Delivery man

After turning around Spinneys Jordan, HBG Holdings’ managing director Zulficaar Hydari is feeling bullish about prospects for regional distribution firms.

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By  Alicia Buller Published  March 19, 2006

|~|H.B-200.jpg|~|KEEPING IT IN THE FAMILY: Hydari was appointed managing director of HBG Holdings by his father two years ago, and is now looking to develop the distribution business into a regional powerhouse.|~|After turning around Spinneys Jordan, HBG Holdings’ managing director Zulficaar Hydari is feeling bullish about prospects for regional distribution firms. He tells Alicia Buller about his plans to list the company on the stock market and take advantage of a trend towards consolidation. Zulficaar Hydari is a name that you might not know — just yet. But this could be set to change over the course of the next few years. The chirpy British-born Pakistani is full of beans, and is currently managing director of HBG Holdings — one of the region’s largest food distributors. The firm, which represents well-known brands such as Kellogg’s, Wrigley, Heinz, Kraft Foods, Chupa Chups and Lindt, turned over US$40 million last year. Imtiaz Hydari, Zulficaar’s father and the FMCG company’s CEO, appointed his son as managing director of the organisation two years ago. A big honour, indeed. However, when pressed as to what exactly the letters HBG stand for, young Hydari isn’t quite sure. “High Business Growth?” he jokes. But what’s in a name anyway? The managing director has big plans for HBG Holdings − high business growth included. In 2005, his firm managed to single-handedly rescue the ailing Spinneys Jordan business, one of the region’s largest logistics companies. Following a major restructuring programme and a significant cash injection by HBG, the fortunes of the firm have improved significantly. Annual sales are now projected to rise to US$70 million in the next three years, compared to approximately US$23 million in 2003. Hydari’s organisation acquired the company immediately after establishing itself around two years ago — and has subsequently renamed the company HBG Spinneys after making its positive mark. Throughout 2006, Hydari is set to mastermind more coups. He is planning an IPO in Jordan soon for the Spinneys business, now that the firm is back on its feet. What’s more, Hydari is also musing over potential investments in the niche logistics business between Dubai and Pakistan, and Dubai and India — in addition to more deals and tie-ups in the UAE and the Gulf. “I’m an entrepreneur with family contacts across the Middle East, so there is huge potential,” Hydari says, eyes bright and hands waving. “It’s good to be where the action is not yet saturated. Life happens a lot faster here [Dubai]. I was sceptical when I first got here as to whether or not it could be a success but the UAE’s location offers the chance to meet so many people and do so many deals.” At times Hydari’s approach is bullish. “We’re continuing to develop the business across the region — and, while it requires experience, it’s certainly not brain surgery.” But he peppers his rhetoric with just enough self-deprecation: “FMCG is an easy-ish job — but that’s because people already want the goods and it’s our job to ensure they get them. Hence we saw a big opportunity in Spinneys Jordan. The demand was there, but the logistics processes weren’t,” he adds. While food in general is a very stable industry, it’s still fragmented across the Middle East. But, according to Hydari, all it takes to get a strong handle on the market is a little determination. “There’s still so much room for acquisition — but you’ve got to have the ambition needed to do it.” And judging by the Hydari’s fervour, there’s more than enough of that to go round. “I couldn’t do something that I don’t love,” he says, “I believe that you’ve got to do whatever you do with passion — otherwise it’s a drag. Life’s too short. If you do the thing you love, then success always follows.” Hydari is just gearing up for the fun. “In 2006, we’re looking to merge with a major new distribution company. We’re principally into distribution services, which is why we won’t compete with Carrefour, for example. You’ve got to know your strengths and stick to them. However, we would consider retailing products — in time,” he says. “Often what people don’t realise is that if a product shelf is empty in a retail store, the blame lies with the distributor — it’s not usually the merchandiser’s fault. Distribution is a science and a very specialised one at that.” It’s clear that Hydari finds it difficult to hide his excitement about the coming months — the young entrepreneur taps his fingers as we speak. What’s even clearer is that the managing director’s end goal is ultimately fixed on consolidation. “It’s all about building up relationships in this business. You get to know each other’s families. Then you take it to the next stage — the public market (IPOs). It’s the next step towards regional consolidation,” he says. “Culturally, we haven’t been very open to joining together — it’s been ‘Joe Bloggs and his sons’ for years and years.But a change is coming.” To this end, HBG Holdings is looking to join hands with complementary businesses across the Gulf and further afield. “It’s a huge market, but it’s also very hard work — so you’ve got to be careful. In the second half of 2006, we might tackle either China or India. So far, in the Levant, the GCC and Pakistan, I’ve seen that you really need to know what you’re doing. You can lose a lot of money very quickly,” he warns. That said, HBG has shown that it is more than willing to take risks. Only last year, the firm signed a major deal with Young’s, one of the largest food companies in Pakistan. “Under the terms of this agreement, HBG will exclusively market and distribute the company’s mayonnaise, chicken, sandwich spreads and honey, along with its oriental sauces from the South East and a wide variety of exotic pickles, across the UAE, Oman, Jordan and Qatar,” confirmed a release issued at the time. Hydari says that he originally came to the Middle East two years ago in “search of adventure” — he certainly found that, and more, in the kind of risks that HBG is currently undertaking. “We want to team up with others to make some big steps — that’s the core of our strategy for the coming year. It’s called ‘plan ten’ because it’s until 2010. But we’re now able to fast-forward our flotation — which was originally set for 2010, now it’s 2009.” With all this activity, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the managing director lived a life of all work and no play. But surprisingly he says that he still has time to pursue leisure interests, as well as keeping his nose very much to the grindstone. No mean feat — but when he says that he recently employed his own personal development coach, the pieces fall into place. Hydari is a man who wants to squeeze every drip out of life, in the nicest possible way. “Initially my wife offered to be my personal development coach — she would have loved the opportunity to order me around, “ he jokes. “Where are you, Zulficaar?” he adds teasingly. Husbands across the globe can breathe a communal sigh of relief. Hydari reveals that he eventually sealed the deal with a professional, non-marital coach. “I am very much into personal development, I feel that I’ve still got a lot to do with my life. I want to learn to play golf, I want to travel and I want to write. My coach helps me to find the time to run a business as well as pursue my other dreams.” It comes as no surprise then that Hydari doesn’t plan to retire — ever. “I believe the term retirement is a man-made concept. I like to do different stuff. Currently I’m writing a case study in order to teach students on the MBA Cranfield course. I love giving to people. Retire? Me? Forget it!” And, with that, he’s off.||**||

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