Khaled Al Mansoori, didn’t always have an interest in road safety and transport. But by reinventing Abu Dhabi’s part-state owned Emirates Driving Company (EDCAD), the 39-year old CEO’s ability to lead is turning heads.
“Have you seen our financials from last year?” he asks as we sit down to speak with him at his office in Abu Dhabi. “We’ve doubled our profits,” he says. Until 2016, EDCAD had doubled both revenues and net income. The smile Al Mansoori flashes during our interview tells us last year has been even better.
Largely sparse, Al Mansoori’s office at the company’s headquarter in Musaffah holds space for a UAE flag next to Al Mansoori’s chair and the walls are smattered with pictures of him with the most eminent of Emirati officials, as well as accolades he’s received during his five year tenure as CEO. It’s obvious that Mansoori is a man who doesn’t shy away from his achievements. An award from INSEAD recognising him as a trailblazing young CEO tells us we’re not the only ones to take note.
Al Mansoori attended the prestigious George Washington University before graduating from the Higher Colleges of Technology, then began his career at the UAE’s Department of Finance. Numerous successful projects later, he moved to the Department of Economic Development before catching the attention of an EDCAD board member who recruited him to try and revitalise the part state-owned driving centre.
Appointed as a business development director, Mansoori ruffled feathers early. “The previous CEO and I didn’t see eye to eye,” he says. “He had a very traditional way of doing things. But I saw things another way.”
Initially hesitant to name him the CEO, due to his youth, the board eventually relented. Five years later, Mansoori’s tenure as CEO has seen EDCAD go from strength to strength, and the company has grown to become the largest trainer of drivers in the country, over 120,000 each year.
Calm and collected, Al Mansoori’s demeanour belies a confidence in his ability that has been instrumental in delivering that growth because he doesn’t believe in just getting the job done. “So many factors have contributed to EDCAD’s growth,” he says. First, companies need to look at what they do through the eyes of their customers. “You have to simplify the customer journey, see what they want and how you can deliver on it better. There are many rules and regulations being shared with our customers in the driving instruction business that only complicate the trainings, so we chopped them out.”
That doesn’t mean EDC is cutting back on rigor. “If anything, our training is more intensive because we focus much more on safety,” he says. “What it means is that EDCAD can spend more time training on what is essential to best road practices.”
The other factor helping grow profitability has been cutting back on the layers of management and integration at EDCAD. “You don’t need seven layers of management to conduct operations, the same way you don’t need a factory to have a piece of bread. So we don’t need to manage a lot of the services such as maintenance and building management. They can be outsourced to be done at a much more competitive cost,” he says.
EDCAD currently employs 600 staff across its four branches in Abu Dhabi, most of them instructors. The rules in Abu Dhabi prevent it from raising training costs as a way to boost revenue. Instead, trimming down the company’s management structure has helped it devote its efforts, leveraging its unparalleled strength in driving safety instruction, to offer services to corporate clients with larger needs. The company counts clients such as Abu Dhabi Police, private schools across the country, as well as companies in specialised industries such as oil and gas including a number of international petroleum companies as well as the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.
These companies require drivers trained according to international standards of safety and defensive driving to off-road and manoeuvre around depots and rigs. “The oil and gas industry, for instance, requires staff trained to handle hazardous materials. Similarly, hospitals require ambulance drivers that know how to drive in traffic with emergency patients in the back.”
Training drivers in the UAE involves the unique challenge of instructing a mix cultures with different habits on how to co-exist on the roads at high speeds, says Al Mansoori. “South Asian expats don’t seem to want to follow the rules. Meanwhile the European expats follow the rules so literally they won’t brake if a car is about to hit them because ‘I’m in my lane’. There’s a lot of ‘re-wiring’ that needs to be done when training people here.”
However, since EDCAD has been in operation, Abu Dhabi’s driving-related accident and fatalities numbers have registered a sharp drop. Since 2000, when the company came into operation, until the end of 2017, the rate of accidents has fallen by 76 percent, and fatalities to 200 from 1,200; all this while the registered number of cars has increased more than five fold to well over a million.
Part of the success is undoubtedly due to an increase in fines levied last year, prompting drivers to be more careful. Al Mansoori insists the other factor is EDCAD’s standards. “You don’t need to ask if EDCAD delivers value to the public and the economy” says Al Mansoori. “We don’t make compromises on our curriculum or cut corners when it comes to safety. That is our biggest priority. And our clients trust us to deliver on that.”
Despite being based in Abu Dhabi, EDCAD’s success in full service solutions sees it attract Emiratis wanting licenses and companies looking to train their staff from across the UAE. The company also offers initial instruction through its subsidiary Qeyadah in the Northern Emirates including Ajman. However, developments which the CEO told us to look out for in the coming months could see it extend its full reach across the UAE.
“I’m sure it’s not what some of the other companies want,” he remarks with a laugh. “Their prices are very high [driving institutes outside of Abu Dhabi], which gives the impression that these companies are big. But we are the biggest in the world. And we don’t cut corners like the private companies, or try to maximise profitability at the customer’s expense. I’m seriously considering finalising a decision by this year,” he says.
Prospects for the future don’t end there. “We’ve also seen a lot of interest from beyond the UAE, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, and the feasibility reports are positive.” The rationale for growing into the two latter countries is the gap in demand and supply: “A lot of their drivers go to Europe and they need to be able to deliver the standards to follow the rules. They are understanding the value that such training brings to the economy and human training development,” he says.
Global expansion is, after all, the ambitious young CEO’s goal. “My dream is to have an international company,” he says. “Hopefully this year, if everything is aligned right, that will be able to happen.”
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