Alex Andarakis is in a genial mood. This is somewhat surprising, considering he’s just arrived in Dubai after a delayed flight from Riyadh, and is already running late for his next meeting with a major new client. But then again, the Australian has never been satisfied with taking life slowly.
2012 marks the 20th anniversary of Andarakis’ arrival in the UAE, and in those two decades he has compiled a CV that is the envy of most expats. From Emaar Properties to Aujan Industries, and from Al Islami Foods to Omniyat Properties, the man who calls himself first and foremost a marketeer has left an indelible imprint on some of the Gulf’s top blue chips.
Two years ago, however, he decided to invest all his experience — and a sizeable sum of capital — into creating his own management consultancy. Today, 21 months in, Andarakis Advisory Services has had 200 discrete jobs, counts 21 clients around the Middle East and South Asia as dedicated clients and provides a portfolio of services, including everything from corporate strategy to marketing, brand strategy and corporate identity.
So what keeps him going?
“I want to get to maximum potential,” Andarakis says, smiling. “That was what drove this decision. Can I do this on my own? When I was interviewed by Arabian Business a few years ago, I was asked what were my key drivers? My own personal mission in life is freedom — and I define freedom as personal, professional and financial.
“Part of that is being able to impart my own management philosophy and ideas, as well as learning from others as you go along,” he adds. “The beauty of it was that although, yes, there is a global financial crisis, I had the backing of my family, I had financial freedom, and I could afford to do this an experiment.”
There’s no doubt that Andarakis’ experience at the sharp end of the Gulf’s best-known firms has helped him along his way. After Unilever shipped him out from Australia to look after marketing for some of its top brands, he was poached by Saudi Arabia’s Aujan Industries, where he spent just shy of three years working on the transformation of a family-run, locally-focused soft drinks major into a regional giant.
Today, the fruits of Andarakis’ work with Aujan are there for all to see. Credited with the firm’s ‘555’ strategy — to achieve $500m worth of revenue with five brands in five years — Andarakis’ tenure at the firm is being seen as the first step on a road that culminated in Coca-Cola’s decision to take a $980m, 49 percent stake in Aujan in December last year.
“The company really caught the attention of the region — we went from being a sleeper company to a dynamic company,” he recalls. “All credit to the chairman of the company [Adel Aujan] — he made the investment and he took the gamble. He backed us 100 percent and at the end of the day, if you look at the business now, it’s verging on a billion-dollar company.
“A lot of people ask me what was the number-one thing you achieved during your time at Aujan? The greatest success is not what happened during my time as CEO, the greatest success is today. Because whatever we did during the time I was there, obviously the people were well-trained and developed, and my successors have done a great job in continuing that business, and the testament is there today.”
From Aujan, Andarakis returned to Dubai in 2007, taking on a role as executive director of sales and marketing for Emaar Properties, at a time when the mega-developer was in the midst of the local property explosion. Many executives would have found the move to a completely different sector somewhat daunting — but not Andarakis.
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