Q&A Hawre Daro Noori - CEO of Faruk Group Holding
As one of a resurgent Iraq’s leading conglomerates, Faruk Group Holding’s presence is felt in over a dozen sectors, none more iconic than its telecommunications arm Asiacell, which recently scored one of the Middle East’s biggest IPOs. The group’s CEO, Hawre Daro Noori, spoke with The Report Company about the autonomy it gives its subsidiaries, how it is entering the nascent Iraqi finance sector and future expansion opportunities.
The Report Company: As one of the largest conglomerates in Iraq, could you give us an overview of Faruk Group Holding today?
Hawre Daro Noori: First of all, we're very active in telecommunications where we're partners in Asiacell; our group manages Asiacell and we cover all of Iraq. We have heavily invested in the cement business, where we're expanding every year. Those two are our biggest sectors, but we have diversified through other projects where we see a lack of investment in Kurdistan and Iraq. All of our businesses are headquartered in Kurdistan but are intended for the rest of Iraq, we have a lot of investment in hospitality with our hotels and in healthcare with Iraq's largest private hospital, the Faruk Medical Centre that we're building in Sulaimaniya. We are investing in pharmaceuticals, we're building an IV solutions factory that will be online soon, we invest in other smaller industries such as one factory that supports Asiacell with tower making and we have construction companies.
TRC: When you look at new sectors, are you looking for areas where there is the greatest need for investment?
HDN: Absolutely, the Iraqi market is in need of almost everything, so targeting the business that would be the most successful comes from our experience on the ground here. For example, we recently went into insurance as Iraq had no active insurance companies. We're working to bring in international standards with our international partners. The banking sector is also suffering here so we decided to go into banking as well. We take advantage of our know-how in managing companies and being able to bring in qualified expats to Iraq that will contribute to establishing high-standard businesses.
TRC: To what extent is your move into banking and insurance a long-term vision? Are you expecting quick results?
HDN: Absolutely not, we started the insurance company a year back and we don't see any profits coming in for another three to four years when government regulations are put in place. For the banking sector, it's a bit different as all of our companies are suffering from the poor banking sector here. Asiacell operates across all 18 governorates and has 5,000 sales points, but every sale point has trouble getting to a bank and doing transactions. This is a very serious daily issue as banks are too small, they are not even able to take our money as the quantity is too great, they don't know what to do with it. Banks don't have an investment mentality and this creates a lot of problems for companies such as us.
TRC: Speaking of insurance, what types are you looking to get into?
HDN: We do all forms of insurance except for life. We do health insurance, general liabilities; we are re-insured by Zurich Re meaning that we are in touch with the rest of the world and not just a local company. But the environment and regulations here are not ready yet.
TRC: London is a major global centre for finance and insurance. Have you received any interest from UK companies to partner with you in these areas?
HDN: We have very positive relations with UK banks such as HSBC and Standard Chartered. International banks trust the ability of Faruk Group Holding and the companies we establish. We are trusted by international partners and we were able to secure financing through international banks.
TRC: Autonomy and decentralisation seems to be a hallmark of Faruk Group Holding companies.
HDN: Our business in Faruk Group Holding is business development; we provide the structure for our businesses to run and seek profits, so they handle their own finances and management. What we try to do is to bring synergy from our group to the companies so we don't intervene in day-to-day activities, but we take care of financial oversight and board decisions.
TRC: Let's talk about a few of your specific projects, such as the Lake Dukan tourism development.
HDN: We have been given the opportunity to develop the Lake Dukan project with Emaar. It's a very large and unique project in Kurdistan as this will be the first true big investment the region has seen in tourism. We are hoping to attract tourists from the rest of Iraq; this is not targeting international travellers. It would consist mainly of a downtown area on the lakefront, with bars, restaurants and hotels and around that there will be second home resorts for people from all over Iraq. I think we will be lucky if we can start by next year. There was an initial conceptual design but we need to develop a new master plan that is more commercially viable. The experience that we have locally means we can draw up a new master plan and try to get the best in terms of what the country needs for internal tourism.
TRC: If we look at the healthcare sector, what are you trying to do differently with the Faruk Medical Centre?
HDN: Faruk Medical Centre is a non-profit organisation that our chairman Faruk Mustafa Rasool wants to give back to the community. Iraq is suffering tremendously when it comes to health services, people are dying daily due to malpractice. There is a lack of good drugs, good equipment and correct procedures. We have a lot of people who have the ability to pay for these services by travelling abroad, so what we are doing is creating a state-of-the-art hospital that will provide private healthcare services for those who can pay and, with that, we will support the Faruk Foundation that provides health services to those unable to pay. We have a long-term vision for the hospital and we also want to create a large oncology centre that will treat the very high cancer rates in Iraq.
TRC: The cement sector is also a huge part of your business with your factories providing 25 percent of Iraq's cement needs. What are your goals for expansion in this sector?
HDN: We just signed an agreement for another 1.5m tons per year at a facility near Baziyan and we will soon be finalising another line for a further 2m tons a year in Baziyan. Iraq will need huge cement production for another 20 years; our consumption of cement per capita is still very low in the rest of Iraq.
TRC: Asiacell recently completed a hugely successful US$1.35 billion IPO. How are you looking to re-invest this money into expanding your services or infrastructure?
HDN: The expansion of Asiacell will not be carried out with the proceeds from the IPO. Asiacell is a very healthy company and we do very large capital expansions every year for our network. We're in the process of getting a 3G network license, which will require huge amounts of investment, but in terms of the IPO proceeds, we are investing them mostly in industry across the rest of Iraq. In terms of expansion, we are targeting the Iraqi market at large as the Kurdistan market is both small and saturated. We have about 70 percent of our customer base outside the KRG, which is similar to our market shares in cement and our other businesses. Asiacell has 10.5 million subscribers across Iraq, this represents about 37 percent of market share and we are the most profitable telecommunications company in Iraq.
TRC: What is your vision for Faruk Group Holding for the next ten years?
HDN: I see us being much more industrialised as our focus right now is on investing in industry. I would love to see more IPOs for our businesses, such as cement, as having shareholders helps every company provide more checks and balances, more standards, as you automatically become very transparent.