A Fine Insight

Fine Hygienic Holding’s goals for Jordan are similar to their own: growth, prosperity and success on an international level.

FINE HYGIENIC HOLDING’s products have long been a staple in every Jordanian home. With a deeply rooted commitment to enhance the wellbeing of its consumers, Fine Hygienic Holding (FHH) is expanding beyond products on an international scale. With their diverse business culture and enthusiasm for social responsibility through an expansive CSR portfolio, FHH is an unstoppable force in the industry.

CEO James Michael Lafferty holds numerous credentials, including Olympic coach, college professor and competitive athlete. He explains the importance of giving back, the first public-private sustainable development initiative and how Fine Hygienic Holding’s various initiatives are economically stimulating, especially for its home country, Jordan.

Fine Hygienic Holding has recently celebrated 60 years of business. What are some of the recent developments within the group?

Since its inception in 1958, Fine Hygienic Holding (FHH) has been a group dedicated to setting an example of innovation, forward-thinking and quality, in pursuit of fulfilling its vision of becoming the leading provider of high-quality hygienic paper products and solutions, and the realization of the group as “the shining star of the Arab FMCG business world.”

Recently, FHH has embraced a new corporate direction; we want to go beyond just products, and improve the lives of our consumers through wellness. Therefore, FHH has set its sights on further expansion in the Wellness industry through a number of planned strategic acquisitions. We have most recently acquired a major stake, valued at over $10 million, in a reputable Arabian natural food and beverage snack brand, based in Dubai – Nai Arabia Foods Co. – which specializes in the production of 100% natural, healthy, and affordable Arabian-inspired beverages.

This strategic step stems from our commitment towards enhancing the wellness of society. Despite all the technological advances in today’s society, people are not getting healthier; the obesity epidemic is growing unabated, and new diseases are constantly emerging. As the old saying goes, ‘If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything’. Therefore, we want to play a role in improving the lives of our consumers via products that improve individual wellness.

How did you get to FHH? Tell us about your own personal journey and how you landed here.

My own story is somewhat non-traditional. Back in college, I studied physiology and psychology: all I wanted to do was coach track and field for the rest of my life. In 1984, when there was a new trend of corporations looking into wellness, I found myself hired as a fitness instructor for a local company. There I met a brand manager who encouraged me to apply for a position in his company, Proctor & Gamble.

Eventually I went on to become a Brand Manager and later was transferred into an international career that took me to North Africa, Central and Eastern Europe, The Middle East, Western Europe, Africa and Asia. I discovered an affinity for Arab culture and fell in love with the Middle East.

Fine CEO, James Michael Lafferty
Fine CEO, James Michael Lafferty

I joined Fine Hygienic Holding in 2015, as a board member, and fell in love with the brand and the FHH family. So, in 2018, when I was offered the CEO position, I was ecstatic, and so far, it has been an amazing experience. I’m honored to be the CEO of a business that was started by an ambitious entrepreneur who built an incredible legacy from such humble beginnings. I try to do as much as I can to create a platform for positive change. FHH is now a world-class organization and our people are its foundation. We have the best diversified talent out there and are strongly committed to serving the best products. 

You are one of the few companies in the country that attracted global private equity investors, how do you evaluate FHH’s experience to date with global investors?

Our experience with our global investors, Affirma Capital, an independent private equity firm owned and operated by the long-standing senior leadership of Standard Charter Private Equity, has been overwhelmingly positive. We can characterize the relationship as one mutually beneficial to all parties involved. Our investors have a stake in a company they can rely on, and expect great things from, and for our part we have been able to take the knowledge of our investors and apply it to our own operation, making continuous improvements and raising our already excellent standards to world-class levels. 

There have been implications that FHH intends to go public, how are your plans going towards that end?

Fine HH started with humble beginnings and grew to be a leader for the industry in the region, but we are at the stage now where we are looking to become a publicly traded company and to go from good to great on a global scale.

I’m extremely proud of the changes our team, many of whom have extensive experience in IPO companies, have been making in this time of active transition. Our goal is to become not only a leader in the MENA region, but a competitive entity on a global scale; we want to show the world what we can do and what the companies in this region are capable of.

To what extent can FHH serve as a catalyst for growth across the broader economy?

Big businesses have always served as the engines of economy and FHH is no different. As one of the largest companies in the region, FHH greatly contributes to the social and economic prosperity of Jordan. FHH employs 1,200 Jordanians alone and around 3,500 people from more than 30 different nationalities across the region; a number that will only increase as the group expands into new avenues. As the business generates revenue, funds are funneled back into the government through taxes, as well as global foreign investments, which serve to strengthen the infrastructure and economy of the country.

But FHH goes beyond economics; we are committed to our role in the social development in each of the countries in which we operate, giving back to our communities through charitable donations, social programs and sponsorships.

Jordan is in the very foundation of who we are, and as we continue to expand, grow into new markets and attract global investors, we recognize our responsibility and commitment towards the country we were first established in. The goals we have for Jordan are the same we have for our group: growth, prosperity, and success on an international scale.

How much emphasis is being placed on CSR initiatives?

For a lot of companies, social responsibility is seen as a tool to further the corporate agenda, but for FHH it is an absolutely integral part of who we are as a business. We have always recognized the importance of strong and sustainable local initiatives, which is why you will see us active in each and every community in the multiple countries we operate in.

One program we are especially proud of is the “Khair al Koura”, which was the first ever public-private initiative for sustainable development launched in Jordan. The program implements income-generating opportunities, including a chemical-free farming project, a food processing unit, a country kitchen, a labelling and packaging unit, and a soap & candle manufacturing operation. After a significant investment the program is now fully self-sustaining.

FHH has greatly invested in multiple facets of welfare in our communities, across the MENA region, such as public health and wellness, youth education and family care. As a company that specializes in hygienic solutions, we support health awareness and wellness initiatives. We also support education and have been heavily involved in eradicating illiteracy in Egypt.

One of FHH’s foundational pillars says that we will “always do the right thing”; and no matter how big we grow, our commitment to taking care of the communities we serve will always be woven within the fabric of the group’s values.

Can you describe FHH as an Employer of Choice for gender equality? What makes FHH an Employer of Choice?

At FHH, diversity is more than just the right thing to do and it’s certainly not about being politically correct—it’s a business strategy.

We are competing against global entities who are recruiting from 7 billion people on the planet, so if we limited our recruitment to one or two countries there’s no way the group could compete in the global sphere. We have to recruit from all over the world, from both men and women candidates, in fact maybe with a focus on women. When I first joined FHH in 2018, the leadership team was 100% men, now in just a little over a year, 30% of the team is now made up of women. Although it is not perfect, it is a huge step forward in a short amount of time, and I hope to see that number grow in the immediate future.

We are chasing diversity on both a gender basis and a nationality basis, because having people from different backgrounds allows unique ideas and challenges to the table and helps us to sell products to the world.

Our policies regarding inclusion, tolerance, and gender diversity were recognized by the “Break the Ceiling, Touch the Sky” Leonie Awards this year, where several members of our executive team were given awards celebrating their progressive and diverse approaches. Most recently we were recognized at the GCC Best Employer Brand Awards 2019, held in Dubai, where we won several awards, one of which is the Best Employer Brand.

We have recently launched a maternity leave policy that is best-in-class in the region, which guarantees 16 weeks of paid leave, allowing mothers plenty of time for childbirth, childcare, and to make a full recovery; they will also have the choice to extend their maternity leave for an additional 16 weeks, unpaid, in addition to other benefits.

I am also proud of our newly implemented paternity leave policy, which is also cutting-edge in the marketplace, offering three weeks leave at full pay with the option to extend an additional week, unpaid. We know how important and precious those beginning moments are to building and supporting a new family, which is why we are giving new fathers nearly a month’s leave to be where they’re needed most, at home. We are also offering both new moms and dads flexible work arrangements to help them take care of their family.

What do you identify as areas of opportunity? Are you planning to expand into new markets?

We at Fine continue to push for the expansion of our presence and we are actively seeking to expand and diversify our portfolio into other areas of wellness, specifically beverages and nutritional supplements. To date, we serve over 75 markets across the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Asia, and the USA.

At the end of the day, FHH is a wellness group; it is in everything we do, and our goal is to improve the wellness of the world. Our aim has always been to improve the lives of our customers, and now we are looking to do more than ever before to help the people we serve.

What can you say about Wellness and its relevance to FHH and its products?

No other company in the industry does more when it comes to insuring the health and satisfaction of its customers. We deploy the best available technology within the industry, and constantly develop in-house innovative tools to ensure that we offer high quality products of international standards, while following the best practices to preserve our natural resources.

FHH Hygienic Holding offers the only sterilized tissue in the world, made possible through the use of its patented SteriPro™ sterilization method and its ‘No Touch’ mechanism. These innovative techniques guarantee the highest levels of sterilization and quality for consumers, as the products go through the entire production process without ever being touched by a human hand. Moreover, our line of baby and adult diapers is specially designed to provide superior skin health. We have recently launched our upgraded Fine Baby diapers with the Fast-Sorb technology to keep the baby’s skin clean and healthy. Our skin, after all, is the largest organ in the human body.

Wellness is in everything we do at FHH, from our wellness centers within the group to our commitment to delivering consumers top-quality products; we want to improve peoples’ lives across the board.      

What does “doing the right thing” mean to FHH and to you specifically?

FHH is an organization utterly committed to excelling in every facet of its operation, from responsibly sourcing materials, to supplying top-quality products – these elements make FHH good, but what makes it GREAT is its devotion to people, both those who work within the business and those who live in the surrounding communities.

We treat our employees as the most important assets because we know that “if we take care of the people, the business will take care of itself,” and we give back to our communities because our goal has always been to improve lives.

I believe that “doing the right thing” means showing the world the way things can and should be done. I am proud to be the CEO of FHH and I look forward to taking on the world as we go from family business to global conglomerate.

By Ghalia Mousa