As CEO of one of the UAE’s largest family-owned groups, Amna bin Hendi, at 27, has a lot on her plate. She spoke to Emirates Business about Bin Hendi Enterprises’ vast portfolio of brands and its plans for international expansion.
Generally upbeat about the group’s year ahead, Amna admitted the company faced the same challenges as the rest of Dubai’s hungry competitors – retaining talent and standing out in the crowd.
The Bin Hendi chief also said she feels immense pride representing her family and the Arab women in the world of business.
How has the group’s performance been over the past few years and what are your expectations for the future?
We are doing very well and the growth has been tremendously good.
We look forward to 2008 to record even better performance and growth than previous years. We have been experiencing an average growth of 15 to 20 per cent so far.
But this year we are looking at 40 per cent growth in our overall operations and revenues.
What makes you expect such a growth?
This year we are planning big expansions in our operations.
We have plans to open between 17 and 20 shops in the new Dubai Mall alone.
We will acquire new brands and we will roll out Showmax. In addition, we have just opened our own branded mall, Bin Hendi Avenue in Deira City Centre, which covers an area of 70,000 sqft and is a complete shopping destination with premium outlets ranging from fashion, accessories, jewellery and restaurants to cafés.
We are in the process of acquiring three new brands in the hospitality sector and more in retail.
Do you have plans to expand your brands beyond the UAE?
We are among the biggest and most diversified business enterprises in the UAE who started operations 33 years ago.
We have the exclusive distribution rights for 70 brands.
So yes, we have plans to expand and keep expanding.
Japengo Café has been performing very well in Dubai since its launch eight years ago.
Our new project is to franchise it in a new market – the US. This should be finalised before the end of this year.
What are the challenges you have been dealing with, heading such a big group?
The main challenge is to compete with the competition.
Everybody is in a race and tries to compete with each other.
We are a leading company in all of our sectors. Also we depend on real estate developers to build everything so that we can open our retail outlets on time.
We believe we have done well with such plans.
How does Bin Hendi differentiate itself from other competitors?
You will never have a group that is so diversified.
You name it and we have it – be it in real estate, exchange houses, federal exchanges, retail outlets, hospitality sector or media.
And it is not easy to handle a company with so many sections.
I believe three things are the most important in one’s life – food, shelter and clothing. And we cater to all the three.
You entered into the media sector a couple of years ago by launching City 7 TV. How is it going?
City 7 was the first local TV station to be launched by someone from the private sector in Dubai.
The only one that had been out there was Channel 33, but that was from the government sector.
Dubai and its economic boom needed a new TV station to expose everything that happens in the city to the millions of visitors the UAE receives annually.
Do you have plans to widen the coverage of the station beyond Dubai?
Yes, but it is early to reach any conclusion on such a plan.
We had to start from somewhere and Dubai was the best place to start from. It used to be NTV, which has undergone a complete rebranding.
How would you respond to people who claim the market is saturated and there are too many shops and malls?
There is still demand. It is a challenge for us to be everywhere.
If you are not there, you will be behind and when you are way behind, you may vanish.
What does it mean for you as an Arab woman to take on the challenge of being the CEO?
It is a great honour for me. Sometimes women can be much better than 10 men.
I joined the group in 2002 after I graduated from Zayed University with a BS in IT and business.
We had so many opportunities from the government and private sectors.
So I talked to my father and I asked him, why should I work for a stranger while my dad has such a big group?
So I worked in every division and learned gradually.
I found myself to be a people’s person and I took care of HR and progressed from there.
My strong personality has helped me to work in this field.
I always believe in fairness. We believe in quality, equality and fairness. We are fair to our staff.
How does your company retain talent?
Quality means dealing with quality people who are well qualified and who have experience.
Equality is equalising the quality between all our people.
The most difficult thing in Dubai is to get the right people in the right place and to retain talented people.
We have a lot of incentive schemes in the company that allow people to remain with us.
Two months ago, we honoured people who have been working for us for more than 15 years. If you are not a good company, people will not stay with you.
What are your plans with regard to regional operations?
We have started expanding into GCC countries.
We are opening two of our outlets in Kuwait and couple of new outlets within the next two years. We are already operating in India where we have Japengo, a multi-cuisine fusion restaurant and Hugo Boss.
Soon we will open Japengo in Oman.
How has your group coped with inflation and the dirham’s peg to the dollar? Do you expect people’s buying power to drop as more shops are being built?
We are like others in this situation. However, our come-buy-and-go consumers are mostly Russians and expatriates. This has not affected our sales. Honestly, we have not been affected.
How do you evaluate the advertising industry’s performance in the UAE?
We have a team who works in the marketing division.
We choose the right place for the right product. Look at our board on Sheikh Zayed Road that is a prime advertising spot.
We have all our principals’ fight for that spot.
The location reflects what you sell. And the lack of focus by many advertising agencies or clients will result in money being wasted on advertising with no significant effect.
There is so much competition.
So do you think the recent disclosed amount of Dh3.8 billion believed to have been spent on advertising in the UAE in 2007 is an exaggerated figure?
It is normal. Had it been below that number, I would still believe it was a big amount.
Advertising takes an important share in our budget and every dirham does count, so you must know how and where to spend it.
What special programmes or campaigns does Bin Hendi have in mind for the future?
We are working on a new loyalty programme for all our outlets and customers, which will be launched by the first quarter of this year.
It will be a loyalty card with lots of benefits, which will keep customers coming back to us.
Amna bin Hendi
CEO of Bin Hendi Enterprises
Amna bin Hendi began her university studies at the American University of Dubai’s School of Business and later transferred to Zayed University, where she graduated in 2002 with a BS in IT and business administration.
Bin Hendi worked for Dubai e-Government for three months before joining the family business, Bin Hendi Enterprises, in December 2002 as a vice-president for the HR and IT departments.
She was later promoted as senior vice-president for the department.
In 2007, Mohi-Din bin Hendi, her father and the group’s president, appointed Amna as the CEO of Bin Hendi Enterprises.
Bin Hendi aims for 40% growth this year