R. Harikumar

Please share a brief on your company and product portfolio.

The core business for the Elite Group of Companies is aluminium extrusion. We have approximately 14 operations here in the UAE, across the emirates of Dubai, Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah. This includes brands such as Elite Extrusion, National Aluminium Extrusion, Classic Extrusion, Alumill Tech Gulf, Thermoset Middle East, Global Pioneer Aluminium Industries, Jordan Aluminium Extrusion, United Powder Coating, and Global Dies. We source the raw materials from Emirates Global Aluminium (EGA), in Dubai, extruded the aluminum through the dies at our production facility and supply the final product to clients who are into non-architectural and architectural applications.

Similarly, we source the raw material from EGA and produce aluminum coils and sheets after the melting and casting process is carried out at our in-house facilities. Our first factory, established in Sharjah in 2005, has a monthly production capacity of 1,200 tons. In all, we manufacture close to 6,500 tons of rolled and extrusion products per month across our facilities in Sharjah, Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah.

The Elite Group has an annual revenue of close to Dh900 million, and contributes up to 30 per cent of the total requirements in aluminium for the UAE. The rest is exported to our clients in other countries such as the US, European countries, African nations such as Kenya and Ethiopia, and regionally to Jordan, Yemen and Lebanon. We also have a presence in India, in Coimbatore, in the state of Tamil Nadu and manufacture and provide aluminium products to our client roster there.

What are the challenges you foresee for your sector in 2023 and how is your brand planning to overcome them?

Frankly speaking, the competition in the aluminium extrusions business is tough here in the UAE and region, with plenty of companies being a part of the sector and new firms constantly joining the fray. However, considering the number of years I have been in the business, I can say that many of these firms do not do their due diligence before deciding to start operations, with the effect that many competing companies have been seen facing severe losses or even shutting down operations in the past few years, especially during and in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic.

In all, there are 10-12 companies dealing in aluminium extrusions operating here in the UAE, of which between two to three are doing really well. Our business is driven by the need for architectural systems. In this case we also have inbuilt architectural systems that are in high demand, with close to 90 per cent of regional market needs being met by the Elite Group. Besides the expertise we bring to the market, what also stands in our favour is the goodwill and trust of our loyal clients and patrons who have believed in our value systems and way of work from the word get go.

It is this trust that has helped the Elite Group to become an established name in the aluminium extrusions business.

How important is innovation and R&D for your company, how big a part do they play in the company’s overall growth strategy?

For us, research and development is a key factor that contributed to our progress and growth, as well as our ability to explore new markets and meet demand. However, in layman terms, I can be quite frank when I say that there have been several instances when our company has manufactured new products to meet new market needs, we have seen these product ideas being copied by competing firms, usually of poorer quality. What I do therefore is create my own architectural systems, selling them to my established customers at lower rates, which the competition cannot match. Through word of mouth, more customers also come through to benefit from my rates.

In terms of the production process itself, I constantly get my teams to check on and upgrade the machinery used at our plants so that we maintain world-class production lines at all times. For instance, we are in plans to install a 12-inch container press at one of our plants by January, 2024, making it the largest of its kind in the Middle East. The company is also investing close to Dh150 million to expand capacity on one of its production lines in Dubai.

I also make it a point to get my managers and team heads to visit international trade fairs to be in touch with the latest innovations and R&D in the sector and see how they can be best incorporated into our production and manufacturing processes over the long term. Regionally, we have been regular participants at The Big 5 exhibition in Dubai.

Satisfied staff equals satisfied customers. Would you believe in this phrase and if yes, how do you plan to carry this narrative forward through your teams?

Without the support of its staff, the Elite Group would not have become the successful brand that it is today. I am of the belief that managerial teams and company heads need to look after their staff and treat them as family. And this does not stop with the staff working for the firm but their families as well. Extracurricular activities and initiatives play critical roles in helping creating this special bond.

The Elite Group, for instance hosts its annual sports day event for staff and families and is a day-long affair, with events packed in for parents and children to participate and enjoy.

We also have a club for employees called the Elite Club. Besides hosting functions and events for its members, the club also maintains an employee fund at minimal cost borne by employees and that currently stands at between Dh2-3 million. The money is used to furnish interest-free personal loans of up to Dh100,000 for the employees, as I discourage my employees from taking bank loans.

The Elite Group also hosts the parents of up to 10 of its expat employees every year. The parents are provided 5-star accommodation here in the UAE and are recognised and felicitated with a ceremonial gold coin and gifts at an annual ceremony hosted by the group. Besides, during the pandemic, the Elite Group also arranged for 2 chartered flights and sponsored the tickets to transport its employees back to their countries and work remotely from home, flying them back once the curfew was lifted in the UAE.

These initiatives, I believe have helped the Elite Group win the trust of its employees.

What are your company’s expansion plans over the next 5-year term?

We are hoping to expand our exports to meet new demand from markets such as Tunisia and Palestine. And with the establishment of bilateral relations between the UAE and Israel, there is a lot of enquiry from Israeli companies for our products, and we are hoping to capitalise on this.

As a corporate CEO, what is the mantra you follow while leading your teams through failure and success?

I always endeavour to try and encourage my teams to keep up with me, understand my vision for progress and expansion of the company and work towards the best interests of the industry by trying to grasp the big picture. I guide them to observe markets, understand challenges, realise the implications of our immediate actions and how that could translate, not just tomorrow but over the long term. And in this regard, I get my staff to become lifelong learners.