Three Jordanian business owners have received the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award at a prestigious annual award ceremony organized by the global consultancy EY.
For over 30 years, the consultancy EY, which was previously known as Ernst and Young, has aimed to celebrate innovators and wealth creators through its Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Held across 145 cities and 60 countries, the prestigious events aim to celebrate the entrepreneurs that manage to stand out and make a difference while managing and operating successful businesses.
In November, the consultancy’s office in Jordan announced the names of six finalists that it thinks are transforming their respective industries, generating new economic opportunities, and raising standards of the Kingdom’s business scene. The finalists were assessed by an independent judging panel based on six criteria: entrepreneurial spirit, financial performance, strategic direction, innovation, global impact, and personal integrity/influence.
The winners were announced at a ceremony held in Amman in December. Osama Ali and Omar Ali of Petra Engineering Industries Co., a manufacturer of heating, ventilating and AC systems, snatched this year’s Entrepreneur of the Year award, and they will represent Jordan at the global EY World Entrepreneur of the Year award, which will be held in Monte Carlo in June 2018.
Hussam Hammo of Tamatem Inc. was named winner of the Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year award, while Laith Abu-Taleb, the founder of Waragami, was named winner of the Student Entrepreneur of the Year category.
Here is the three-part story of the three winners, their turning points and struggles, and why their companies stood out from the crowd.
Petra Engineering Industries Co.
When engineer Osama Ali established Petra Engineering in 1987, he was unaware the two main markets he was targeting at the time – Iraq and Kuwait – would soon be cut off because of the first Gulf War.
“We had trained staff and products, so we needed to look for a solution,” said Omar, Osama’s son, who is also the company’s director of operations. Because air conditioning was a relatively unknown in Jordan, Osama knew his only way of maintaining his business would be to export. That was when his focus shifted to the UAE.
But his plans went far beyond Jordan and the region. Osama eyed the US market believing it was key to the company’s growth. Although he had a long, arduous process ahead of him before he could venture into the US market, starting with proper due diligence, he was excited about the opportunity ahead.
“There were many things to think of and consider before we could start exporting to the United States. The US market is the biggest in the world for ACs but at the same time it is also home to the biggest AC companies in the world,” Omar said. “So we started displaying our products at specialized exhibitions in the mid-nineties with the purpose of getting feedback and learning from other products. People started telling us that we needed to do certain aspects in a different way, and that other aspects were not suitable for the US market, which is when we started to understand what they want.”
Right from the start, Osama believed the only way for them to compete was if they managed to provide an equal or higher value than what’s available in the market. “We couldn’t sell because there were established brands that have existed for a century, so why would anyone buy a product from Jordan or the Middle East which is not known for being a manufacturing or an engineering hub? If we wanted to stand out then we needed to do something at least as good or even better.”
The company finally got its big break in the early 2000s when it won a contract with Los Angeles International Airport to install AC units for one of its facilities. From there on they started making deals in New York, New Jersey, Florida, and Chicago.
Today, Petra Engineering employs 1,900 staff spread across Jordan and Saudi Arabia. To deliver high-end systems, the company trained Jordanian employees to design and manufacture from day one, as many of these workers were unfamiliar with AC units and how they operated. With the years, what they learned in the US market they applied across the board to systems designed and manufactured for the rest of the world.
One of the main problems the company has faced down the years has been the apparent lack of confidence potential clients have in Jordanian manufacturers to deliver. “The challenge is for people to trust in our products and to trust that we will be able to deliver on time,” Omar said.
Another challenge is managing to synchronize the whole manufacturing process which requires heavy investment. This process can sometimes be interrupted by the lack of suppliers of the needed parts in the region. “This is a totally different challenge that a company established in the United States, Europe or China won’t experience. They have the components, the credibility of delivering everything on time,” he explained.
Despite the challenges, Omar is particularly proud of the level of engineering they have managed to reach. “As products, we always develop and try to go further. If what’s available in the market has certain specifications, then we try to better them. And if a customer says they needed high efficiency, we can design the product to be more efficient than what’s in the market,” he stressed, adding that most of their customers are not looking for off the shelf or off a catalogue product.
With more than 60,000 projects across approximately 50 markets, the list of the company’s clients in the United States is long and includes NASA, the Empire State Building, Tesla, and hotel chains like Hilton and Hyatt. They also export to companies in South Africa and Asia, including Hyundai and Samsung. Their Gulf market remains an important one with their biggest customer in Saudi Arabia being Saudi Aramco.
To build on the company’s success, Omar said they wanted to continue growing the business in current and new markets and to have manufacturing basis in other regions, without specifying where they’re headed to next. What he is also adamant on is maintaining the company’s core value to be known as a premium designer and manufacturer of ACs, not as a mass producer. “We want to remain an engineering company not a commercial company that just wants to sell products and increase revenues. We want people to appreciate what we do,” Omar said.
He believes what has helped them grow and position the company at the forefront of the sector throughout the years is the way they maintain their relations with their customers.
“One of the main things that sets us apart is that we listen to our customers. We listen to what they want. There are many companies that say this is the product take it or leave it, but I want to meet our clients’ needs and try to exceed it.”
For Omar, winning the EY entrepreneurship award is a great achievement. “We value the recognition, although as a company we try to keep a low profile. At the same time for us to represent Jordan [at the global Entrepreneur of the Year award adds additional meaning to this endeavor.”
*This is the first of a three-part feature of EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.