Sa’eed Tawfiq Khoury:”Arabs are better off investing their money within the region” [Archives:2008/1145/Reportage]

April 10 2008

Interviewed by: Nadia Al-Sakkaf
He started as a construction engineer and ended up one of the Arab world's richest and most successful businessmen. It all started in 1948 when he joined with two other partners to create Consolidated Contractors Company, or CCC. They landed their first business as part of a project to construct an oil pipeline beginning from Iraq and Syria and ending in Lebanon.

As president of the company, Sa'eed Khoury employed a policy of creating loyalty among his staff and making them feel like one family. CCC culture is based on dedicated committed professionals who want to prove themselves and work in a warm, family-like environment.

CCC initiated ventures in places where no one else thought there was potential. This sense of entrepreneurship has propelled Khoury in the right directions while trusting in his team and them trusting in his leadership.

In the beginning, most company staffers were Palestinian refugees needing to prove themselves and create an impression wherever they worked so that they would keep the business running. From its very first project, CCC's reputation as excellent workers was established and has attracted other projects.

Great expansion and charity

Khoury feels it's not as easy to maintain the same culture of excellence and dedication due to the larger number of employees. Last year, the firm jumped from 70,000 to 150,000 employees and the new ones needed to learn to adapt to the organization's internal culture. Those who don't fit in pack up their thing and leave.

Khoury is known for his philanthropic acts, especially in his homeland of Palestine, having established Al-Quds University in Jerusalem and added colleges at Beer Zait University.

He wants to give back to his community by funding education projects because he realizes youth need better education in order to raise their countries' standards. After graduation, students spend a year to 18 months in on-the-job training in Jerusalem and then work either in Palestine or outside.

“We're attempting to reach Palestinians outside and help them find their way back home to a better life,” he added.

37th annual joint meeting of Arab financial institutions

Khoury recently participated in the 37th joint meeting of Arab financial institutions that took place in Sana'a earlier this month and feels it was a successful meeting.

“As long as Arab leaders are together, all meetings are good. It's always good to have Arab leaders meeting, whether in business, politics, finance or whatever. Unfortunately, there's a lot of misunderstanding in the Arab world and this is leading behind what should be,” he said.

Khoury believes there's great potential in the Arab world and if there's true understanding, Arab nations can be a leading power in the world. Yet, lack of understanding and division keeps Arabs much behind and allows them to be taken advantage of.

The Arab economy could be much better if there's better planning and better understanding; however, today's Arab nations develop plans without consulting the others. While Arabs' main money comes from oil and gas, there's no understanding between Arab producing countries about how to plan for the future together.

Arab nations should invest more in themselves, then it would be easier to form businesses and the flow of money would be easier inside the region than when investing abroad. “Keeping our money within this region is easier for business and better for the overall economy,” Khoury insisted.

Unfortunately, because their leaders don't have good relations with each other, there's no common understanding or harmony regarding how rich Arab nations can help the poor ones.

As a member of the Arab world, Khoury meets leaders from various Arab countries who ask him what's happening in those other countries – have they done this or have they done that? They need to do this via a third party because there's no direct communication.

Unified GCC currency

A unified currency in the Gulf will increase the region's power first by enhancing the unity of people as they feel part of a bigger entity. Then, it will be easier for businesses, money flow and any financial relations.

If this happens, the outside world will take the Gulf nations seriously, considering them a financially strong unit.

While we still have time before the oil finishes, Gulf countries should focus on manufacturing. They should start with light industries and gradually move to heavy industries, preparing for a future when there won't be much oil.

Gulf nations aren't moving quickly toward uniting their ties, so other Arab countries need to encourage and push them to achieve a united currency.

“Look at Europe, where most countries don't have oil, but they're developed and rich because they depend on skilled human power and industry,” he pointed out.

Arab Monetary Fund

The Arab Monetary Fund has provided regular consultation and training for regional governments to improve their financial policies in order to perform better and make wiser economic decisions.

As president of the Arab Monetary Fund in Palestine, Khoury has coordinated many government personnel to avail themselves of such training and capacity-building and it has impacted performance. He believes Yemen should make more use of available opportunities and not be shy about seeking help and advice.

Training center in Hadramout

CCC is the largest contractor in the Arab world with 150,000 employees scattered around the world. While hundreds are experts in different industries, unfortunately, 80 percent of them are non-Arab, coming from Pakistan, the Philippines, India, etc. Khoury explains, “This is Arab money going outside. If we can replace them with Arab skills, Arab nations will benefit.”

CCC has training centers and schools in numerous countries, where they take young, ambitious and smart Arabs, train them for six to eight months and then employ them.

During his recent visit to Yemen, Khoury spoke with the nation's oil minister, asking if he'd like CCC to begin this type of training center in Yemen. The minister was very interested and offered the ministry's facilities and an existing training center in Hadramout so it can be utilized to enhance local citizens' capacities. The next step is to study the location and determine the project's feasibility.

Special interest in Yemen

“We care a lot about Yemen. We know there's much underdevelopment and we want to help the country,” Khoury noted affectionately, “We'd like to train people, qualify them and employ them, either inside or outside the country.”

CCC has been in Yemen since 1952 when it built the British Petroleum Oil refinery in Aden. Although those days were very difficult, the company managed to display a successful performance. Between 1952 and 1960, CCC completed numerous construction projects worth $14.5 million.

The firm continued working in Yemen, completing contracts worth $19.2 million between 1961 and 1964.

CCC continued doing projects every now and then until 1986, when it landed a contract with Canadian Occidental Petroleum, along with the Asphalt Factory, to develop Aden Port Harbor and expand its oil establishments.

Besides constructing Sana'a University's agriculture college and Hunt Yemen's main buildings, the firm also restored Aden's oil tanks following the 1994 Civil War and the Labous water project in Lahj governorate.

Since 2004, CCC has constructed the sewage network system in the towns of Bajil and Beit Al-Faqih in Hodeidah governorate, in addition to launching oil and gas explorations in Hadramout and Shabwa by purchasing exploration rights in three blocks (33-45 and 49) in those two governorates, drilling 10 exploration wells and continuing with this new venture.

CCC also is venturing into light and heavy industries by expanding its work mainly in construction. It has landed a contract with the Geological Survey Authority to explore for gold in four locations between Sana'a and Aden.

Today, the firm has diversified its projects in Yemen not only in construction, but also in oil and gas exploration and mining. CCC-Yemen employs thousands of staffers, approximately 94 percent of whom are Yemenis.


As for what Khoury thinks of Yemeni development, he said, “As a country, Yemen is progressing, but slowly. The entire management system needs to be revised, which requires experts from outside to help this nation's leaders run it in modern ways.”

Despite its recent problems, Khoury believes the country is stable, but that stability as such isn't the issue driving investors away because they know what risks to take. For example, terrorists are all over the world as well as in Yemen, where the government is doing a good job security-wise. Businesses are shy about Yemen due to its governing system, which doesn't facilitate investment.

“Yemeni people are kind and very bright, but they need to adapt new concepts and get special advice from international experts about how to employ new and modern computerized methods to help develop their country.

“What's happening in Yemen is that it has been run the same way for decades, which is illogical and needs to change,” he noted.

Yemeni people

Khoury believes Yemenis are very bright people and have proven themselves all around the world. “If you go to Africa, Asia and even Saudi Arabia has witnessed the brightness and success of Yemeni people, but they have a problem with development because they remain uneducated about modern techniques. Yemenis have the brains – they just use them in the old ways,” he said.

Additionally, he believes Yemeni women are extremely strong and brave, but they need to be librated from traditions that hold them back and embark toward productivity and advancement.

Regarding qat, Khoury is totally against it. In fact, when he was in Aden for five years in the 1950s, he even staged demonstrations against it and qat distribution ceased for some time. However, it eventually resumed, which is sad because, according to him, one of Yemen's main problems is qat.

“It'll take time to stop Yemenis from chewing qat, but it's something that must happen,” he concluded.