Face-to-face: Nabil Al Alawi, CEO, AlMansooriby James Henderson on Feb 15, 2016
Just as I sit down with Nabil Al Alawi, the almost four decade veteran of the oil and gas industry and CEO of AlMansoori Specialized Engineering, one of his trusted managers – 14 serve under him across the business – politely interrupts, informing the boss that a customer has just paid a not insignificant sum for a contract that has recently been completed.
“Now we need to think about the next step,” muses Alawi. His employee agrees – “Yes, step by step,” he concurs, before making his exit.
Without prompting, Alawi says: “Trying to get money from clients can be like pulling teeth. The oil industry is going through a crisis, we’re seeing ups and downs. I’ve been in the oil industry since 1965, and I’ve seen the ups and downs, but this particular one is different. Nobody seems to know why [it is happening], and nobody knows how long it is going to last.
“That means there is insecurity, and when that happens there is a tendency to become very conservative, to keep as much as they can because nobody knows what is going to happen. Clients around the world are having cashflow problems, so trying to get payment after a job is done takes a lot of effort and energy. We spend a lot of our time being money collector instead of focussing our energy into making progress and concentrating on becoming better.”
It is confirmation of what everybody in the industry already knows – times are tough, particularly for service companies that have seen margins squeezed. And, Alawi tells me, it is not just payment that has become more difficult to collect, so have contracts.
“Everybody is looking at the bottom line, and when that happens it can be easy for companies to forget about what they actually require, which should be the best service possible.”
‘Service’ is a word that comes up time and again throughout the hour long conversation, and it is clear that Alawi is passionate about the idea of meeting and going beyond his customers’ expectations. And a one-size-fits-all approach is not going to cut the mustard in such a fiercely competitive market, he says.
“Delivering what a client wants is not just about meeting your contractual obligation,” he states. “It’s about understanding what is in the head of a client. You have to realise that an Indian client, for example, is going to have different expectations than an American client, in the same way there will be differences between a British client and an Arabic client.”
Alawi says that he impresses this approach on all of his employees, as he believes it will form unbreakable bonds with clients.
“Happy clients do not want to leave you. When a customer like this puts out a tender for work, they will get in touch and ask us what they should be including in the documents, so that there is no barrier for us to be awarded the work.”
Such relationships could be the difference between service companies that are competitive and those that fall by the wayside in these turbulent times. But while Alawi concedes that the industry is going through a ‘crisis’, he has perhaps surprisingly ambitious plans for 2016.
“We are proud to say that when an employee joins us, I want them to join for life. So when there is a downturn, most of the companies terminate the contracts of some of their employees. I have seen that in every downturn I have lived through, but I personally have never terminated an employee because of a downturn in the market. It costs me a lot of money to train staff, and I see my people as my assets, so that’s the last thing I want to do,” he comments.
“The downturn for me is a chance to reflect on how I am running my business, and how I can learn to become even more efficient and to be better - it is an opportunity. We’re going to hire 400 people in 2016, not cut staff, and we’re going to achieve double digit growth – I’ve already done my budget.