Faruk Group Holding (FGH) has expanded quite dramatically in the last few years. How does the company identify potential business opportunities?
The way we do business at FGH is basically to analyze and understand the market completely before we pursue opportunities. We know that there are deficiencies, and therefore opportunities, in every sector. So, the question becomes which do we target first? The telecom sector is of critical importance for the country. In the past, there was limited infrastructure that was needed for the sector to develop. This was even the case for landlines. Another element, which may seem fairly basic but was actually quite important, was cement. The whole country was ready to build. However, you can’t start building without the necessary materials. Of course, there are other raw materials that are also in need of importance, but the two elements I mentioned represent the typical type of project that we choose to pursue.
Are there specific industries here in the Kurdistan Region that you feel require further development or investment?
From an industrial standpoint, few currently exist on a large scale. In comparison to the rest of the countries in the region, Iraq used to be very industrialized. However, the many years of war, sanctions, and tyranny took their toll and, gradually, everything disappeared. Now, I think there are opportunities for these industries to reemerge. The petrochemical industry is obviously quite important, but I think there are opportunities for investment across the entire oil and gas sector. I believe that this is where most of the investment (particularly foreign investment) will go. Another area that I think will become increasingly significant is the mining sector. Iraq is very rich in natural resources. So, there is significant potential in the mining sector, if the right companies were to become involved.
Can you tell us about the goal that the company has established, and how you’re going about establishing it?
I think every company feels comfortable working in an environment that it’s been working in for a very long time. We’ve been able to prosper in and help build up the economy of Slemani, and the city has been very good to us as well. In terms of our overall operations, Slemani has become a stepping-stone for the rest of Iraq. That is, as a result of the stability and opportunities present here, we have been able to establish a presence and then expand that presence throughout the rest of Iraq.
Moreover, it’s much easier to hire an international employee to work in Slemani than it is to work in other parts of Iraq. So, despite having our headquarters here, we have been able to reach every corner of Iraq. The market is large in the middle and southern portions of Iraq. Hence, across a wide variety of economic sectors, these are the opportunities that we target, be they in telecom, cement, or any other industry, we use Slemani as a hub to reach other, more widespread markets.
We are from Slemani and, if you look at our operations as a whole, I think it’s clear that we love the city very much. We want to further facilitate its development. I think you can see this desire manifested in a variety of ways, perhaps most notably in the fact that, aside from the Region, we are the largest employer in the governorate at the moment.
We see numerous opportunities here, as we believe that we can be successful across any number of sectors. We believe that the success we had with our cement plants can be replicated across any area in which we apply ourselves. With that in mind, it is our full expectation that, in the next 5 years, FGH will be much more invested in the large-scale industrial sectors of the Kurdistan Region’s economy.
In what other areas of the economy has FGH attempted to provide definitive solutions?
We have seen this deficiency in the health sector as well. We have many Iraqis traveling abroad to Turkey, Jordan, the UAE, Iran, and India because the healthcare industry here is so limited. So, FGH decided to invest in a very large, ultra-modern hospital. We felt it was our obligation to give back to the community and allow the people of this country to get the right services within their own borders. So we created what is now the largest private hospital in Iraq: the Faruk Medical City. It is a 180-bed, state-of-the-art hospital with connections to world-class consultants and hospitals around the world. We are now able to provide them with something that has never before been available in this country.
Of course, our goal is not to privatize the entire healthcare system, as we do not feel this would be a positive development for the country. Likewise, we don’t want the Kurdistan Region to feature only private hospitals. However, we want to demonstrate that the private sector is capable of raising the standard of an industry and provide a model for others to follow.
What can be done to better utilize the small-scaled economic areas?
Everything depends on governmental support, regulation, and stable decision-making. Prime Minister Barzani is a visionary leader who understands how the country needs to progress, and he has surrounded himself with capable, forward-thinking individuals. However, we have a huge government sector, which I believe is not as productive or efficient as it should be. In contrast, we have a very small private sector, which is very productive.
The government provides its employees with salaries, benefits, and very short working hours. As a result, we still cannot attract lots of people from the public sector. However, I believe that this situation is gradually changing. The top people in the government understand that things need to change in order to attract further investment, be it local or foreign direct investment. So, I am very optimistic regarding the direction in which we’re headed.