AMA Global’s Management Centre Europe spoke with His Excellency Tariq Al Wahedi, 46, CEO of Agthia, a leading United Arab Emirates food and beverage company based in Abu Dhabi, about his career path and how working with MCE has benefited the training of Agthia’s executives. Here are some excerpts:
Who is the man in the driver’s seat of Agthia? What is your business background?
Tariq Al Wahedi: I am an engineer who graduated from Tulsa University in Oklahoma. I started my career as a technical engineer in the Abu Dhabi Basic Industries Corp. and slowly moved into management roles in the oil and gas industries, moving up into managing projects. Then I moved to Senaat, the government holding company that owns 51% of Agthia, in 2006. Senaat acts as the main industrial arm of the Abu Dhabi government. The idea was to strategically develop basic industries, then move later into the secondary and tertiary sectors. Today Senaat has many verticals, such as cement, steel, metals, oil, and gas….
I joined Agthia in September 2015 as chief operating officer leading the manufacturing and supply chain operations of the group. In November 2016, I was appointed as acting executive vice president of agribusiness in addition to my COO responsibilities, before I was appointed CEO in July 2017. As an engineer by education, I’ve been able to apply my technical mindset and attention to detail to my role at Agthia—it’s this calculated, fact-based approach that has contributed towards my role….
Can you share with us the history of Agthia and how it has grown under your leadership?
TAW: The company was established in 1978 under the name Flour Mills and Animal Feed Company as Sheikh Zayed’s personal food security initiative. In 1990, a water company, Al Ain Mineral Water Company, was added to secure a source of water for the nation. Grand Mills and Al Ain Mineral Water Company became the main building blocks for Agthia.
In 2004, Agthia, under its current name, was established as a leading Abu Dhabi-based F&B group, headquartered in the UAE and listed on the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange (ADX). Since then we have been consistently building our market share in the UAE and have been acquiring operations in other countries in the region.
The first step for us was to expand in Egypt and open a factory. Turkey was next. Since 2015, we have opened plants in Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Kuwait. Recently, we have started manufacturing in Iraq as well. Our market cap is now about $800 million.
As CEO of Agthia, how do you see the position of your company today and in the future? What is the vision for the company now?
TAW: Our vision is to be the first choice for supplying quality products to the consumers. Everything we do here is to support healthy living. We are focusing on continuing our expansion and protecting our market share. Today, we are the leading player in many of the categories, such as flour, water, and animal feed, in the countries where we operate. Saudi Arabia is a major target for our expansion and Egypt is becoming interesting too.
How did you come to the vision to focus on developing the future leadership talent within your company? What were the goals that you set and how did you want to achieve them?
TAW: It all comes from changing the mindset within the company. We now want everyone to act and behave as an owner of the company. They then feel as if they’re personally invested, and levels of accountability start to hit the roof. It goes back to our culture and values. Since becoming CEO, I’ve really focused on this sense of ownership, because it leads to higher levels of motivation and engagement. It also leads to lower levels of inefficiency. Where we are today comes from the success of the whole team.
With this vision, you have selected Management Centre Europe (MCE) to work with your team and build a fully customized development program for future leaders. Why did you choose to go with MCE rather than anyone else?
TAW: It was a decision driven by the human capital team who went through an exercise of weighing all our criteria against other providers. MCE’s programs and skills were just how we saw ourselves engaging our employees. The company currently has a workforce of 4,500 employees and a human capital team of 80.
How did Agthia develop the solution with Management Centre Europe?
TAW: It’s crucial for us to enhance the skills and capabilities of our employees on multiple levels, whether as new entrants, midcareer, or for senior management. It’s now a big focus for the human capital team that we have developed. So we are running proper training programs for our junior employees, senior execs, and the same goes for management. We are also focusing on enhancing the skills of our sales team members who represent us in the market. We totally believe in training and growing our competencies.
What are the key learning priorities?
TAW: The priorities for me are setting the tone and changing the culture in line with what is happening in the market. All of us have to be agile and quick. We all take responsibility as leaders.
To get there, you have to train people and enhance their skills. Our aim is to develop a program that can enhance several skills, not just one. Specialization is important, of course, but everyone should have more than one skill, so they should be able to understand strategy, basic finance, and project management, as well as what their colleagues in the next office are doing. A program like the CEP (Career Enhancement Program) is crucial to enhance the skill of our employees, especially the younger ones. We are seeing some great results that are now coming out of the CEP graduates.
How did the initiative go? What did the participants get out of it? How did you measure those results?
TAW: For me, the measurement is when I see the graduates of these programs exercising more accountability and taking more of a leading role. You see them engaging in projects that are becoming more successful and leading them. We now have many graduates from the CEP program who are taking their first management positions. It is my duty to make sure that we have the next generation of talent ready to take on senior roles.
How does the team feel about having access to such programs? With the buildup to the graduate
ceremony for the Advanced Career Enhancement Program, what is the impact that you have seen on graduates?
TAW: We are seeing several of those CEP graduates in marketing and in finance. A good chunk of them are really starting to shine. Their skills are really coming out. They are becoming more vocal and taking more of a leading role. It’s exciting to see.
What about the impact on mid- and senior-level executives?
TAW: It is mainly happening at the mid-level and it has put them on a good career path for the next 10 or so years, as they continue to escalate up through the organization.
What do you think will be the impact of the development going into the future?
TAW: For our growth, it is really important to communicate the values of the company wherever we go. When we make acquisitions in other countries, we notice that the people we hire don’t necessarily share the same values and culture. They don’t have the skills to operate as an experienced Agthia employee. Our biggest task is to cascade our culture and values to the countries where we are now operating, such as Kuwait.
Moving into the future, what do you think would be the next big challenges for Agthia and its talents?
TAW: A program such as the CEP has a key role to play in developing the skills of our employees. It is quite easy to expand into many countries, but if the culture is not the same, that is when you start having problems.
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