Gulf International: Harnessing opportunities in challenging adversities

Syed Khalid Ali, CEO of Gulf International.

GULF International is the leader in the distribution industry and provides "One Window Business Solution" to all business partners in GCC — predominantly in UAE and KSA which contribute approximately 70% of GDP in GCC. Since its inception in 1974, Gulf International (GI), an ISO certified company, has been synonymous with success in the region. GI is operating under its parent company, the Albatha Group worth multibillion dollars, and was founded in early 1950's by Sheikh Mohammed Sultan Al Qassimi, whose vision and entrepreneurship has resulted in formation of a vastly diversified conglomerate.

The Albatha Group is currently led by the Chairman Sheikh Ahmed Mohammed Sultan Al Qassimi and comprises of 25 autonomous companies, specializing in sectors as diverse as automotive, healthcare, manufacturing, engineering, electronics, FMCG and real estate. Being a part of Albatha group, Gulf International is engaged in distributing blue chip MNC's and non MNC's illustrious brands in UAE and KSA.

CEO Syed Khalid Ali spoke to Saudi Gazette and explained why distribution extraordinaire Gulf International is recognized as the leader in the Industry. Here are the excerpts.

"The philosophy of Al-Batha Group which binds us together with all stake holders in entire business value chain is ‘Values inspire trust, trust builds relationships and relationships drive growth’. Our mission is ‘to improve the quality of life for our partners, customers, and society’ which is accomplished as a pioneering, multinational organization by incorporating best international business practices. The company's objective is to conscientiously provide the finest service to our consumers on behalf of our business partners and maintain the competitive edge. GI's main objective is to provide ' relief to our business partners enabling them to sublimate their efforts in enhancing their current brand value and future product development, while Gulf International takes over all operational mechanics related to execution and customer satisfaction in GCC,” said Khalid Ali.

After serving for 25 years in six continents, the seasoned CEO has brought diverse expertise to the holding company. "During my journey, I undertook different roles, worked with different nationalities and cultures in various locations, and ultimately got acquainted with Albatha Group;" he said.

On GI’s formula of success, he said, before introducing a brand in the UAE, a thorough internal study, due diligence and analysis is carried out on the product acceptability factors. "Gulf International firmly believes that the degree of differentiation in case of new products, compared to existing products, must be evident not only in terms of verbal claims but also reflect in the brand performance, features and benefits. For the product categories which we select, GI contrives a detailed plan consisting of GTM (Go to market) and RTM (Route to market) strategies for all related channels," added the CEO.

The last five years have been instrumental in the company's triumph; during which GI has completely revamped & revitalized its organizational and infrastructural capabilities to cater to modern brands. Gulf International has since surpassed its own prevailing high standards in providing assiduous winning solutions to all its business partners against competitors in GCC, Khalid Ali said.

"The existing brands under our umbrella have witnessed profits nearly doubling. We are recognized as the 'gold distributors' for Lindt, for our infallible assistance in doubling the revenue of the brand in the last four years. In addition, we have received numerous performance awards in the MENA region from Henkel, Johnson & Johnson, Lindt & Sprungli, CO-RO, and many more. In addition J&J also currently exalted GI by awarding a ‘Special Leadership Award' and Hero Foods presented ‘Best Global Distributor Award’,” he said.

"The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an indispensable market for the Gulf International, as it contributes to approximately 45 percent of the GDP of GCC. The UAE economy is about 25 percent, hence adding up to an overall 70 percent of GDP," stated Khalid Ali. “A new era started in 2016 when Albatha decided to merge the distribution house in KSA with Gulf International, to offer a plethora of solutions to their business partners in KSA. Gulf International's prestigious portfolio and their effulgent record of accomplishments has enamored blue chip power brands, such as American Garden, Diamond foil which are among many who have come on board,” he added.

Gulf International assesses the success based on three indices, which are price, brand, and quality index, said Khalid Ali. "We work with our business partners to form strategies based on these indices to maximize customer satisfaction and foster increased market share through 'One window solution for GCC'. Through this strategy, we help brands extend their reach into the GCC region and engage target customers. Gulf International has harnessed the skills and capabilities of its employees over the last decade to equip them with the right skills to overcome the new challenges in the face of changing times. This prowess of vast knowledge pool helps in understanding the pulse of the region and gives logical and incisive advice to our brand partners."

Our company has scrupulous principles in empowering, nurturing and rewarding human capital, added Khalid Ali. "In addition, I believe in empowering and grooming leaders by providing them with a working environment where they can be fearless and have latitude. I am a firm believer of recognizing and rewarding excellence, in order to motivate our employees to work towards the next challenge. At Gulf International, we believe in equal employment opportunities for everyone and value addition. Therefore, in KSA, special individuals who have certain impairments or disabilities are warmly accepted into our training programs and their talents and work ethic celebrated and channeled to be in confluence with achieving corporate success. We have 15 special employees working with us, and in our day and age I feel that impairment should not be a deciding factor, but the talent and capabilities of an individual should be recognized."

Gulf International distributes a wide array of lucrative brands which are household staples. Johnson & Johnson, Henkel, Lindt & Sprungli, Carnation Evaporated Milk, Hero Jam and Hero Baby, Yardley London, Al Areesh, Arctic Gold, Koki Frozen Foods, Old Spice, Parker, Sun quick & Sun top, Ovaltine, Del Monte, Isostar, Home Pride, Bee Natural, AG Barr-Irn Bru, Jomara Dates (Bateel), Crème 21, Belo, and many more.

"In Saudi Arabia, the brands we distribute are Star, Glenda, Amara, American Garden, Diamond Foil, Dalda, Minara, Hi-Tea, Mamee, Dawaat, Al Areesh, Artic Gold and Koki Frozen Foods. These brands have remained favorites in the market due to continuous innovation, product development, category placement and passion from our team so they can pave way into the consumer's hearts. The process of introducing new items consists of many phases including consumer demand, shopping trends and behaviors, need and acceptance within the category with a defined market strategy. Gulf International always stresses on creating products based on the need of consumers to our brand partners, especially as buying behavior is more influenced by frugality and essential buying currently."

"We have witnessed an increase in market share of our products even for the declining categories. Gulf International gives brands better penetration across all channels, which have increased their brand equity. This is evident through a constant increase in its market shares as well. As we near towards 2020, Gulf International and our brand partners are fully equipped with the required resources to cater to the HoReca sector. Our aim is to also expand our reach in Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain" he said.

On the future trends in the distribution industry Khalid Ali said, "I always advocate that the rapid technological advancements in the distribution and retail business models will compel industry leaders such as us to adapt with these changing business trends. The advent of online retail corporate giants in the region has been an ample manifestation of the statement. Therefore to further cement our market share we take heed of the latest business solutions ahead of the competition in the best interest of our business partners.” — SG