He’s the face and force behind the enormous success of Alshaya Enterprises. In a candid interview, Henrik H Christiansen, chief executive officer of Alshaya Enterprises, spills the secret of success of the brand he represents, his professional achievements, and how design is an important part of their offerings to the customers

Interview by Roma Arora | Photos by Farooq Salik
Location courtesy: Dukes Dubai, Palm Jumeirah The Change

Knowledge is power and Henrik H Christiansen, chief executive officer (CEO) of Alshaya Enterprises, has the knowledge to use this power in the right direction. Christiansen holds an executive MBA from the UK where his dissertation was about “Change Management in Family Businesses”. After he progressed in his career from managerial positions to ones with more leadership responsibility, he decided to continue his personal and professional development with a more indepth research focussed education. Christiansen says: “I decided to complete a doctoral degree in business management and my doctoral thesis (DBA) was about; ‘How to lead transformational change in Arab family businesses’, which has been of great support for the success of our work implementing transformational change in Al Jaber Group (previous job) and Alshaya Enterprises.”

Christiansen has been fortunate to work with leading companies in the region like Al Rajhi Investment, Al Jaber Group, and presently at Kuwait-based Alshaya Enterprises, which is one of the most respected and progressive company in the Middle East with more than 110 years of successful history. Christiansen quickly interrupts: “I have only worked in family businesses as I like when the “DNA” of the family is integrated into the corporate culture.”

Alshaya Enterprises is a professional provider of technical and design-led solutions mainly to the construction industry, but also to a few other market segments in the GCC. The company comprises six divisions for the project market – bathrooms, kitchens, office furniture and soft seating, in-door and outdoor lighting solutions, commercial kitchens, laundry and bakery equipment for the hospitality industry and restaurants in general, all types of industrial racking systems for warehouses and logistics requirements, refrigeration, and supermarket solutions. “For the retail market, we have our architects and design centres where we design and sell complete bathrooms and our Kitchenhaus showrooms across the GCC where we design, sell, and install German quality kitchens and Italian wardrobes. Alshaya Enterprises is one of the only company groups in the GCC who can offer such a wide range of technical and design-led solution to the contractors, the developers, and the end users. This gives us a unique opportunity to the values of a true full turnkey solution to our customers, from concept and design until installation and after-sales service.”

It’s been more than four years at Alshaya Enterprises for Christiansen and he has successfully managed to change the focus of the company from being a traditional trading to providing more valueadded solutions to the customers. Christiansen highlights: “Each of our employees aims to add value for our customers through their experience and dedication. Our main focus is to utilise the natural synergy that is there between our different divisions, offering great solutions together with our supply chain partners, to small and large projects.” Christiansen further shares that ‘90% of our business comes from design, supply, and installation of our solutions to construction project and for the storage requirements in the warehouse and logistics segment.’ He says: “Our showrooms across the GCC sell to private end-users either directly or through the designers who work on private housing and small projects in general. These showrooms, however, offer great support to our customers for the larger construction projects as the key brands, the products, and solutions are visible here.”

Christiansen is also stressing about changing the corporate culture at Alshaya Enterprises, which is a critical part of the transformation process. Christiansen states: “Our mission statement and core values have been recalibrated to meet the vision set by the senior management team and our board of directors. I have honestly never worked in any organisation, which is so ready for a major change. Our many good employees share the view of change and through constant two-way communication and by working on cross-divisional project work, we ensure that we are all working in the same direction.” With big changes come difficulties at various stages and Christiansen is ready to take on the challenges with arms wide open. “As always when you set a new management team, we are dealing with a few legacy issues from previous time, at the same time as we are executing a major transformational change program and still manage to grow the business organically with 15-18% yearon- year over the past three years, and that is in a declining and very challenging market! This we can only do because of the great foundation that has been built at Alshaya Enterprises over the past decades and because of the tremendous efforts our very capable employees are making everyday,” says Christiansen.

Clearly, the brand is flourishing under the leadership of Christiansen and is receptive to the changes he is bringing to the organisation. One of the major events that recently took place was the opening of the Alshaya Enterprises showroom in Dubai on Sheikh Zayed Road to cater to the rising demand for customised solutions in bathrooms and kitchen in the region. Christiansen shares with pride: “We opened a flagship showroom for Alshaya Enterprises in the most sought-after location in Dubai, to give maximum exposure for the brand of Alshaya Enterprises. The showroom is our latest design for how we believe a professional showroom should look like and function. The showroom combines modern bathroom design and materials with quality kitchens and the best in natural stone products. It is still a new showroom, but we are pleased with the interest we have seen from both the professional community and from private end-users.”

Design is an integrated and very important part of the brand’s offering to the customer. Be it the kitchens or bathrooms, office furniture, or lighting, Alshaya Enterprises is leading the segment with the latest products and services. Christiansen says: “It is in the design phase we can add most value to the customer, through the expertise knowledge of our teams. All our solutions, in every division, starts with an important design phase. The design determines the look and feel of the finished solution and through careful considered design; the customer can get real value for the money. Alshaya Enterprises is an integrated part of the design community. We have one of our key offices in Dubai Design District (d3) as well. Our 250 consultants on the road are working with leading architects and design offices across the GCC.”

Alshaya Enterprises invests heavily in its products and innovative solutions that come from the best European and US manufacturers. Alshaya Enterprises has its own brand, Kitchenhaus which is doing very well in the region. Christiansen says: “ We are very proud about how this division has developed over the past years as we have not only built on the brand recognition but also double the business the past four years. We have become #1 in kitchens imported from Germany and we have great expansion plans for this brand, in the GCC and beyond.”

Christiansen is aware of the market conditions and he knows that the requirement of the consumers is rapidly changing and this calls for a clear departure from the traditional trading strategy. It is no longer enough to push a product, as a typical trading company, even if it is a good brand. Christiansen feels: “Our customers require innovative solution to meet their design requirement and budgets. Today we have to understand the real requirements, not the perceived requirements (the price), for our customers and their customers. Over the past years, the profile of our teams has changed. We have invested considerably in designers and technical support to ensure that our consultants on the road offer the optimal solution to our customers every time.”

Clearly, Christiansen has set the strategies in place and with his thinking cap on, Alshaya Enterprises will expand and progress manifolds in the years to come.