Looking back at 2019 – an interview with Ammar Alhassan, BMMI’s Deputy CEO and CFO
As the year ends, the Corporate Communications and CSR team sat down with BMMI’s Deputy CEO and CFO, Ammar Alhassan, to learn more about the Group’s highlights in 2019, his thoughts on the year and what we should look forward to in 2020.
How has the year 2019 been for the BMMI Group?
2019 has been quite a good year for BMMI considering the very difficult market conditions we’re operating in. Until the third quarter, the Group has been growing at a very healthy double-digit rate.
We’ve spent a lot of effort trying to consolidate our position, and we’ve focused on the profitable side of our business and on improving results. Throughout the year, we’ve taken decisions to exit unprofitable areas of the business, and this has resulted in us being in a fundamentally stronger position, for our individual businesses and the Group as a whole. Additionally, 2019 saw our hotel business continue to strengthen its market position, its performance tracked above last year, and budget by close to double digit performance once more. This also contributed to the Group’s results. Only Alosra at this time is tracking below budget due to a difficult market but also major road works in Saar. So, in summary, most our core businesses are delivering at, or above, expectations in 2019.
In our last interview with you, we focused on our New Moon digitisation project. Could you update us on this?
The key update when it comes to New Moon centres around E-commerce. We’ve taken the decision to separate E-commerce out and focus on it independently. We’ve already commenced implementation of new platforms in the next few months and we’re going to bolster our E-commerce structure centrally to create a stronger focus on it going forward. It is a really exciting area of business for us! E-commerce is growing at a very fast pace, much faster than our traditional businesses. By focusing on it more, we can grow even faster and create a really substantial and independent piece of business.
We’ve made quite a bit of progress and strides in E-commerce, and in terms of our other two New Moon focus areas, CRM and supply chain, at this stage we have a lot of things planned, so stay tuned for updates!
What are you most personally proud of in 2019?
I’m really proud of the team and how we all banded together in the face of all the challenges we encountered. I have seen great examples of team spirit and a constant focus on achievement and excellence. We’ve been able to deliver outstanding results, all considering. I think this comes down to a combination of our unique culture, empowerment of our people and leadership across the Group. To the team, I would like to say it’s really a job well done in 2019, and I had no doubt that they are capable of delivering these results. We have invested and put a lot at stake throughout the year, and we have not been let down by the team. This sense of mutual trust, accountability and performance, as well as the great results delivered by our people, are certainly seen very positively by senior management and our Board of Directors.
What are you most looking forward to in 2020?
We have several interesting projects happening in 2020 that I’m very excited about! This includes increasing our warehouse capacity and the evolution of our E-commerce business. I’m also very excited with the projects that are ongoing with GSS. We’ve acquired a Maintenance, Repair and Operations (MRO) contract and we’ve now started performing and submitting proposals under it. So, we’re looking forward to seeing some new business generated through that. At GSS, we’ve been quite good at retaining contracts and making sure that are ones we retain are more profitable. That also required lots of focus, team effort and excellent negotiation skills from the team – so I am very proud of that as well.
There’s also a lot going on in the digital space beyond the New Moon’s three focus areas. We’re continuously focusing on our digital capabilities and are looking at strengthening our core systems. There’s an upgrade now on our retail system GOLD, and we are planning to begin upgrading Oracle in 2020 as well. Robotic processes of automation is another area we’re going to be progressing more in 2020, following our successful piloting of it in finance. In 2019, we implemented automation in the accounts payable function in finance. The system now automatically enters all supplier invoices in Oracle, and for payments, it reconciles our accounts with the account of the supplier and generates the payment. Robotic automation such as this, takes away some of the admin responsibilities from our team so that they can focus their energies on other areas and further develop their job responsibilities.
We are now in a position to enter the year 2020 with cautious optimism and with a fundamentally stronger structure and team to support us grow. I look forward to the team continuing to strengthen our core capabilities, while also expanding them to meet the demands and advancements of technology and the modern world.
What do you think are some trends we will see in the business world in 2020?
I think what we’re seeing are strong trends in digital penetration in business. While some of that technology, like blockchain for example, is just starting to get introduced, there use-case scenarios in the banking industry. I think these emerging trends will have a profound effect on business, including artificial intelligence, process automation and machine learning. I believe that these capabilities will all have a big impact eventually, but that they are not cost effective to implement yet at this stage. But with time, we will be seeing them slowly introduced more and more into business.
Another very strong trend I’m seeing is the trend of sustainability. I think going forward, businesses will be either rewarded or penalised for their commitment to sustainability. Another trend we can see these days that customers are much better informed than they were in the past. Businesses need to adapt to the new reality of today’s customers. We need to continuously push ourselves to push ahead of the curve and continue being relevant to our customers. That’s why more than ever, as a BMMI team, we have to continue winning the hearts and minds of our customers through our exceptional service.