Interview: Mahmood Alkooheji

With the division of Bahrain Telecommunication Company (Batelco) what new business opportunities will become available?

MAHMOOD ALKOOHEJI: Batelco is, and will continue to be, an important national company in our portfolio. The division will result in an independent wholesale business entity that will be responsible for deploying a single national broadband network for the kingdom. This new entity will provide services to all licensed operators, including Batelco’s retail arm, and will also provide services to operators that are licensed in the future. They will have access to these services in a transparent and non-discriminatory manner.

The new entity will be responsible for increasing fibre-optic coverage across the kingdom, and businesses and consumers alike will benefit from enhanced connectivity. They will get access to affordable, reliable and secure ultra-fast broadband services. This will create new opportunities across sectors for businesses that both benefit from, and rely on, fast broadband service.

This diversified climate embraces competition, and has already attracted Amazon Web Services and a variety of other companies to Bahrain.

How will you address international assets under management through to 2022?

ALKOOHEJI: While we manage our local companies in order to improve their performance, enhance corporate governance and increase transparency, we also work to grow our portfolio by investing internationally. Our portfolio has grown from around 29 companies in 2006 to over 60 companies today.

Going forward, we will continue to invest in commercially viable investment opportunities across multiple industries and geographies. We will also continue to invest locally in companies and sectors that address the country’s wider economic needs. We target sectors that traditionally help improve lives, like education and health care. In fact, one of our early investments was the establishment of Gulf Aviation Academy, which is an academy that serves the training needs of the aviation industry in Bahrain and the surrounding region.

Health care is another sector with strong potential. The number of people over 60 years of age is expected to reach 2.1bn globally by 2050.

How do real estate investments in the US help balance a portfolio that has many local holdings?

ALKOOHEJI: Our real estate investment strategy is focused on the acquisition of high-quality, long-term yielding properties in growing cities with solid economic and market fundamentals. This is reflected in the real estate investments that we made in the US in 2018: the acquisition of Lash Group and Lenovo’s global headquarters in North Carolina, in partnership with Sentinel Real Estate Investment.

When we were first established, we had no presence in the US. Today, we are very happy to see that 8% of our portfolio companies are based there. We will continue to keep an eye on commercially viable investment opportunities in the US and elsewhere as part of our portfolio-diversification drive.

In what ways do partnerships with international companies drive foreign direct investment?

ALKOOHEJI: Our mandate to invest in, and for, Bahrain means that we may seek partnerships for new domestic investments in growing industries. This was the case when we formed a joint venture with Mueller Industries and Cayan Ventures in 2016.

This agreement, underpinned by our interest in local diversification, led to the opening of Mueller Middle East — the first copper tube manufacturing facility in Bahrain — in 2018. The $40m project is now operational, as a response to the increasing demand for high-quality copper tubes in the MENA region.