When it comes to success stories, there’s very little out there that can rival Mohamed Harazallah, the mastermind behind the success of one beverage and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) brand in the Middle East – Lacnor.
Of course, there’s more to the man than just that. As a matter of fact, the career of the current Business Development Director of the National Food Products Company started well over three decades ago – and his experience has led him to the forefront of a company that is ever-growing in the region. Mohamed’s career started off like that of any other; his differences as a leader aside.
He commenced his long journey “doing things during the war in Lebanon” before moving to Dubai and taking up a job as a sales supervisor with Philip Morris International. “My job was to train the newcomers that were joining the distributors, so I used to go on the van and visit every single store and apply the selling, merchandising and negotiation techniques,” says Mohamed, who took out time from his busy schedule for me.
Three years later, Mohamed joined the pioneering Johnson & Johnson Middle East in 1984 as a regional sales manager responsible for the UAE, Oman and Qatar. In three years’ time, however, he realised that his full potential would only be utilised if he expanded from sales into the competitive field – and a whole different sphere – of marketing. He was sent by his company to the Institute of Marketing in London for a short period. This was the beginning of a change in his career life.
He was soon posted as a senior sales manager with dual responsibilities as a brand manager, too. “The challenges back then were fewer, but then it was a very small group – and I had a small portfolio. “The real change happened when I was given the role of marketing manager, in 1987, when I was given the biggest portfolio, which is the haircare business,” he proudly says, adding that he was then promoted to the role of business development manager and then the prestigious position of sales director and board member.
In 1999, he decided to make a move to FMCG tycoons PepsiCola International. Mohamed spent over 10 years with Pepsi Cola Int’l in Kuwait and Oman in the capacity of sales, marketing and general management roles before making the important switch to the National Food Products Company which deals with brands such as Lacnor, Oasis and several others.
Talking about the days he started operations, he says there were three main challenges when he first joined Lacnor: 1) People and the capabilities: We did not have the right people in place or people with the right skillset. 2) Coverage and distribution: We did not have coverage of all areas in Oman. 3) Standard operating procedures: When you start a new operation, you need to have certain policies to approach the market.
“All of this was done but it was ad hoc and out of necessity,” he explains. “So during my initial months, I was spending most of the time in Oman to make sure that the systems that were in place were being followed. During my experience, I learnt that in order to achieve what you want you need to take the people with you on the journey. “You cannot simply tell the people you have to go there; you have to explain why and how you want them to go and the objective behind it. Else, you’re just giving plain orders.
“And if you do that, over time, they themselves will give you the answer for it. The team around you will take ownership of the objective you want to achieve. And that’s when you will be successful,” he adds. Following the successful establishment of NFPC in Oman, the company’s next step is to develop the workforce in the nation, starting with the training of Omanis.
“Omanisation is one of our greatest objectives – and we need to employ and train Omanis. “Now we are embarking on a mission to improve their capabilities and even acquire some high-profile Omanis to fulfil positions,” Mohamed tells me. NFPC currently undertakes the sale of water, juices, dairy products, bakeries, plastic manufacturing and also recycling in the UAE. And his next goal is to expand the brand’s reach within the country: “In Oman, we currently have milk, juices and water but have plans to bring some fresh businesses here. “In the milk and juices we have one-third of the market share and another 20 per cent is in through our water sales.
“Awareness is a very important part of the brand – and there is an 85 per cent knowledge of the brand. But for a company to succeed in the Omani market, Mohamed says the team will have to set goals and work together to achieve it. “You need to have objectives when you’re working in this industry. You cannot simply say that you want to go to the moon and don’t know how to go there. So, you’ll need to be practical in your approach to the market to make sure that your goals are realistic and time-bound. “Empowering is important too. You need to give your people room to make decisions and also mistakes. They will learn from it. “The motto is that ‘Don’t be afraid of making mistakes’, but make sure you don’t repeat the same mistakes,” he elucidates, before we end our sweet and long conversation.