By 2002, Ghazi Al Omar had two decades as an automotive executive under his belt. He’d held key roles at multiple Kuwaiti car dealers including General Motors and Suzuki, and had built robust relationships with thousands of leasing and rental clients.
Having mastered the art of customer service on behalf of his employers, he decided it was time to set off on his own. “I always took special care to meet with most of my clients, establishing personal relationships with them and making sure to meet their expectations and remain flexible in responding to their needs,” he says.
“I am committed to delivering great experiences.” These were precisely the skills Ghazi would need to build his own automotive company – by combining the traditional principles of customer service with modern innovations and digitalisation.
“I decided to take the opportunity to build something for my children as I watched them grow older. Family is of the utmost importance in my life and I wanted to create something with them and for them in the future” he says.
At the time, most Middle Eastern companies offering car leasing and transport services were confined to a single country. Ghazi saw a gap that could be filled by a regional player.
He pitched a five-year business plan for just such a company to Hussam F Abdulmohsin Al-Kharafi, one of Kuwait’s most prominent businessmen and an investor from the distinguished Al-Kharafi family.
Hussam agreed with Ghazi’s vision, and Automak was born. Starting with an initial investment of around €280,000, Automak has since blossomed into a company worth more than €43 million.
It employs more than 3,000 people (about 75% of which are logistical personnel) and since its inception, it has diversified its business to cover not only vehicle fleet rental and leasing solutions of about 11,000 vehicles, but has also grown into a diversified automotive group providing a range of services and products.
These include the distribution and sale of new and used vehicles, distribution and sale of oil, lubes, spare parts and tyres, as well as providing third-party vehicle maintenance services throughout its various fully equipped after sale service centres.
“I have established personal relationships with clients and these were the reason Automak quickly became one of the major auto leasing and rental companies bidding for big government and oil contracts,” Ghazi says.
Today, Automak is three times bigger than its next largest competitor, with its services now available in Egypt and Qatar, making the company a regional powerhouse. However, in 2011, political instability across the Middle East forced Ghazi to pause Automak’s geographic expansion and reformulate his strategy.
“Instead of expanding further throughout the region, we decided to diversify our services within Kuwait. We have launched a food delivery service, including 400 cars serving McDonald’s restaurants, as well as transportation services for schools,” he says.
I have established personal relationships with clients.
“Last year, we managed to launch an app-based limo service similar to Careem and Uber. Before the COVID crisis, we had 150 limousines available 24 hours a day.” Ghazi’s reformulation of Automak’s growth and diversification strategy proved to be lifesaving a decade later when the company faced an even more daunting challenge in the form of the pandemic.
After the country documented its first case in February 2020, Kuwait’s government imposed a strict curfew and lockdown measures. With people staying home in their millions, car rentals and leases have seen a precipitous drop. However, other Automak services have become more popular and essential than ever before.
“We are seeing business growth in home deliveries while our core leasing business in the public and oil sectors remains strong. We are very resilient in this area, and this is helping us compensate for our losses in the transportation sector,” Ghazi explains.
It is this growth that has allowed Automak to guarantee the salaries of all its team throughout the crisis. “We take care of our clients, our assets and most importantly, our employees,” Ghazi affirms. “This is in our DNA.”
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