Five Minutes With… Henrik Christiansen, Executive Director, Bukhatir Group

The UAE-based conglomerate is seeing a boom in the construction market, says Henrik Christiansen.

Can you describe the Bukhatir group’s operations?

The Bukhatir Group is one of the largest and most diversified business groups in the UAE. The core business areas of the group are construction, industrial manufacturing, education, information technology, real estate, shopping and retail, sports and leisure, and services. The geographical domain of the Bukhatir Group spans over half the world from North America to North Africa and West and South Asia.

In which of your sectors do you see the most opportunity?

I expect to see five to seven per cent year-on-year growth for the construction industry in the UAE; therefore, I predict strong growth potential for all construction-related companies, such as our construction company Eastern International, and also for industrial businesses that operate in manufacturing for the UAE construction market, such as our market-leading block and interlock company Bucomac Industries, our wood workshop and interior fit-out company Touchwood, and our ready-mixed concrete business Conmix.

What challenges to you foresee for the coming period?

Despite good market conditions for our industry in the coming years, I expect that competition will be tough, and this will demand strong management and leadership. Owners and executives need to get their strategy right and ensure it is aligned with market expectations, which I strongly believe has significantly changed over the past few years. In my view, execution of strategy all the way though the organisation will be one of the most critical success criteria for stakeholders in the coming years.

Recent surveys have shown that only 39 per cent of all company owners believe their senior executives are capable of executing their strategy, highlighting a real problem that many companies face today.

At the Bukhatir Group, our business philosophy is “customers first.” This complements the strategy of our industrial companies, which is to ensure that we maintain a competitive advantage by adding value to our customers. Each element of our value chain knows precisely how they have to act to ensure they add value, directly or indirectly, to our customers.

What is your outlook for the UAE?

In my view, the GCC is the most interesting market for construction in the world and the UAE is the most interesting market in the GCC, so you can say that we are in a real “sweet spot” position here in the UAE. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a much larger market for construction, driven by government funding, but in my view it is not as sophisticated as the UAE market yet because innovative products and solutions are still coming to the UAE before any other GCC market.

Will you be hiring this year?

We are always looking for the right talent, both from within the group and from the market in general. The group has developed a strong human resource department that works very closely with the business units to ensure we retain our best people and attract new talent where required. Our mantra is “the right employee for the right job.”

The growth in the UAE is affecting the number of employees in the group and that is why we are recruiting for key positions right now.

What’s your leadership style?

My leadership style has evolved throughout my career. When I worked in Scandinavia and the UK, I led teams of industry specialists and my leadership style was more democratic. But since my arrival in the GCC seven years ago, I have mostly worked in large family businesses that were undergoing periods of change, which required me to adjust my leadership style to support these tasks. In my role now, I would say I am more of an authoritative leader, which I have found to be effective when working in large organisations that have complex structures.

However, I am always striving to improve my leadership skills, and one way I have been able to do this is through the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) online programme from the University of Liverpool that I am currently enrolled in.

What makes the perfect employee?

Is there a perfect employee? Don’t we all have to develop and keep learning to become even better? In my opinion the almost-perfect employee is proactive in their actions and is interested in learning, both from others and from their own actions.

Define success in five words

Freedom to act, passion, belief, learning, and accountability (towards all stakeholders!).

What are your three tips for becoming the boss?

I don’t think “becoming the boss” in itself should be the ambition of anybody, but the ambition should be to achieve a position where you, as a leader, can add value to all the stakeholders you may have, both professionally and privately. It is important to also understand that leaders who make a difference to the company can be found at all levels of the organisation, including those that do not necessarily have a “manager” title attached to them.

What is the best advice you can give to other managers?

I strongly believe that all managers should ensure that they surround themselves with employees that are stronger in their specific areas of expertise than the leaders themselves, as this is the foundation of high-performing teams. Another piece of advice, and I really mean this, KEEP LEARNING — it is so important we do not become complacent with our own development.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Well, when you take on further education or training while working you do not have as much leisure time as before. However, I do make time to read business books and autobiographies, go diving and travel with my family. I also have to say that I am a massive Liverpool Football Club supporter and so watching the matches is a priority too.