From time to time, Faisal Al Muhaidib takes some time out of his busy day to gaze upon a sepia-tinged photo. It shows Masdar Building Materials warehouses in a district of Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh taken way back in 1975, just a few years after his grandfather Abdulkadir Abdul Mohsen Al Muhaidib started the company. As Masdar approaches its 50th anniversary, this ritual provides a moment of reflection on how far the business has come in the years since.
For although Faisal notes little has changed in terms of the company’s physical set-up, he recognises true changes have been made in terms of its attitude and approach to a world that relentlessly evolves around it. He knows well each shift and bump that Masdar has experienced, having been with the business for more than 20 of those 50 years. In 2001, he started work in its warehousing division, gradually working his way up to the position of CEO – a role he took on in 2019.
In an industry that Faisal describes as "very rigid", Masdar has consistently worked to deliver change. "Change within the product itself is very limited," he tells The CEO Magazine. "The big changes happen with the customers in mind: how do we deal with them? How do we interact with them? How do we provide suitable products and services to them?"
The needs of Masdar’s customers have transformed over the years, and so the company has done the same in order to stay relevant – an evolution that has gathered pace in recent years. "Before, I used to deal a lot with the end users themselves, who would come to the warehouse and buy things for their own houses," Faisal explains. "However, nowadays we see that a lot of the business is being done with the developers."
Adding further momentum to this already dynamic market, the pandemic hurtled onto the scene in early 2020, significantly impacting the way the company interacted with its customers not only in the short-term, but also into the future.
"The pandemic really opened our eyes to the fact that we need to be extremely efficient in terms of ecommerce, data analysis and cloud services," Faisal reflects. "Now the digitalisation of the whole process is a must, and COVID-19 has really surprised many industries where it has shown there is a lot of room to improve in terms of digitalisation.
"Now at Masdar, we have started to use deep digitisation to monitor our sales, segment our products, complete our range, know our customers, compare our price offerings and introduce new solutions."
The pandemic really opened our eyes to the fact that we need to be extremely efficient in terms of ecommerce, data analysis and cloud services.
Beyond this transactional capability, it’s also been important to enhance the company’s tech prowess on the product front, with its customers increasingly demanding more sophisticated options. "One of our business streams is the architectural hardware business, which is the door hardware business," Faisal explains. "Before, everything was mechanical. Now we see smart solutions, or let’s say the electro-mechanical hardware, becoming a very crucial part of the business."
Constant communication with customers as well as suppliers is essential for staying on top of these types of trends, according to Faisal. Before the pandemic struck, Masdar welcomed a steady flow of visitors to its showrooms. "Pre-COVID, our office was like an exhibition centre, where on a daily basis we would have our suppliers coming from outside to visit us with new products and services," he recalls.
But even though the nature of those interactions has had to adapt, Faisal places great emphasis on maintaining the sense of to and fro. "As the CEO, I am very close to them all – we are always in touch, we are always in contact, we are always on the phone, or I visit them and they come and visit us."
Many of its total tally of around 180 supplier partnerships date back to the time of his grandfather and his sons, with Faisal describing them as "generational relationships". Nurturing these deep bonds is just as critical for the future of Masdar as it is for the suppliers’ bottom line.
That is why the business goes to great lengths to share vital data with its suppliers, to help them understand the ups and downs in the performance of their products. "We will always inform our partners because the success of our suppliers is an important part of our business," he adds.
Masdar has long been at the forefront of the building materials sector in Saudi Arabia, operating 105 branches in 29 cities across the country. Its product range includes more than 80,000 units of long and flat steel, sawn timber and wooden sheets as well as decoratives, plumbing, electricals, adhesives, chemicals, tools, door hardware, insulation and more.
Another critical pillar of the business’s success is made up its people. "We strongly believe at Masdar that the strength of the company depends on the strength of the team itself," Faisal stresses. "If the team is strong, the company definitely will be strong. And if the team is successful, the company will also definitely be successful."
Having a firmly embedded vision and values provides the foundations for this positive culture, with the notion of integrity and unity playing a central role. "As a third-generation family business, integrity is big part of everything that we do."
The "rigidity" of the building materials business brings with it certain challenges when it comes to building a diverse team, however, putting off much of the younger talent required to keep the company moving forward. "If you look at the building materials industry within Saudi Arabia, the people working in it are not young – it’s not attracting the younger generation," Faisal points out.
To tackle this, he has strived to create an environment at Masdar to specifically appeal to the younger generations – a tactic that appears to be working. "If you visit our office, you would see that a lot of younger people are working with us – both men and women," he says proudly. "It is important because they bring new ideas. It’s also important that our customers can relate to our team members who are serving them."
Masdar Hardware has been catering to customers seeking ANSI and Euro-Profile hardware solutions since 1989. Its project department division (AHC) specialises in a wide range of door hardware including traditional mechanical door-opening solutions, computerised security hardware and fully connected wireless access control systems fitted by fully certified professionals.
This commitment to generating fresh ideas and staying at the forefront of the building materials industry is part of Masdar’s "entrepreneurial spirit", according to Faisal. "We always like trying new things. Sometimes we succeed, many times we fail. However, we continue to build entrepreneurship and instil the Founder’s mentality within the organisation itself," he insists.
"We have a lot of entrepreneurs within Masdar. Each of them is running his or her own small sector where they are trying to innovate how we display, how we sell, how we reach the customer, how we build our own database, how we analyse our own data."
Now, as the world emerges from the pandemic, Faisal is confident that Saudi Arabia is well-placed to prosper, thanks to its management of the crisis, strong young educated workforce, as well as the rising price of oil, which will work in the country’s favour. He believes the building materials market stands to benefit amid this era of "golden opportunity".
Customised fasteners also form a major pillar of Masdar’s business, working to the specific requirements of its customers. Its team of engineers coats fasteners in-house and then apply a "rigorous" quality control process. By testing all fabricated products, they can ascertain if they meet the international or desired standards and administer any necessary corrective actions in the manufacturing process.
Masdar also offers servicing of fasteners and is able to clean, cut, rethread, chamfer and heat-treat fasteners in its facilities.
"Vision 2030 is the vision of the Saudi Government led by King Salman and Prince Mohammed bin Salman where the government is moving to transform the whole country," he explains. "For us in the private sector, especially in building materials, we see that so many sectors are open. So, when you look at the horizon, I think the sky is the limit in Saudi for the building materials industry. We are very optimistic going forward."
On the agenda now, besides its ongoing digital push, is the unification of the business from three separate entities – Masdar Building Materials, Masdar Hardware and Masdar Technical Supplies – into one entity, Masdar. "This is one of the main crucial strategies that we as stakeholders are trying to implement," Faisal says.
Bringing it all together in this manner seems the perfect way to mark the company’s 50th anniversary, and is critical to drive the business forward in a way that Faisal’s grandfather would undoubtedly have been proud of. "We have been here for the past 50 years and we are very much looking forward to being here also for the next 50 years," he smiles.
Tesa Assa Abloy