Gulf Craft – Setting a Course for Success

The UAE may not be the first place you think of to start a shipbuilding business, but Gulf Craft has shown it can be a huge success.

Gulf Craft is a shipbuilder founded in 1982 in the UAE. From the very beginning, it was a bold and some would say surprising venture.

“Nobody thought shipbuilding would come out of the Middle East, the harshest environment for this industry in terms of heat, humidity and other environmental factors,” explains Talal Nasralla, CEO of Gulf Craft.

That anyone even attempted this is the work of Gulf Craft’s Chairman, Mohammed Alshaali, who founded the business and is a strong presence within the company even today.

“He is still very involved in the business and is guiding management from a very hands-on design and production point of view,” Nasralla says. “He’s a craftsman, building ships is a hobby for him and he gives us our guiding principles.”

40 years later the company has come a long way, employing a team of 1,000 people providing a huge range of products from fishing boats to very luxurious superyachts 175-feet long.

Generous with Knowledge

While Gulf Craft is a proudly Middle Eastern business, it draws on a truly global pool of talent.

“The talent within the company comes from all around the world. We’ve been able to attract the brightest minds in the industry,” Nasralla says. “We hire people who know how to build boats but more importantly people who help us innovate, taking into constant account the safety and security of our clients.”

That talent is something the company treasures, and it goes to the very core of its identity.

We think of it as the Gulf Craft family. We have that spirit, that culture of a family business,” Nasralla tells us. “We always had that camaraderie and family feeling.”

Gulf Craft competes to be the preferred employer in terms of training programmes and investment into every member of its team. The central pillar of this strategy is its education pack.

“We pride ourselves on being a school and that people can go through our courses and say they are a graduate of the Gulf Craft School,” Nasralla says. “We say we are generous with our knowledge and it gives the team a lot of fulfilment to not only do a job but learn on the job as well.”

The end result is a team that Nasralla counts among the company’s unique strengths.

“A unique selling point, which we’re very proud of, is the strength of our team. We have the ability to attract talent from all over the world through the range of our products, and the ability to build in the same location 31 foot to 175-foot boats,” he points out.

Under One Roof

This is just one of Gulf Craft’s strengths, however. Over the years the company has worked hard to design, develop and build a perfected mix of products. It can go to market with a wide range of products to meet all kinds of needs and functionalities. What makes this range special is that Gulf Craft has a single team with a broad base of experience, rather than a collection of specialists, so lessons in one area can be taken to another.

“Under one roof we offer our complete range of products with one management and a strong operations team,” Nasralla says. “We have the ability to take the lessons we learned building small boats in tight spaces to larger yachts where there is a need for detail work and detailed craftsmanship. We learn across the range and it helps us to streamline our supply chains as well, giving us an advantage in terms of economies of scale.”

This is also why Gulf Craft has adopted a vertically integrated business model, which can be invaluable when boat building in the challenging environment of the UAE.

“We are working in a very difficult environment not only in terms of the weather, humidity and heat but also the availability of products and materials within the UAE,” Nasralla explains. “So, the company has grown vertically. We do everything from steel manufacturing to marble furniture, all in-house, decreasing our dependence on outsourcing the work to suppliers. It means we’re able to control our deadlines and commitments to our clients.”

The Ultimate Social Distancing

This has proved to be a boon in recent times as supply chains around the world have faced new challenges in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I think that the entire industry in the world has seen challenges this year. The supply chain has suffered a little. We lost momentum with manufacturing delays in Europe and the US especially with regard to engines. That was the biggest challenge we had,” Nasralla tells us. “We’ve been able to overcome these challenges. We have fantastic relationships with suppliers and we were able to speak with them and understand how the delays would affect us and improve our building methodology. We scheduled our supply chain and our expectations in terms of materials. We’ve turned these challenges into advantages.”

This is fortunate because Gulf Craft is still seeing strong demand for its high-end products.

 “People have realised yachting, in general, is the best form of social distancing. You can take families, friends spend a day on a boat away from busy cities and still fulfil your entertainment and luxury needs,” Nasralla says. “It’s a driver to spend more time away from the conventional lifestyle. But also, internationally the investors and high net worth individuals who make up that customer base did well in the last year.”

Things are going well for Gulf Craft, but Nasralla is not ready to rest on his laurels, and the company already has some exciting new products in the pipeline.

“We have some secret products in development which we’ll be launching soon. One I can share, which we will be launching next year, is a new model of a fishing boat. We will be re-entering this market with a very strong product,” Nasralla tells us excitedly. “We have also seen the average age of our clients is getting younger so we’re catering to that with younger yachts, starter yachts closer in price to luxury cars, bringing more to our clients in that range.”

The growth of the company is going to continue, and Gulf Craft is currently working on building a new factory in the Maldives, which Nasralla sees as an important future market for the company. With expanding markets in the GCC and Europe, Gulf Craft is setting a course for new horizons.

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