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Jacques Jean Sarraf

Chairman & CEO, Malia Group

Gaby Tamer

President, G. Tamer Holding

What have been your milestones in recent years? JACQUES JEAN SARRAF Malia Group has operations in six sectors, which include industry, consumer goods distribution, fashion and luxury, engineering and contracting, […]

What have been your milestones in recent years?

JACQUES JEAN SARRAF Malia Group has operations in six sectors, which include industry, consumer goods distribution, fashion and luxury, engineering and contracting, hospitality, and real estate. The group encompasses 22 legal entities, and we have a direct presence in the Levant countries, Algeria, and, soon, in the UAE. This diversification in territory and sector is in accordance with our 10-year road map, which began in 2003. In terms of territory, our plan was to begin with countries that were one hour away from our base in Beirut and that covered Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Egypt. In the second phase of our roll out, we decided to launch operations in territories two hours away from Beirut and, then, three hours flight away, and that includes the Gulf and Algeria. A major milestone has also been our growth in Iraq and the Kurdistan region in the north, both of which are key markets. As a rule, we are looking for opportunities to invest where the returns are high, and we are looking for opportunities.

GABY TAMER We now have a strong business outside Lebanon. Our Paris office takes care of our cosmetics business, with some products manufactured there and in Germany, and that’s where our R&D facilities are as well. Our industries and exports are all doing very well. The Lebanese central bank extended long-term credit to businesses to develop their machinery and industry and promote exports, and this helped us a lot. We were able to acquire the best machinery and equipment and our exports tripled. Many Arab companies love Lebanese products, especially food, wine, cosmetics, fashion, and plastics. So we’ve done well. Now we are well established in Iraq, where we have our offices in Erbil, as well as in Turkey.

Have your operations in Lebanon been affected by the crisis in Syria?

JJS Our operations in Lebanon have been slightly affected in certain areas, but we have managed to remain solid as a company. Our operations in Syria have shifted from direct distribution of some brands to supplying personal care and pharmaceutical products to one of the leading distributors in the country.

What are your biggest markets?

GT The Gulf, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and the Ivory Coast are all major markets, and there are many Lebanese people in those countries as well, so there is a little sentimentality attached to our products. Lebanon is also emerging more and more as a hub for US, French, and German companies that enter the Middle East through Lebanon. Lebanon has the right human resources for them, the right skilled people, and the necessary language skills. Compared to other countries, where it is hard to communicate in any language other than the native one, you find that Lebanon has a major advantage language wise. We have a lot of people who are fluent in three languages—Arabic, French, and English—and this serves us and Lebanon well.

Do you have any major plans for 2015?

JJS Yes, we have plans for Iraq. We recently signed a 25-year build, operate, transfer (BOT) agreement with the American University of Sulaimani to develop The Courtyard Sulaimani, which is a complex that includes branded restaurants, entertainment, and convenience stores. Moreover, we have a joint venture with a regional leader in logistics to establish Malia Logistics, which will cover all logistics concerns in Iraq as a first step. Then, there is the ceramic line, which is a state-of-the-art plant that produces ceramics located in the suburbs of Erbil on a strategic plot of land with an area of 137,500 sqm and access to gas and water.

GT We want to expand into Africa and North America; those are big potential markets for us to grow in, and we have the certification to expand there. We are preparing for a big exhibition in New York in Autumn 2014, organized with the American Lebanese Chamber of Commerce. It is a big and important market, so we want to enter with a bang.

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