Across the Gulf, the business community is in rude health. Billions of dollars are flowing through the region, as governments diversify their nations' interests by ploughing oil revenues into developing economies, and Arab companies ride the crest of a wave, recording record profits and expanding at an unprecedented rate.
takes a look at some of those companies driving the economic rise of the region. In compiling our list of the ‘50 Most Admired', we looked for those companies demonstrating a set of distinctive values: Dynamic innovation, effective leadership, strong growth - both financially and geographically - and a firm commitment to breaking new ground in the Middle East and beyond.
We have examined in detail each sector, looking at both public and private companies. As you will see from the list, this has resulted in wide variety among our top 50. Some companies, such as second-placed Emirates Airline, make the list on the back of record growth and profits, year after year. Others, such as relatively small retailer The One, have impressed us with their forward-thinking management style and social responsibility.
We have had to restrict our choices exclusively to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Otherwise, our list would have run into the hundreds - another encouraging sign for the Middle East.
Not everyone will agree with our choices, and not everyone will agree with our rankings. The companies listed are our choice - they are the companies that make us proud to bear witness to the astonishing growth of the modern Middle East. Let the debate begin.
1. Kingdom Holding Company (KSA)
Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz's private holding company - the largest company in Saudi Arabia - continues to go from strength to strength. A diversified investment company, Kingdom's interests include banking, real estate, telecommunications, broadcasting and media, entertainment, hospitality, computers and electronics, agriculture, restaurants, upscale fashion, retailing, supermarkets, tourism, travel and automotive manufacturing.
The business's most high profile arm, however, is perhaps, Kingdom Hotels Investments (KHI), which is listed on the Dubai International Financial Exchange as well as the London stock exchange, and recently reported stunning preliminary financial results for 2006 - with revenues up 68% to US$99m, and gross profits climbing by 24% to US$14.3m.
KHI also boosted its portfolio of properties by 50% last year, and now holds 33 properties. The business also signed agreements to acquire and/or develop 11 hotels in nine territories in 2006.
Not content with simply sowing up the Saudi and Middle East markets, however, Prince Alwaleed has also proved himself a particularly canny operator on the international stage. His investments have included, among others, Amazon, AOL/Time Warner, Apple Computer, Boeing, Canary Wharf (London), Citigroup, Coca Cola, Compaq, Disneyland Paris, eBay, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, Ford, Hotel George V (Paris), Gillette, McDonald's, Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts, News Corporation, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Walt Disney, LBCI (Lebanese Broadcasting Company International), Danagas, and Samba Saudi American Bank.
2. Emirates Airline (UAE)
From Auckland to Amsterdam, everyone knows Emirates. The Dubai-based airline is one of the great success stories in aviation industry, not just in the Middle East, but also across the world. Indeed, despite only being established in 1985, the airline has over 300 awards under its belt, from all across the globe. And this year has been no exception. Emirates was the clear winner of the Best scheduled airline to the Middle East/Far East category at the prestigious
Globe Awards 2007, widely considered to be one of the UK's most important travel awards ceremonies.
Meanwhile, executives and business professionals in Germany honoured Emirates as the best airline to the Middle East and Africa for the fifth time in a row. In picking up the
award, Emirates scored top marks in in-flight catering, cabin crew, ground and handling services, and security - in short, every important facet held dear by discerning passengers.
2007 has already seen Emirates reap four awards in the US - best airline for first class at
's GT Tested awards for 2006; best first class in the world and best business class to the Middle East from
's readers; and best airline for flights to the Middle East in Executive Travel's 2006 Leading Edge awards readers' survey. Add to this Emirates' high-profile sponsorship agreements with top-level football, rugby, cricket and the F1 circuit - among others - and the airline is perhaps the Middle East's most recognised brand.
Finally, and as if to emphasise Emirates' rise, the airline will shortly take a prime piece of advertising space - reportedly worth close to US$3m a year - at London's Heathrow airport. A model Airbus A380 aircraft flying the carrier's colours will replace a model British Airways Concorde jet which has stood at the gateway to the airport for the past 16 years. The future, it seems, is red and white.
3. Gulf Finance House (Bahrain)
Banking & finance
Gulf Finance House (GFH) is strictly dedicated to the international Islamic banking industry. The company was established on October 16, 1999 in the Kingdom of Bahrain, as an Islamic investment bank, and has a paid-up capital of US$65m, as well as an authorised capital of US$150m. Last week, GFH outlined a new five-year growth strategy for the region - a plan that will surely build on GFH's outstanding progress over the last 12 months. Net profit for 2006 was up 51% to US$212m, and the bank's assets stood at US$1.5bn at the close of the year. The bank's average return on equity was 41%, while return on paid-up capital was almost 100%, and the board of directors was able to approve a dividend payout of US$159.5m - 75% of the stated value of the paid-up capital.
4. Emaar Properties (UAE)
In the Middle East's ever-changing skyline, there is one constant - the presence of one of the world's largest real estate companies, Emaar Properties. Listed on the Dubai Financial Market and part of the Dow Jones Arabia Titans Index, Emaar has several major real estate projects under various stages of development around the Middle East and beyond.
Its crown jewel is undoubtedly the under-construction US$20bn Burj Dubai Downtown development, which includes the Burj Dubai - which will be the tallest tower in the world when completed in 2008, and already has more floors than any other building on earth.
Further afield, the company has joint ventures and projects across the region covering India, Egypt, Turkey, Morocco, Bahrain, Syria, Jordan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. International projects include the Eighth Gate in Damascus - the city's first master planned community - and the creation of the US$26.6bn King Abdullah Economic City in Saudi Arabia. The project is a mixed use development covering 55 million square metres of greenfield land, with a 35 km shoreline close to the port city of Jeddah.
Last year the developer announced plans to expand into the retail sector with investments of over US$4bn to develop approximately 150 malls in the larger emerging markets of the Middle East, North Africa (MENA) and the Indian subcontinent. It has also diversified into other areas. It owns and manages Emrill, a joint venture with the UK-based Carillion, which provides property and facilities management services, holds 30% equity in Dubai Bank, and is the majority shareholder in Amlak Finance, one of the UAE's leading Islamic home financing companies.
Emaar has also made rapid strides internationally with the acquisition of America's ‘best builder', John Laing Homes, for US$1bn. The strategic move has firmly placed Emaar in the international spotlight, as has the company's agreement with Giorgio Armani to build and manage 10 Armani hotels and resorts across the world.
5. RAK Bank (UAE)
Banking & finance
The institution formerly known as the National Bank of Ras Al Khaimah has taken great strides since its inception in the late 1970s. Just seven years ago, the bank numbered 60 staff, and had a total asset value of US$136m. Fast-forward to 2007 and RAK Bank boasts 1500 employees, 250,000 customers UAE-wide, and total assets of US$2.5bn.
The credit card sector has proved particularly lucrative - RAK Bank's Titanium card has snatched 23% of the UAE card market in just 10 months. The astonishing results have been achieved through a combination of providing customer focused assets and liabilities products, while at the same time maintaining very high service quality standards within the bank. In recognition of this effort, RAK Bank was declared one of the best retail banks for service quality in 2006.
6. The Investment Dar (Kuwait)
The largest listed investment company in the Gulf, The Investment Dar (TID) truly roared onto the international scene last month when it took a stake in prestigious carmaker Aston Martin. A consortium including TID, led by ex-Benetton and BAR racing boss David Richards, acquired the carmaker from Ford for US$925m. Yet while this may have been the Kuwaiti business's most high-profile acquisition, TID already has subsidiaries in a series of industries, including finance, banking, real estate, and services including insurance, money collection and rating, logistics, research and consultancy and project management. The company also received the WIFIC Recognition Award at the 1st Annual World Islamic Finance & Investment Conference last month, reflecting TID's remarkable achievements in 2006. Last year, the company had assets under management worth US$15bn, total assets of US$3.7bn, and a net income of US$318m. Net profit was up 14% on 2005 - the 11th consecutive year in which profits have risen for the company.
7. SABIC (KSA)
Saudi Basic Industries Corp is a diversified manufacturing company, active in chemicals, industrial polymers, fertilizers and metals. It is the largest public company in Saudi Arabia listed on the Tadawul stock exchange, the Middle East's largest non-oil industrial company and was the highest ranked regional business on the
top 2000 companies list. SABIC is currently the world's second largest ethylene glycol producer (expected to take number one spot after the introduction of a series of new projects), the third largest polyethylene manufacturer, the fourth largest polyolefins manufacturer, and the sixth largest polypropylene manufacturer.
Based in Riyadh, it has interests in 17 affiliated companies which range from full ownership to significant partial participation. Additionally, SABIC Europe employs 2300 people and has two major manufacturing locations in Geleen in the Netherlands and Gelsenkirchen in Germany. Earlier this year, the European arm took over Huntsman plants in the UK at North Tees and Teeside.
8. Qatari Diar (Qatar)
Last week, Qatari Diar finally sealed the acquisition of the 13-acre Chelsea Barracks site in the heart of London. The company plans to build a combination of luxury apartments and affordable housing at the former home of the Queen's Guard - a project that will require sensitivity towards the past, as well as ambition for the future.
Fully owned by the Qatar Investment Authority, Qatari Diar was founded in 2005 to support the county's rapidly expanding economy and to provide structure and quality control for its real estate development projects.
Capitalised at US$1bn, the company currently has 18 projects underway, ranging from the new Doha Convention Centre and Tower, a significant new landmark on the capital's skyline, to the Ras Al-Hadd eco-tourism resort in Oman, and the giant Lusail project in Qatar.
It is also involved in affordable housing schemes through its joint venture partner, Barwa. The group's Barwa City project will house 40,000 people while the US$6.8bn Al Khor Barwa development will accommodate 60,000 residents over 5.5 million sq m.
In addition to reporting 2006 profits of US$124m, Barwa fought off tough competition to win the contract to build a 275,000 sq m urbanisation project on the Monte Carlo coastline that could be worth up to US$13bn.
9. Qatar Airways (Qatar)
Under the leadership of CEO Akbar Al Baker, Qatar Airways is widely recognised as one of the fastest growing airlines in the world. It already flies a modern fleet of aircraft to 71 destinations worldwide but recently filed a huge order with Airbus for 80 A350 XWB's.
It is one of only four airlines in the world with a ‘five star' ranking awarded by the independent industry-monitoring agency, and found its status further enhanced as it acted as the official airline of the 2006 Asian Games, held in Doha last December.
During the 2005/2006 financial year, the airline carried 6.3 million passengers. It is expected to carry over eight million during 2006/2007, when another seven routes will be launched.
10. Dar Al Arkan Real Estate Development Company (KSA)
Established in 1993, Dar Al Arkan Real Estate Development Company (DAAR) is one of the largest residential real estate developers in Saudi Arabia. Moreover, it has broken new ground financially, as well as on-site.
In February this year, a consortium of international banks announced the successful closing of a groundbreaking US$600m Sukuk on behalf of the company. The three-year issue, based on an Ijara structure, marked the first Sukuk issued by a Saudi corporate in the international capital markets.
The Sukuk was initially offered as a US$425m issue but was increased after a strong response from financial institutions in Europe, Southeast Asia and the GCC. The issue attracted close to $700m in subscriptions.
Dar Al Arkan aims to provide affordable, international standard housing solutions to middle income families across Saudi Arabia. It has been assigned a corporate rating of (A-) by Capital Intelligence, and was the first in the kingdom to achieve ISO9001 accreditation.
11. Al Jazeera English (Qatar)
After a sticky start, the 24-hour English-language news and current affairs TV channel has become an integral part of the Middle East media world.
Headquartered in Doha, and the sister channel of Al Jazeera Arabic TV, the station broadcasts factual programming including news features and analysis, documentaries, live debates, current affairs, business and sport.It aims to provide both a regional voice and a global perspective to a potential world audience of over one billion English speakers, but without an Anglo-American world perspective. Instead of being run under central command, news management rotates around broadcasting centres in Kuala Lumpur, Doha, London and Washington D.C.
The channel had expected to reach around 40 million households, but it far exceeded that launch target, reaching 80 million homes.
The channel is now one of the three biggest global English language 24-hour news channels, the other two being BBC World and US competitor CNN International.
12. Dubai World (UAE)
If ever a company put Dubai on the map as a 21st Century city, then Dubai World can surely lay claim to that title. Last week, Dubai World made waves when one of its subsidiaries, Nakheel, handed over the first phase of the world's largest waterfront development to investors. Yet Dubai Waterfront is just one of a series of stunning developments in the Nakheel portfolio, which features the iconic ‘Palm' and ‘World' projects.
A holding company that manages and supervises the portfolio of businesses and projects for Dubai Government, and works towards making Dubai a leading hub for the commerce and trading industry, Dubai World contributes to the rapid economic growth of Dubai across a wide range of strategic industry segments.
These range from Nakheel's unique real estate concepts, to DP World - now the third largest port operator in the world - to segments as diverse as investments, leisure and financial services.
13. Etihad Airways (UAE)
The national airline of the UAE, Etihad began commercial operations in November 2003, with an initial paid-up capital of US$135m. Since then, and using Abu Dhabi as its hub, the carrier has enjoyed extraordinary growth, quickly spreading its network across Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and North America.
In that time, the carrier has acquired 22 aircraft and will receive another 11 this year. Etihad now flies to 38 destinations, and aims to hit the 70-destination mark by 2010. This rapid expansion drive means that the airline will operate at a loss for the next three years, however Etihad's CEO, James Hogan, insists that the carrier will also aim to break even in 2010. Last year, the airline picked up two awards at the prestigious World Travel Awards - ‘World's Leading New Airline', and ‘World's Leading Flatbed Seat'.
14. NCB (KSA)
Banking & finance
At the beginning of this month, it was revealed that Saudi Arabia's National Commercial Bank would be increasing its paid-up capital to US$4bn from US$2.4bn through a 2:3 share issue. The issue of 600 million shares worth US$2.67 each, will bring to 1.5 billion the number of issued shares, and marks another milestone for the Saudi giant.
The bank posted a US$1.7bn profit for 2006, an increase of over 25% on 2005, while total operating income grew 24% to US$2.5bn. The bank's assets had grown by 6.8% to US$41.5bn by the end of December that year, and shareholders' equity increased to US$6.4bn.
Not content to rest on its laurels, NCB has already begun shaping the future of banking in KSA. It has upgraded its online trading service with the introduction of the more reliable and user-friendly Tadawul Plus: clients can now place orders on the screen itself, create a basket of orders, and prices are automatically refreshed.
15. Etisalat (UAE)
When the UAE telecoms sector was liberalised last year with the emergence of du, industry experts asked whether Etisalat - which had previously enjoyed a 30-year monopoly - could deal with the competition. Several months later, and the government-run operator has more than answered its critics.
Since 2000, the company has invested over US$27m on improving its customer service levels and, while maintaining its huge market share at home, has embarked on a rapid expansion plan across the region.
Last year, Etisalat won the rights to develop Egypt's third mobile network in a deal worth US$2.9bn. It also has a 35% stake in Mobily, Saudi Arabia's second telco. As the winning bidder for Saudi Arabia's second GSM licence, it provides mobile services nationwide, breaking Saudi Telecom's monopoly in the wireless business. Etisalat has also continued to make its presence felt in Pakistan and West Africa, and is currently looking to take a major stake in Algeria's Algerie Telecom, worth up to US$3bn.
16. MTC (Kuwait)
The MTC Group is a pioneer in mobile telecommunications in the Middle East and on the African continent. The company was incorporated in 1983 in Kuwait as the region's first mobile operator and since the initiation of its ‘3x3x3' profitable expansion strategy in 2003, it has grown at an electrifying pace.
Now in six Middle Eastern and 14 sub-Saharan African countries with over 12,700 employees, MTC provides a comprehensive range of mobile voice and data services to over 27 million active individual and business customers.
The company already operates in Kuwait and Bahrain as MTC-Vodafone, in Jordan as Fastlink, in Iraq as MTC Atheer, in Lebanon as MTC touch, in Sudan as Mobitel and in 14 sub-Saharan countries in Africa as Celtel.
Next, MTC is expected to secure Saudi Arabia's third mobile phone licence with a bid of US$6.1bn. MTC's consortium, whose bid was the highest, is expected to fight off the six other qualified bidders. It is thought MTC will sell 40% of the new telco firm's shares in an IPO.
Reports earlier this month speculated that the business is set to double its profits for Q1 2007 to US$400m, suggesting that it is on target to reach its stated goals by the year 2011. It will then serve 70 million customers, attain a US$6bn EBITDA, and reach a market capitalisation of US$30bn - and in the process become one of the top 10 mobile operators in the world.
17. Aldar Properties (UAE)
Aldar Properties is a premier real estate development, management and investment company headquartered in Abu Dhabi. Last week, the company announced the latest in a series of grand projects that will shape the future of the emirate - a premium gated resort and residential development on the two islands located off the tip of Abu Dhabi's Western coast.
The current property portfolio includes major developments and re-developments within Abu Dhabi emirate, such as Yas Island (including the emirate's first Formula One track), the Central Market in Abu Dhabi, the Al Raha Beach Development in Sas Al Nahkel, Al Gurm Resort, Ferrari World, Al Mamoura (the Mubadala Development Company and Environment Agency Abu Dhabi Headquarter Building in Abu Dhabi), Al Jimi Mall Expansion in Al Ain and Jebel Hafeet Resort in Jebel Hafeet, Al Ain.
18. Dubai International Capital (UAE)
The international investment company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Dubai Holding, and manages an international portfolio of diverse assets that provide its stakeholders with value growth and strategic investments and relationships. This year, DIC has been in the news largely due to its offloading of DaimlerChrysler shares, and its sale of the UK-based Tussauds Group.
Both proved shrewd investments for DIC. The carmaker's shares lifted by 21% after CEO Sameer Al Ansari suggested last November that a sale was likely, and when DIC finally completed the sell-off, the shares were worth over 70% more than when the Dubai company bought them two years' previously. DIC bought The Tussauds Group for US$1.57bn in 2005, then sold it to Legoland owner Merlin Entertainments for US$2bn two years later.
Meanwhile, last year's high-profile international acquisitions included Doncasters Group Limited, a UK-based manufacturer of precision engineering components and systems for US$1.38bn; and Travelodge, the UK's leading budget hotel brand, for US$1.33bn.
DIC is also a substantial investor in the Middle East. Investments include Ishraq, a US$150m investment company that was formed to bring the Holiday Inn Express brand of hotels to the GCC countries, and MENA Infrastructure Fund, a US$500m fund targeting investment opportunities in infrastructure projects in the Middle East and North Africa region. In 2005, DIC launched Jordan Dubai Capital, a US$300m investment fund that targets private equity opportunities in the Jordanian economy.
DIC has also held the first closing of its US$2bn Global Strategic Equities fund. Commitments for the first close totalled US$1bn with a second close in early 2008.
19. Agility (Kuwait)
Rumours abound that the Kuwaiti logistics company is to buy an unnamed Australian business for up to US$100m within the next few weeks - and such a move would be typical of a company that has gone from global strength to strength. Already, Agility (formerly PWC) is a global provider of integrated supply chain solutions with more than 20,000 employees, 450 offices in 100 countries around the world and over US$4.5bn in annual revenue.
A publicly traded company, Agility offers its customers a personalised service and flexible solutions tailored to meet their individual needs. This is supported by a comprehensive network of warehousing facilities, transportation and freight management services, for clients spanning a range of industries from technology and retail to consumer products and oil and gas.
In addition, Agility has three specialised business units including defence & government services, project logistics, and fairs & events logistics.
Aside from the mooted Australian acquisition, the company is expected to seal three deals in China in the coming months as part of its Asia-Pacific expansion drive. Agility is hoping to hike its revenues to US$8bn by 2008.
20. Air Arabia (UAE)
Based in Sharjah and with a fleet of nine Airbus A320 aircraft, budget carrier Air Arabia serves 35 destinations across the Middle East, North Africa, Indian Subcontinent and Central Asia, including Afghanistan, Armenia, Bahrain, Egypt, India, Iran, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Nepal, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Sudan, Turkey and Yemen.
The carrier is modelled on leading American and European low-cost airlines and is customised to local preferences. Its main focus is to make air travel more convenient through internet bookings, and offering the lowest fares in the market without sacrificing on service or safety standards.
Such priorities appear to have served Air Arabia well. A US$700m initial public offering was one and half times oversubscribed, according to the carrier, and the shares, representing 55% of the airline's capital, will be listed on the Dubai Financial Market.
The company intends to use the proceeds from the offering, in addition to bank financing, to expand the size of its existing fleet from nine to at least 34 aircraft by 2016.
21. National Bank of Kuwait (Kuwait)
Banking & finance
The largest Kuwaiti bank announced net profits of US$221.5m during the first three months of 2007, compared to US$195m for the same period last year, an increase of 13%. The bank also reported a return on average assets of 3.2% and a return on average equity of 29.3% - the latest in a series of outstanding performances by both regional and international standards. The bank, which reported profits of US$876m for 2006, has branches in New York, London, Paris, Geneva, Beirut, Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Iraq, Jeddah, and Shanghai. It boasts capital resources of over US$2.2bn, and is ranked in the top 300 banks of the world.
22. RAK Ceramics (UAE)
The last year and the coming 12 months have been and will be huge for RAK Ceramics. Led by its charismatic CEO Dr Khater Massaad, or "Doctor" as he is affectionately known on the factory floor and in the office, the company is closing in fast on the world number one spot as the biggest ceramics manufacturer in the world and opened 10 new factories in 2006. It has put RAK on the map as a successful, low-cost, high-return business model. The surprising thing is that not many people know how big RAK Ceramics is. Its vast array of ceramic tiles, and huge variety of sanitaryware has transformed it into a US$400m global conglomerate exporting to over 135 countries with a distributable net profit of US$37.5m in 2006. 2008 will almost certainly be the year when its number one position is confirmed.
23. Investcorp (Bahrain)
Banking & finance
With over US$10bn in invested assets under management, the Bahraini financial powerhouse is one of the largest and most diversified investment companies in the GCC. This month the group - which usually targets Arab wealth for investments in the West - launched a US$1bn fund for Western investors. According to Reuters, the fund will invest in private equity and real estate in the West and comes in addition to its US$1bn fund for Gulf investments. In the second half of 2006, the company raised US$1.1bn from the sale of a number of companies including Swedish bedmaker Hilding Anders for US$1bn and healthcare group Harborside for US$275m.
24. MBC (KSA)
Nearly 16 years ago MBC became the first broadcaster to create a free to air 24-hour television network across the Arab world - and it hasn't looked back since. It has remained privately owned and controlled by the legendary chairman Sheikh Waleed Bin Ibrahim Al Brahim. In the past few years, it has continued to impress. On top of the four main channels are Al Arabiya, the highly respected 24-hour news channel, and MBC Action - which has won acclaim for winning the rights to series such as Lost and Prison Break. Over the past year MBC 2 has stolen many of the headlines by broadcasting several top Hollywood movies. A year earlier, it won the Arab broadcasting rights to the Live8 concert in London. Although also having made a hugely successful move into radio, MBC continues to impress mostly on television.
It recently has launched ‘On the Road', a reality TV show featuring four Arabs who make a 10 week journey across America.
25. Global Investment House (Kuwait)
Banking & finance
Through the shrewd management of Maha Al Ghunaim, one of the few female executives in the GCC, Kuwait's most recognised investment institution continues to lead the way in unearthing lucrative acquisitions. Global's private equity arm currently manages over US$1bn of funds and recently launched its Global Buyout Fund for investments in the MENA, Asia and Turkey. Last year the entire company's assets under management reached US$7.2bn.
26. Jazeera Airways (Kuwait)
Not to be outdone by the success of fellow budget airline, Air Arabia, Jazeera Airways - the region's first privately owned carrier - has continued its impressive growth well into 2007. Back in 2004, the company created a shareholder base of 36,000 in just 10 days with its upfront IPO on the Kuwaiti exchange. Today, one in every 25 Kuwaitis is a shareholder in the airline. According to the International Civil Aviation Organisation, passenger traffic in the Middle East is expected to grow annually by 6.4% until 2015. The real test for Jazeera will be how it battles for this growing customer base in an increasingly competitive budget market. With CEO Marwan Boodai - the man who launched 13 destinations in nine months - at the helm however, the company looks in good hands for ongoing future expansion.
27. Mashreqbank (UAE)
Banking & finance
While 2006 was a tough year for the region's banking sector, Mashreqbank came out fighting, achieving a net profit of US$428m. In the same year, the bank successfully closed a number of flagship transactions including a US$600m syndicated loan to Dubai International Capital and a US$60m facility for i2 Itsalat (no 41). Throughout its 36-year history, the bank has been a leader in innovation, launching a number of ‘firsts' in the region. Its latest pioneering move was the creation of the market's first ever unsecured overdraft facility for merchants against their point of sale. In simple terms, the service will boost the working capital for retail traders.
28. Julphar (UAE)
Julphar is the only pharmaceuticals company to make it onto the list and for good reason - its ambitions are massive. The UAE's Julphar, or Gulf Pharmaceutical Industries, will set up two new plants, Julphar eight and nine, by the end of this year in order to help take sales well over the US$600m mark over the next five years. The business says it is equally prepared to invest US$300m in foreign expansion plans, not only in the UAE, but also in Sudan, Morocco, Bangladesh and Afghanistan with emerging markets at the heart of its strategy, while a total of seven new plants will be built in the up and coming emirate Ras Al Khaimah.
Sheikh Faisal bin Saqr Al Qasimi, the company's chairman is also considering converting the business a holding company to diversify the business's investments and issue eight million shares to the country's pharmacists and physicians as an appreciation for their efforts.
29. Aujan Industries (KSA)
Powered by the innovative ‘555' strategy - to achieve US$500m in revenue with five brands in five years - Aujan has grown at 2.5 times the market rate over the last two years, doubling its annual turnover. The 102-year-old company behind the Rani, Barbican and Hani brands currently dominates the drinks manufacturing sector across the MENA region. The KSA-based group has also established itself as a major player in the burgeoning hospitality sector in South Africa. Aujan also owns and operates a number of resorts through its Rani International subsidiary. The company has continued to show impressive expansion on both fronts, rolling out a number of new drinks brands this year and investing heavily in new real estate developments. Last year Rani International invested US$204m in a pair of 30-storey towers in Dubai Business Bay.
30. Al Marai (KSA)
In the 30 years it has been in business Al Marai has become a leader in its field and the largest integrated dairy foods company in the world, with a reputation for quality that is unmatched within the Gulf countries in which it operates. Its figures are impressive with a 40% market share in the KSA and several other GCC dairy markets as well as acquiring Western Bakeries Company & International Bakeries Services. A little known fact is that Al Marai owns 50,000 cows, the biggest herd of cattle in the Kingdom with the board predicting a strong growth in sales and net profits for 2007 exceeding SAR600m (US$160m) and earnings per share to be more than SAR5.5 (US$1.5).
31. Metito (UAE)
A report by IIR Middle East predicts that the GCC needs to spend US$100bn in the next decade in desalination plants to provide enough fresh water for its population - good news for Metito, one of the largest water treatment specialists in the region. The group recently signed a lucrative contract with Palm Water to develop a wastewater treatment plant in International City, Dubai. The 50-year-old company has also set out a long term strategy to develop large water projects supporting the growth plans of rapidly emerging emirate, Ras Al Khaimah and is heavily involved in the development of waste water treatment - a cheaper water supply solution than desalination for the region.
32. Al Qudra Holding (UAE)
In Just two years, Abu Dhabi-based Al Qudra has grown into an investment empire with a market capital of over US$163m covering over 20 subsidiaries. With Salah Al Shamsi - the president of the GCC Chambers of Commerce and Industry - at the helm, the company benefits from the leadership qualities of one of the most prominent figures on the UAE business network. And also one of the most well connected. Earlier this year, the group extended its reach to Morocco by partnering three other major developers on the US$1.1bn master-planned real estate project in Marakesh.
33. National Projects Holding Company (Kuwait)
Winner of the Corporate Social Responsibility category at our recent Kuwait achievement awards, the company and its strong focus on CSR, has an exemplary record when it comes to giving something back to the community. The group's Dubai Recycling Park project is gearing up to play a major role in tackling the region's waste problems. Due for completion within 18 months, the US$150m site will measure 1.5 million sq ft and will become the first fully integrated waste management and recycling plant in the Middle East. National Projects Holding Company (NPHC) has structured, advised and participated in US$818m worth of transactions and is a strategic owner in the Mediterranean Investment Holding Company - a US$133m investment arm for property acquisitions in Libya.
34. Al Mazaya Holding Group (Kuwait)
Awarded top real estate company at the
Kuwait Awards last month, Al Mazaya is the developer behind a number of pioneering projects that have left a distinctive thumbprint on the region's skyline. Listed on the Kuwait Stock Exchange and the Dubai Financial Market, the group - that has a capital value of US$23m - looks to have a bright future as it expands its reach across the GCC. The company's projects include Global Tower, Al Roya Tower, Kuwait Business Town, Al Mazaya Villas, Mazaya Suites and Seven Zones all in Kuwait and the Indigo Icon Jumeirah Lake Towers, Healthcare City and Skygardens in Dubai.
35. Damas (UAE)
Damas is an institution in the Gulf. Seen as the number one destination for all things diamond-related the 90 year-old company, yes 90, is not only popular in its home markets but also across the world with a growing global empire. Damas India recently opened a 2300 sq ft store in Delhi's exclusive Gold Souk mall, its 12th outlet in the country. The store stocks high-end brands as well as the company's own labels and according to CEO Annagh Desai, the business intends to open another 16 outlets in the next financial year.
From a company with humble beginnings to an internationally based fashion jewellery network, the key to its success has been in creativity, inspirational leadership, a dedicated workforce and a lot of sincere hard work. The president of the company, Mohamed Taher Abdullah has been at the helm of the company for an incredible 62 years, while his sons Tawfique, Tawhid and Tamjid all share the responsibility of running and expanding Damas.
36. Aramex (UAE)
Having witnessed at first hand the rapid emergence of the GCC's logistics industry, 25-year old Aramex now covers over 12,000 offices spanning five continents, bringing together 40 express companies through its Global Distribution Alliance. Originally launched as an express wholesaler to US delivery companies, the group has since co-founded the Overseas Express Carriers network alongside Airborne Express.
This is an alliance of global express companies that functions as a worldwide network to compete with larger companies. Continuing its global expansion and diversification, Aramex announced plans last month to create a specialised warehouse facility in Dubai to target the perishables market.
37. Al Kharafi & Sons (Kuwait)
Worth around US$3.3bn Nasser Kharafi's family empire of businesses continues to impress and influence year on year with the latest addition to the conglomerate a 6.7% bite of US doughnut company Krispy Kreme.
Listed among the top 30 richest people in the world, Kharafi also continues to expand and build on his stable of franchise names that include Wimpy, Pizza Hut, TGI Fridays, Saint Cinnamon and Kentucky Fried Chicken. The group is also now a major player in engineering, construction and maintenance, focusing on petroleum, water, chemicals and power. On top of that it has contracts for a US$110m Beirut hotel, a US$200m golf and residential development in South Africa and a US$400m sewage plant in Kuwait.
38. Bank Muscat (Oman)
Banking & finance
With assets worth over US$7.7bn, Bank Muscat is the largest finance house in Oman by far with a strong presence in consumer, corporate, private and investment banking, asset management, and project finance and shows no signs of letting go of its market stranglehold. It has a network of over 90 branches in Oman and a representative office in Dubai, while it also holds a strategic stake in Centurion Bank of Punjab, a private sector bank in India, has set up Bank Muscat International (BMI), an independent banking entity in Bahrain and has just broken the Saudi market with its first branch in Riyadh.
39. Tamweel (UAE)
Banking & finance
Mortgage lender Tamweel is a leader in its field and with the extraordinary demand in the UAE property market showing no signs of dropping off any time soon, its rapid growth is set to follow a similar path.
Last week it took the innovative decision to allow foreign investors to own up to 40% of the business, from 21% and the maximum permitted by law, in order to expand its investor base, as well as approving a 20% shareholder dividend payout.
Its board also approved the issuance of US$300m of convertible sukuk and US$500m of non-convertible sukuk. According to Sheikh Khaled bin Zayed bin Saqer Al-Nehayan, chairman of Tamweel, the issuance of sukuks will allow the business to offer an "even wider range of products and services" to its clients across the UAE and wider region.
40. Kuwait Finance House (Kuwait)
Banking & finance
2007 has been the year Kuwait companies decided to spread their investment wings and back some great deals in growing markets with billions of dollars worth of petrodollars. And KFH has been no exception. The Islamic bank, celebrating its 30th year, has entered Turkey, China, Bahrain and Malaysia in various guises in the past 12 months as well as acquiring stakes in other Islamic banks. Its Sharia investment activities have also been widespread in the US, Europe, South East Asia and the Middle East contributing to ever-growing profit margins. Led by supremo Salman Younis, the recipient of the
achievement award for Islamic Finance, KFH is undobtedly going from strength to strength.
41. i2 (KSA)
The Saudi mobile phone provider i2 is one of the kingdom's biggest telecoms success stories and it continues to build on that success year after year. Over the last 12 months i2 has announced revenues of US$1.3bn for 2006, up from US$837m on 2005 and forecasted that revenues will double in 2007 to US$3.2bn; acquired computer retailer CompuMe through a share swap deal, making i2 the biggest provider of combined telecoms, digital electronics and IT products throughout the Middle East and Africa; announced plans to open an additional 150 retail outlets in the MENA region in the next three years with a total investment of US$35m; and launched i2 Logistics, a new handset services division which will offer customers warehousing and storage, customisation as well as repair and maintenance.
42. Saudi German Hospitals (KSA)
Saudi German Hospitals Group is considered the largest private healthcare company in the MENA region and is growing year on year, investing heavily in opening new hospitals and developing its existing health services. Not just an operator but also a healthcare developer the group builds its own hospitals using its own 1000 construction staff and finances its developments with the support of local government funding and bank financing. SGH Group opens at least one hospital every year and now has over 3000 employees rising at a rate of 16% a year. Its regional ambition is to design, finance, construct and operate 30 world-class hospitals by 2015, creating 50,000 jobs in the healthcare industry.
43. Savola Group (KSA
Despite its CEO resigning at the beginning of the month for personal reasons after 12 years at the company, the Savola success story continues unabated. The group is now one of the Kingdom's leading industrial companies supplying Saudi Arabia, the Middle East and North African countries with edible oils, sugar, fresh dairy products, and its restaurants serving fast foods. It also owns what is considered the largest retail food chain in the Middle East - the Azizia Panda supermarkets that are rapidly spreading across the region.
44. Qatar International Islamic Bank (Qatar)
Banking & finance
Rated as the top Qatari bank QIIB has an annual assets growth rate of 25%, local investments growth rate of 30%, an average deposits growth rate of 20%, and an average profit growth rate of 28%. QIIB's most recent achievement has been obtaining a licence from the Ministry of Trade & Commerce and Qatar Central Bank (QCB) for the incorporation of a stock Islamic fund with a capital of one billion Qatari riyals. The fund will specialise in the Qatari corporate shares. It will offer opportunities to investors to take part in the expected exceptional growth in the Qatari capital market.
45. Jumeirah International (UAE)
Through its exclusive five to seven-star landmark properties Jumeirah International has become a symbol of Dubai's rapid growth.
Its Burj Al Arab, Madinat, and Jumeirah beach residences have become industry benchmarks and are recognised by millions of tourists around the world, putting Dubai on the map. Its most recent achievement has been signing a letter of understanding to manage one of Palm Jumeirah's most prestigious and unique new beach front developments, while according to a spokeswoman, the group is looking to go that one step further and introduce an exclusive service that will "beat all other exclusive services" in the hospitality industry.
46. Alshaya Group (Kuwait)
The introduction of even more international brands, including Swedish fashion retailer H&M and UK high street chemist Boots, into the Gulf has earned the Alshaya Group its place in our most admired list.
The group's increasing diversity into other sectors including real estate, construction, hotels, multiple retailing, advertising and IT has also meant another great year for respected chairman Mohammed Al Shaya and his team.
47. Tameer (UAE)
The tremendous potential of the construction industry in the Gulf has seen Tameer's profile soar in recent years transforming it into one of the UAE's leading property developers.
With gross construction costs of US$11bn and focusing predominantly on the Gulf market, Tameer's name has become synonymous with innovation and elegance. The company has recently concluded a number of real estate deals with the government of Sharjah and is responsible for the epic Umm al Quwain project AlSalam City.
48. Abraaj Capital (UAE)
As one of the premier stars of the regional private equity industry with US$2bn worth of assets under management, Abraaj has invested in some of the fastest and growing businesses in the Middle East including Air Arabia (20). With the tagline ‘Investing in foresight' expect Abraaj to make even more inroads through its seven funds into some of the region's best businesses in 2008.
49. The One (UAE)
Over the last decade, CEO Thomas Lundgren - the man who calls himself Dr Funkenstein, master of the mix and chief emotional officer - has created a Middle Eastern furniture retail revolution. Opening its first store in Abu Dhabi in 1996, the company has since expanded its presence to Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Dubai and Sharjah. The One has received widespread praise for its commitment to CSR, picking up a number of accolades including the Retail City award for ‘making the world a better place'.
As well as the brand's involvement with several regional and international charities dedicated to challenged and abused children and the homeless, it also works to help integrate physically and mentally challenged young adults into the workplace by providing vocational training and employment.
50. Nayomi (KSA)
Nayomi, ‘soft' and ‘delicate' in Arabic, is a Saudi Arabian lingerie and nightwear company which, according to the business, offers international designs with an "oriental twist" but which has made huge gains in the retail sector.
Established in 1992 under the Kamal Osman Jamjoom Group, that represents Body Shop and the Early Learning Centre in the GCC, Nayomi now has 126 stores in 32 cities across the Gulf and fulfils the needs of the fashion conscious, but always maintaining the principal of value for money.
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