times in the next 10 years, it needs a lot. And so, this year, we're focusing on spending much more on preparing the next level of leaders to take on whatever challenges lies ahead." Al Huraimel is thus clearly thinking about the long game at BEEAH. And if the successes he has engineered so far are any indication, then all signs point to a continued trajectory of growth for BEEAH in the foreseeable future- and thereafter as well.