Face to Face: Khaled Al Huraimel, group CEO, Bee’ah
With increased investment and new ventures mushrooming, Sharjah-founded Bee’ah is shedding the perception that it’s all about waste management
Bee’ah has grown in stature over the last couple of years, and has made rapid strides since its inception eight years ago.
“Today we employ almost 7,000 people and are present across the UAE. When it comes to waste management we are the only fully integrated company that has achieved the highest landfill diversion rate in the Middle East — which is about 70%,” Bee’ah group CEO Khaled Al Huraimel tells fmME as we make our way to the large boardroom at the company’s Sharjah headquarters.
The company will be moving address, away from its Al Majaz Waterfront-facing location to a futuristic new HQ. Al Huraimel is eager to share progress updates of Bee’ah’s new Zaha Hadid designed strucutre, which was announced in 2015. Renders of the facility reveal its brilliance but Al Huraimel says there is plenty of substance in the detail. “Construction began late last year, we are now 40% complete and we expect approximately a year from now [it will be complete], around the last quarter of 2018. It’s iconic in so many ways, because it is one of the last projects designed by the late Zaha Hadid on which she worked herself,” he reveals.
Al Huraimel settles in the boardroom and explains how Bee’ah has successfully grown in the waste collection, distribution and management industry, which was a key directive for the company when it was founded. Building on that, Al Huraimel says the firm is now moving towards achieving its next goal — waste to energy generation.
“This year we started the construction of our waste to energy plant in a bid to achieve zero waste. So that is finally set in motion and the ground breaking was done earlier this year,” he says, adding that the initiative is a joint venture with Masdar — which has led to the creation of a new company called Emirates Waste to Energy Company. “This would also position us as the first city in the Middle East to achieve zero waste to landfill,” Al Huraimel adds.
“In terms of waste collection and street presence, recycling, resources and knowledge we are by far the leaders. In Dubai, we are in a lot of projects such as the Burj Khalifa, Dubai World Trade Centre, TECOM and a lot more contracts are coming through. In Abu Dhabi, we mobilised a big contract in the main downtown island. We have around 1,000 staff working in the capital,” he adds, indicating the company is on the cusp of winning more contracts and expanding its field of operation.
Al Huraimel also says that the company is now looking at transcending beyond the UAE into other GCC countries, starting with neighbouring Saudi Arabia and Oman. “In Saudi, we have signed an MoU with the public investment fund and we have already established branch offices in both the Kingdom and Oman. We are now in the process of putting resources in place and by 2018, we will have operations on the ground in these two countries.
“We are looking at expanding in two ways both geographically and through our services. Over the last two years, we have expanded within the UAE itself in a great way. Until now, most of the services and projects we have offered were waste management related but now we have begun offering consultancy services, looking at working more in air and water quality as well as technology,” he adds.
Al Huraimel says Bee’ah has always tried to reinforce its mission statement of improving the “overall quality of life” — clean air, roads, water and streets. And the firm has invested millions of dollars installing air quality monitoring stations across Sharjah, “and working with the Sharjah-based universities on how to improve the quality of air”, he says.
Summing up the prime objective, he says: “When Bee’ah was set up eight years ago, it was to tackle all environmental challenges, not just waste. Now in Sharjah we are almost at zero waste, we have almost solved the problem of waste in Sharjah. Now we are looking at recycling — we currently export a lot of the waste that we collect ourselves. This is about to change, we are building a few plants that will take care of this need.”
Similarly, Bee’ah is not opposed to the idea of importing waste. “There are definitely opportunities, with tyre recycling for example. We have one of the most advanced tyre recycling plants in the region that uses cryogen technology to process and recycle used tyres. Here, we have a very high capacity and could explore bringing tyres from our neighbouring emirates. Right now that doesn’t happen, but if it adds value to the economy and helps clean the environment, we will definitely take that step. In any case, we work with the UAE Ministry of Environment to explore options such as these,” Al Huraimel says.
He also reveals more details on the Emirates Waste to Energy Company and the goals it has set in place. “This partnership will see its first project in Sharjah with a capacity of approximately 300,000t of municipal solid waste as Phase 1 which will generate close to 35mW of power. There will be other phases that result in increased power generation in the future. We are also looking at other projects within the UAE and in the region in partnership with Masdar,” he informs.
The joint venture company will focus its resources on developing waste-to-energy plants across the region. Its first project is a multi-fuel waste-to-energy facility, which will be constructed within the site of Bee’ah’s existing Waste Management Centre in Sharjah. The signing and ground-breaking ceremony, which took place in May 2017, also saw the awarding of the engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) contract to CNIM, a French industrial engineering contractor and equipment manufacturer. CNIM will also operate the facility.
Al Huraimel says that Bee’ah will continue to seek new avenues for partnership. “In fact, Bee’ah has always believed in being at the forefront of partnerships and forging JVs. One of our first was Wekaya, a 50-50 joint venture company that manages medical waste collection and treatment. Recently, we also signed another joint venture to build the largest electronic waste recycling plant in the UAE. This project is a joint venture with Gulf Islamic Investment and Shurooq, and construction will start very soon. We are also looking at another JV for wood recycling and exploring other opportunities as well. We are always looking at expanding and opening up investment opportunities for people who want to enter into this sector,” he reveals.
The group CEO believes that the culture of creating partnerships and joint venture companies resonates with Bee’ah’s foundation as a company. He credits the success of the company to the seamless operation of the public private partnership model. “We have been successful in our business and I think one of the key reasons for this success is the structure of Bee’ah. We are a public private partnership company — 50% owned by the government — and this has allowed us to get a lot of government support. In addition, Bee’ah’s vision and objective is also being involved in the community. Regionally, when you cast an eye on the waste management vertical, public private partnership is a successful model,” he says.
The inflow of investment has allowed Bee’ah to make rapid strides in its development and services offered. And Al Huraimel says that Bee’ah has, in recent times, garnered interest from companies around the world. “We have always looked at other countries that have led in this sector. Several years ago we signed an agreement with the government of Netherlands; we also signed with Novo Scotia, Canada which is considered the most advanced in waste management in North America. We have done a lot of good benchmarking.
“But interestingly, Bee’ah’s expertise is now sought after. Over the last eight years, we have gained a lot of valuable knowledge and understanding, and people from around the world are now coming to us. Sure, we have benchmarked our practices on some of the best globally, but our region is different in terms of consumption, weather patterns and population. Today, people seek to understand our best practices,” he informs.
Moving forward, the endeavour for the company is to “not stop there”, as Al Huraimel says the company has identified the importance of developing future leaders from an early stage.
A large part of Bee’ah’s operations, and the success of its initiatives, depends on community involvement. Al Huraimel says public co-operation is a must for Bee’ah to be able to achieve the wider objectives of a better quality of life. But it’s also an area that throws up interesting challenges. “A big department within Bee’ah today is the awareness and education department — we do a lot of outreach and education programmes. We have the Bee’ah school of environment programme, which targets all schools across Sharjah but we are also looking at communities and businesses. We do workshops and seminars throughout the year, and are highly involved in the community. When we enter a new neighbourhood in Sharjah, we have a team that goes house to house with an awareness kit in different languages. It’s a continuous process,” he notes.
He adds: “The UAE has given a lot to its people, whether its locals or the expat population, and we would like everyone to be part of making the environment a cleaner place. Yes, we do face challenges, and we do not strongly enforce or penalise people who don’t recycle. In many European and North American countries, citizens are fined for not segregating and recycling. We are, however, seeing a lot interest from the young population, they are supportive as we do a lot with schools. We need to get more support and generate interest with the older population.”
On the business front, Al Huraimel is more than satisfied with the support it has received. “We have got additional support from the government over the last few years. People are seeing the benefit of what we are trying to do and see the value that we are adding to the country. I see fewerchallenges from a business point of view because throughout the region there is growing demand and interest in this sector,” he says.
Over the last five years, Bee’ah has witnessed double digit growth, and moving to its new premises will make a strong statement of commitment.
In conclusion, Al Huraimel says: “The entire facility will be powered by 100% renewable energy and will fit the smart office space. It will help showcase the vision and dedication that’s rooted in our DNA. As mentioned earlier, it’s not about waste management alone, it’s about the quality of life and that includes many things.”