GCC demands personal approach, says coatings boss

Shake-up of regional strategy reaps dividends for AkzoNobel

Peter Tomlinson, managing director of AkzoNobel Middle East, at the Big 5 trade show in Dubai
Peter Tomlinson, managing director of AkzoNobel Middle East, at the Big 5 trade show in Dubai

A change in an approach to the way it sells to clients is beginning to pay dividends for paints and coatings giant AkzoNobel, according to the managing director of the firm's Middle East division, Peter Tomlinson.

Tomlinson, who has been with the firm since 2003, and regional director for the Middle East since 2010, said that a change in the company's approach in the Middle East has yielded noticeable results.

Although the company has annual revenues of $19bn and a global reach, it is only since it began a targeted service developing local relationships that it has gained real traction.

This strategy has secured projects like Muscat Airport, Salalah Airport, and Abu Dhabi’s Cleveland Clinic.

“In this marketplace, especially in construction, you’re dealing with architects or key contractors, and they don’t want to deal with five different divisions from the same company,” said Tomlinson.

“At the moment our turnover is measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars, rather than the multiples of that. The reality is we haven’t had as much focus as we’d have liked.”

The Omani airport contracts in particular have marked a breakthrough for the company: “It’s the first time we’ve supplied these fire protection products into the Omani market,” said Tomlinson.

“In this part of the world you really get big chunks of business, which is good and bad. If you get the project it’s really good, but if you miss out you can be locked out of a project for two or three years.”

He noted: “We’ve picked up some nice new contracts in Saudi with Aramco - we’ve taken a very good position with them in terms of supplying coatings.”

So the region can be very rewarding, says Tomlinson, but it is hard work. You need to work hard with the architects to get specified, and the contractors to meet their technical requirements.

“In Saudi Arabia the issue we have is just getting people on the ground. Historically, we have been based in Dammam, but now we’re opening an office in Riyadh and putting people into Jeddah as well, so that we can spread our footprint over the whole Kingdom,” said Tomlinson.

By contrast in Qatar, "they really don’t like the fact that you’d just be exporting products into Qatar, either from Saudi or from the UAE".

In response, AkzoNobel will be setting up its own legal entity in the next six months, to locally supply its contracts for the fire protection of Qatar's new National Museum, and various projects involving universities and hospitals.

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