The Hamriyah Free Zone headquarters.

The Hamriyah Free Zone headquarters.

Al Leem: Hamriyah's Man With A Vision

Over the last two years, Hamriyah Free Zone has posted phenomenal growth, opened its doors to leading companies and gained international recognition. Director general Rashid Al Leem shares the secret of its remarkable success with Shafquat Ali

May - June 2003

The numbers say it all. When Eng. Rashid Al Leem took over as director general of Hamriyah Free Zone in March 2000, there were only 78 companies. Today, there are nearly 300 from about 45 countries including Japan, Germany, Spain and the UK, with several more knocking on its doors. No mean achievement this considering that Hamriyah Free Zone has managed to remain largely unaffected by the fallout of September 11.

Quite remarkably, it went on to record a growth rate of around 40 per cent last year, which was considered to be a 'recessionary' year around the world. "We understand the global business environment and that is the main reason why we have been succeeding," explains Al Leem.

He goes on to elaborate that Hamriyah Free Zone has strived to meet international quality standards - first it won the ISO 9002 certification followed by the IS0 14001 certification, becoming the first free zone in the world to be thus certified and, more recently, it bagged the Century International Gold Quality Award for the year 2002, again the first free zone in the world to receive the prestigious award. Besides, it has also tried hard to be different from other free zones around the world. "Other than providing all the usual privileges and incentives free zones are known to offer like 100-percent ownership, zero taxation, 100-percent repatriation on the capital, etc., we are different in three things," points out Al Leem. "We look at the investor as a partner, we don't have a single dirham as hidden charges for the coming five years at least and, most importantly, we don't have fixed prices in terms of leasing the premises; what we have are tailormade deals to suit individual companies."

However, Al Leem stresses that he has a broader vision for Hamriyah Free Zone and is particular about the companies he wants to throw open its doors to. He is more interested in encouraging those who have quality projects and carry a branded name. Not surprising then that Hamriyah Free Zone boasts some big names like Indonesian heavy vehicle manufacturer Texmaco, which is setting up a 15,000-20,000 vehicles per annum factory; Indian engineering firm Larsen & Toubro, prefabricated steel structures maker Mammut Industries, UK multinational Anmaar Resources firm Specialty Chemicals, which will produce a range of textile chemicals; Italian evaporator and pipe fabricator Bellily, German firm Zosil and regional major Mohideen Woodworks.

"We don't want to go and lease our premises to anyone who wants to come in," reiterates Al Leem. "We are very selective and all applications have to go through an evaluation committee, where they are screened. However, I must add, that our committee is not just efficient but also very quick - if all the documents are in order, you can have your licence in less than 24 hours once the evaluation committee has cleared the application."

Hamriyah Free Zone has positioned itself for medium and heavy industries, with the accent on attracting manufacturers, and unlike several others that have lost track over time and been diverted into trading or warehousing and logistics support activities, it is heading in the right direction. "We have demarcated four distinct zones - petrochemicals, food processing, textiles and wood - indicating our potential growth areas, and the directions in which we intend to expand," he adds. "We would like to grow steadily with our focus being firmly on attracting industrial projects that add value to Hamriyah Free Zone, Sharjah and the federal economy."

Al Leem explains that the reason for setting up the zones is to enable those engaged in a particular field of endeavour to be with others in the same industry. "The important thing is for these companies to be speaking the same language - for instance, an oil professional will understand another who's talking about containing an oil spill, but those engaged in, say, the foodstuff industry will not make much of it," he says. Another reason for the designated zones is that the core industries will be able to generate downstream industries, thus boosting overall economic activity.

"We are about to complete the inner harbour project, which is a Dh75million project," he informs. "This will give us yet another edge as the inner harbour is designed to handle mid- and small-sized vessels that we believe will bring a lot of traffic for maritime industries." And, to Hamriyah Free Zone's credit, already 60 per cent of the land around the inner harbour has been leased. In addition, the free zone authorities have also launched an aggressive marketing campaign to bring further investment from the Indian subcontinent, Iran, South Africa, Australia and Europe. "Our vision is to be the most cost-effective industrial free zone in the Middle East," Al Leem emphasizes.

But looking beyond economics, another significant change that Al Leem has brought about is in the work culture. For starters, Hamriyah Free Zone is one of the few government organisations in the Gulf to work on Thursdays. "However, this doesn't apply to everyone," adds Al Leem, "but we make sure one or two people from every department report to work on Thursday just so that work can go on smoothly. This has been done also keeping in mind that since Saturday and Sunday are holidays the world over, we will stand to lose four days a week by completely shutting down our operation on Thursday as well."

"Flexi timing", as Al Leem puts, is another good example of how he is getting the best out of his staff. "In Ramadan, for instance, we are probably the only organisation in the Middle East with three reporting times," says Al Leem. "Muslims can report at 10.30am, non-Muslims can start as usual at 7.30am and those who have to take their kids to school can report at 8.30am."

He goes on to add that, as of now, Hamriyah Free Zone has two shifts or "flexi timings". "Even though normal working hours start at 7.30, I have allowed some staff, who have engagements at home, to start work an hour later so that everyone is relaxed when they report to work," he says. Al Leem also believes in imparting the right skills and training the staff from time to time so that the managers can become multiskilled.

A petroleum engineer by qualification, with 13 prior years of experience in American oil company Amoco, Al Leem says his background has stood him in good stead for his present job. "I started as plant operator and left as gas plant manager, having spent 13 years working in the refineries in the desert," he says. "As such, I am a very technical man and pay a lot of attention to detail."

Al Leem keeps drawing on his technical expertise from time to time. He cites the example of a tenant, who was facing a problem in laying an oil pipeline to the port, and he personally stepped in and devised a solution for him. "More than anything else, I enjoyed tackling the challenge posed at me at that time," he recounts.

Given his background, Al Leem adds that quality and safety are of utmost importance. "When I took over, one of the first things I told senior managers was about the importance of these two factors," he says. "Whatever the cost, I have asked my staff never to compromise on quality and safety. It will go a long way in projecting the right image to potential companies and making us one of the best free zones."

Aside from his professional role, a project Al Leem holds close to his heart is the private, non-profit Professionals Club he has started to impart his experience to students and instill leadership qualities in them. In addition, he is one of the board members of Sharjah Charity International and travels a lot for charity-related work. But that's not all. Multifaceted Al Leem is also a writer authorised by the federal government having written quite a few books in Arabic before coming out with his first work in English titled Inspirational Stories. Not having got my hands on a copy of the same, it is difficult to say whether the book will become a source of inspiration to others, but what we can certainly say is that Al Leem himself is quite an inspiration to those around him.

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