Trade Links & Services – Bringing Experience to Bear

Trade Links & Services has a great deal of knowledge and experience, which it is using to overcome new challenges.

Trade Links & Services (TLS) came into inception in 1980 as the trading arm of Civilco. It was founded by Mr Ali Mirza, a serial entrepreneur, who found solutions and challenged the usuals since 1977. Like all of Mirza’s business ventures, TLS was developed to solve a problem, in this case as an electrical equipment stockist and distributor. Mr Ali Mirza’s goal was to build a company that would be the largest stockist and distributor in Oman. Over the last three decades, TLS built an impressive track record in construction, business, trading, and building solutions while stocking and delivering world-class technologies that meet the growing demands of the energy and industrial sectors. Today, TLS has a strong presence in local as well as international markets and valuable base of customers, and key partnerships with manufacturers.

“We started to take the lead in communicating with suppliers and vendors building their relationship in the local market, and established joint ventures with Civilco to take local contracts, and TLS emerged as a complimentary startup to vertically integrate within the group. We also started to take business from power and distribution contractors as a trading partner,” says Magdy Abu Farag, CEO of TLS. He also quotes that “We have three business units, one business unit Power and Transmission PT&D Projects up to 400KV, second is a Trading sector, the third is the Building solutions.”

In fact, TLS achieved experience in construction by completing 300 projects, operating 15 million manhours in the past 32 years, and generating US $ 370 million in revenue. In trading, TLS generated a billion dollars in revenue from 264 products and 80,000 line items. Likewise, building solutions offers six expertise to 200 customers and has billed US $ 10 million till date.

Working from Experience

Magdy Abu Farag is the Chief Executive Officer of Trade Links & Services (TLS).

Magdy brings his own wealth of expertise and experience to the role. Graduated Electrical Engineering B.Sc. Professional Certified, PMI, MBA. Experience of international business development, strategic planning, leadership, change management and transformation. He is actively participating in business process improvement, communication, and transformation with different roles. He took on roles of increasing responsibility in the construction of Oil & Gas, Power Generation, Transmission PT&D, Industrial Sectors, Manufacturing, Steel, and Mining EPC’s projects. He has enabled products and teams in critical investment projects, accelerating growth and return on investment under commercial divisions, and progressing into executive leadership. He has 30 years’ of rich experience between well-known Groups of companies, Schneider Electric, Saudi Cables, Hidada, Energya, Danieli, Larsen & Toubro, and Danway. He is working for years as a business leader covering GCC and MENA. His wide experience, an excellent source of network, and a new perceptive are that he brings to bear with TLS.

“We come from Civilco, one of the oldest companies in Oman. We are committed and have built trust with our teams, suppliers, and our clients,” Magdy says. “We’re working with Oman Electricity and Transmission Company, Mazoon Electricity Company, Majan Electricity  Company, Tanweer and Dhofar Power Company in, Power, T&D, with a longstanding history and the relationships dating from the early 1980s.”

We have a strong business relationship with local and international manufacturers and representing many of them, to name a few, Oman Cable Industry, Siemens, Schneider Electric, ABB, Trade links & Services General Electric, Hyundai, Toshiba, Hyosung, Voltamp, Legrand, Balfour Beatty and many more.

In addition to completing hundreds of one-of-a-kind projects, we led advances that challenged and changed the Oman energy sector and industry forever.

This, combined with the quality of the products and services the business provides and the strong relationships they have with suppliers and vendors, is the foundation of TLS’s unique selling point. Magdy heads the company from Muscat, Oman.

Indeed, at TLS, the experience is a watchword.

“We’re a Trusted and leading supplier for our industry segment and area,” Magdy points out.

TLS approach is that the key is to learn safe, fast, and move forward. This is a philosophy that is put into action through a four-step process.

Step one is “Product & Service Differentiation”. This means bringing innovative products and integrated solutions that would exceed market expectations and reflect TLS’s core values as a one-stop solution for all stakeholders.

Step two is “Distribution Differentiation”. TLS provides manufacturers/principals local market coverage, offering customers availability, access to experts, and expertise while easing ordering and payment procedures. TLS is dedicated to bringing in the technical know-how as its team uses the same products the company sells in its own projects.

Step three is “Relationship Differentiation”. “We developed the business through our focus on a narrow niche by serving the energy sector,” Magdy says. “We provide and demonstrate competence, courtesy, credibility, reliability, and responsiveness. We are accountable for executing day-to-day client-facing communication, we are the link between the product/manufacturer and our customer.”

Step four, Magdy tells us, is “Price Differentiation.” TLS belief is competing on price requires recognition that every customer needs a different price.

“Our in-depth understanding of customers has allowed us to maximize the potential revenue by offering each customer a differentiated bid at a different price,” Magdy explains. “We ensure a steady stream of diverse ideas, and one of our goals is rapidly to deliver mature innovation, integrated and seamless products and solutions to projects and fulfil our commitment to customers.”

Employing the Best

To achieve these goals Trade Links & Services needs the best people, a cause the company prioritises.

“We look for employees who understand what our service entails and enjoy it,” Magdy tells us. “Our work environment makes people feel included, we celebrate diversity. Our team belongs to ten countries and speaks 15 different languages.”

You can often tell that a company is moving in the right direction when you see a long tenure among its employees, and TLS certainly enjoys low attrition. Part of the reason for this is that TLS puts the employee in situations where they are more likely to show their true selves to truly understand how they think and respond, allowing the company to better invest in them and help them develop.

“We manage our staff with trust, we cultivate a sense of ownership throughout our team,” Magdy says. “For feedback, we encourage and motivate managers to regularly communicate with the

Trade links & Services

team and provide a response to all concerns, making them feel connected. There is no micromanagement. We allow our staff plenty of space to deliver following our company’s direction.”

As with TLS’s strong client and supplier relationships, communication is key in the business’s interactions with its staff, as Magdy explains, “We ask them what they want, what’s most important to them, we sit down with them and find out what they think adds value to their role. Being transparent, we have an open communication channel that allows employees to reach the top management and the management to be directly involved with the last level to communicate strategy and direction.”

Nearing Opportunities

While the company has a long and established history, it isn’t afraid to move into new markets, as Magdy explains.

“Our business is construction, building solutions, as well as trading and we, ’re trying to diversify, pivoting by experience,” he says.

This is why the company has entered the maintenance sector for asset management.

“We’re looking at maintenance from a point of view that we know the customer, we know what needs to be maintained and most of the assets are 20 years old so that maintenance is necessary,” Magdy tells us. “There’s not much competition in that area, so we can find real opportunities here.”

Magdy tells us facilities management will be a narrow niche opportunity, but one that’s growing at an estimated 10% CAGR due to the increase in infrastructure projects, and PPP projects. As Magdy has said, the market is a young one, with only eight major competitors in the region, mostly joint ventures with international companies.

TLS is aiming to achieve 35% market penetration by 2025, with an estimated US$300 to $350 million.

“With the technological landscape shifting towards predictive maintenance, it will fit right into our strategy of developing a narrow niche,” Magdy says.

Renewable energy also offers substantial opportunities, not just for TLS, but Oman as a whole.

“Renewables also offer the additional diversity we’re looking for, especially in the Gulf areas. We started to think about renewable energy as a new area for the business, bringing in all the right people and starting to build relationships with the suppliers and vendors forward and now we’re focusing on the entire market from design, construction even storage for renewable,” Magdy adds. “We were subcontractors for the first and only wind farm in Oman, and now we’re focussing for more and more solar.”

By 2030 Oman has plans to be generating 20 to 30 gigawatts of renewable energy. TLS has set itself the goal of developing 10% of that energy share, generating between 3 and 4 gigawatts by 2025. There are three major projects under development, the most recent one being the 500MW Ibri II Solar Independent Power Project (IPP) for a consortium led by Saudi Arabia-based ACWA Power. Manah Solar is also being tendered.

Overcoming Challenges

Apart from all the opportunities, TLS has also faced challenges in its journey. During the recent management transfer, the company had to undergo great efforts to ensure continuity while improving, investing, and sustaining the business. This meant tackling the challenge head-on in a still ongoing capability transformation.

“We took a fresh look at our business and decided on a new vision and mission,” Magdy says. “Our organization has a new purpose and we are committed to embracing the future. We restructured and empowered teams instead of using up-to-down decision making, delegating more power to middle management, in order to take action, and the management provides central guidance and coordination.”

The new strategy prioritised on diversification and exploration rather than exploitation for sustainable growth and necessitated digitalising processes and procedures.

Of course, the biggest challenge for any business this year is still the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Corona is a new situation for everyone. Managing the transformation was very challenging to everyone but once we faced this lockdown there was no normalcy travel ban, projects were effected, unavailability of material, almost 100 people from our workforce got affected and declared positive cases,” Magdy says.

Meeting this challenge meant hard work, collaboration, and even sacrifice.

Trade links & Services “We have to continue and sustain our progress, whatever is required. We were dividing staff and manpower between two shifts, making space between people, bringing in additional mobilisation to maintain social distance,” Magdy recalls. “Due to extra costs, it looked like we would be forced to cut some people, but decided as a company not to terminate anyone instead to review our salaries, deducting 10 to 20% salary from everyone so the company could survive while still maintaining our workforce. This is helping us maintain the projects around us because while corona is a reality we still have projects in hand, orders to deliver and services already committed to.”

The next question is how to do that in constraints of time and social distance?

“We are trying to keep people aware and keep transparency by stating the situation as we face it, leading teams where we have to go, and we’re being transparent to our subordinates,” Magdy says. “We’re leading the people to remain calm and face the crisis in a proper manner.”

Looking Forward

While TLS’s first priority, for now, is survival, Magdy is positively thinking about the future of the company, and Oman as a whole.

“A good reason we are able to sustain ourselves is diversity helping us maintain cashflow. We are able to manage it and pay all our dues on time,” he says. “The question is how Oman will grow? There are still economic concerns in general, the Gulf, as its relying on the oil and we need non-oil products to rely on in the age of renewable energy. This is challenging. How we are able to survive in these conditions? That’s a big challenge over the next five years as a company.”

One of the next frontiers TLS is looking to conquer is the digital one, with the Group undergoing an IT infrastructure and digital transformation. The company has built its ERP system on the new Oracle Platform, a cloud-based solution for seamless functionality across Sales, Finance, Procurement, Supply Chain and more to create a unified customer experience.

“Our computational resources are robust and fast, with less risk and provides ease and continuance in our operation,” Magdy says. “Adapting to a digital transformation in these conditions has proven monetary value in saving cost, avoiding data loss, and providing dynamic reporting.”

This is just one of the major achievements TLS has lined up for 2020, however. This year the company received a “Grade: Excellent” certificate from the Tender Board, its Manah 400KV Grid Station Project, and Mabelah South 132 KV Project both OETC awarded and the company has achieved USD75 million in revenue for the year 2020 and 2021from the contracting sectors only.

These are all amazing achievements, but Trade Links & Services is looking to build on these for the future.

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