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We Own McLaren!

We, as in the “Royal” We, as in the Kingdom of Bahrain, as in Mumtalakat Holdings, the totally Bahraini government owned company which is supposed to also own all of the government companies and companies which the government has a better than 50% stake in, nows owns 30% of McLarren!

How sweet is that?

Here’s the gen:

LONDON, Jan 9 (Reuters) – McLaren boss Ron Dennis and Saudi investor Mansour Ojjeh are selling half their stakes in the Formula One team to Bahrain’s Mumtalakat Holding Company, McLaren said on Tuesday.

A statement on the team’s Web site said Mumtalakat had “entered into an agreement, by way of a strategic investment, to acquire a 30 percent stake in McLaren Group Limited following a period of extensive discussions with the existing McLaren Group shareholders.”
Mumtalakat is wholly owned by the Kingdom of Bahrain.

McLaren said that the new shareholding structure, after completion of the deal, would leave Mercedes parent DaimlerChrysler with 40 percent and Dennis and TAG Group (Holdings) with 15 percent each.

“The company will continue to be managed by its existing management team,” it added on www.mclaren.com.
The Guardian

Fernando Alonso in McLaren liveryOooooooh.. we now (part) own assets like The Kid!

Shall I switch my allegiance from the prancing horse to an outfit that has not won anything in 7 years?

Nope… my blood is red, Ferrari Red and shall remain so for at least another year.

April 15th is the date.

Bring it on BIAATCHE!

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Holiday!

(you HAVE to sing the title of this post in a Madonaesque voice, do it again, go on, do it in a loud voice so everyone can hear you in the office!)

A reader sent me an email asking for the upcoming holidays for the private sector a few moments ago and although I am not an official information service, the question prompted me to dig a bit. I fortunately remembered that one of my Bahrain Young Businessmen Committee’s colleagues at the Chamber of Commerce (thanks bu Abdulla!) already did just that in listing the forthcoming holidays from now until the end of January 2007; I guess to show the number of days off we will suffer as business owners, and for private and public sectors workers to look forward to and enjoy!

Here’s the list:

[TABLE=6]

Count them. We will have half a month’s holiday in just 5 weeks, how good is that? I am sure you will be even more surprised if you thought of the holidays in this context – especially if you are a business owner – over the full year, add to that the productivity lost in Ramadhan for instance, and it is a wonder really that we are still in business!

Why couldn’t we just adopt the “Bank holiday Monday” principal and just have two or three long weekends in the year, and a good 3 or 4 days for the “big” Eid and be done with it? The long weekends for us would be a day off on Sunday regardless of when the occasion falls, and as far as Eid is concerned, well, we can’t control that, but in any case, the government should most definitely stop this “compensation” business. If a holiday falls on a weekend or coincides with another holiday, why should we have to pay for it?

Long holidays are pretty boring anyway, so we – business owners – are doing our employees a huge favour by allowing them to come to work and exercise their brains and talents rather than laze around all day at home picking their noses or suffering hang-overs!

Happy holidays! 😀

Update 14 Dec @ 0741: corrected the Ashura holidays entry, thanks to Yonis for spotting the error.

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Bahrain government buys C&W’s Batelco share out!

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This off the presses:

LONDON (AP) – Cable & Wireless PLC said Wednesday it will sell its 20 percent stake in Bahrain Telecommunications Co. BSC (Batelco) for $506.1 million to Bahrain government agencies.

The Middle Eastern monarchy will pay cash upon completion of the deal, expected in January, Cable & Wireless said in a statement.

Cable & Wireless’ stake will be bought by Bahrain Mumtalakat Holding Co. BSC, General Organization for Social Insurance, and The Pension Fund Commission. All three are existing shareholders of Batelco and each will acquire a third of the Cable & Wireless stake.

“The decision to sell our stake in Batelco is in line with our strategy to dispose of assets within the international portfolio where there is little likelihood of achieving management control,” Cable & Wireless International Chief Executive Harris Jones said.

Okay then… so in a few weeks Batelco will be a full Bahraini company with the government bolstering it’s position as the biggest shareholder. Therefore, one would think, that as it will be a government entity, and as the government – obviously – wants what is best for the country, will it then break it into smaller units and really open up the competitive telecommunications market space in order for us mere mortals to be able to get proper services at reasonable (and un-fettered/un-throttled/un-bandwidth-limited) costs?

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It’s that itch again

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and it’s got to be scratched.

You know the one… the one that tells you that its time to change your career again. It’s been 15 years with me running this business; however, while we have had quite a number of changes imposed upon us by market forces, I feel that I want to something other than just box moving. I am itching to do something creative with my time. I am itching for a change. I am itching to hand over the day-to-day running of this business to someone else under my leadership and me concentrating my time on developing new businesses completely unrelated to what we are doing now.

What works though?

It would be silly to assume that whatever endeavour I opt for will work and start making money in a short space of time. Maybe the best thing to do is to take the “shotgun approach” like so many of my friends. Start 10 companies and let them go out in the world, give each of them 6 months and be brave enough to shut those down which do not seem to be making money. If they just cover their costs however, leave them for a year to be in profit, or else they too bite the dust.

I am in love with micro-businesses at the moment; I don’t want to go into starting huge conglomerates that require millions to initiate, nor do I want to put that three-letter word at the forefront of my mind when thinking of businesses. If and when the opportunity comes for IPOing a business, then so be it, I just want these businesses to carry themselves and make a modest profit every year in order for me to sit back, relax, and continue blogging!

I know, if you’re a Gulf national you will immediately tell me to ditch all of these useless ideas and go borrow enough money to buy a couple of buildings, rent the flats and go reserve a seat and table for you at Starbucks where you can sit and wirelessly blog to your heart’s content. Which is good enough. I know some who can barely get the motivation to rub their two brain cells together to get out of bed, yet they are already millionaires and some are considerably younger and less educated than I am. But I don’t have the kind of money to do that, and they tell me that it’s a sellers’ market at the moment and in fact everyone is holding to their properties and don’t want to sell. Why? Because they will just get a bundle of cash that they can do nothing with except for putting it into a no-interest bearing account as they will not be able to re-invest that money into another building.

Other than properties, then, and there is no way I would go into even small scale manufacturing as that would require even bigger financial commitments, the only two markets left are either retail or services.

Which to go for?

How about both?

I think the best way forward at the moment then is to really to do both: start a small shop to sell fast-moving stuff and a service-based business.

Any ideas what those might be? Any advice? Anyone looking for a partner?

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New Weekends!

New Weekends!

It’s not many times in a person’s life that a new weekend is declared, so we should feel quite privileged that our government has decided to implement a new weekend spanning Friday and Saturday, rather than the so far usual Thursday and Friday. This new weekend is set to start from September 1st, 2006 and I’m looking forward to it like you wouldn’t believe!

During my early life, I worked in a stationer’s/bookshop/art supply store owned partly by my dad and we worked a 6 and a half day week. We only had Friday afternoon off, and I used to be paid by a subscription to Tin Tin magazine! I later caught-on a bit and demanded money in addition to Tin Tin and was rewarded with a HUGE salary of BD30 a month, that’s just over US$100, a huge deal for an 8 year old. We carried on with Al-Taleb Stationary until the late 70s when its 4 owners decided to call it quits and closed it down.

Such a shame really, that was a piece of history and a lot of people, artists mainly, still remember it with tears of nostalgia, as it was their first touch with extremely hard to get art supplies which my dad – rest his soul – struggled to import from Japan, Belgium, Holland, Germany, England and other international points. Artists made Al-Taleb Stationary their regular haunt and stopping point, an informal place to talk art and solidify friendships. My dad at that time was still a teacher, so he was around only in the afternoons.

After Al-Taleb Stationary, my dad joined forces with his brother and another friend and started Arabia Glass & Mirrors Company. Unfortunately I didn’t join him there as I was far too busy being a teenager with a venerable afro, platform shoes, big collars, and “navy” flared trousers! Yes, the image of the venerable Michael Jackson in his early career comes to mind and it isn’t that much different from what I looked like at the time, save for his much darker features. At that time, we still had 6-day school weeks as we only took the Friday off…

But before the American Mission School (as it was called then, and is called Al-Raja School now) I was at the Sacred Heart which had even a more screwy weekend: a full day Friday and full day Sunday! Catholics, what can I say?

It was only when I went to university in Scotland that I experience a full and contiguous two-day weekend: it was a Saturday and Sunday! But realistically, the weekend was any day that we didn’t have an exam!

Back to Bahrain and my weekends were stranger than that Catholic school… I worked shifts, two days nights (8pm – 6am), one and a half day off, followed by two morning shifts (6am – 2pm) and immediately after that were two afternoon shifts (2pm to 8pm), and it carried on like that for 13 years until I decided that I have had enough of Gulf Air and left to manage my fledgling company.

At Computer Point we initially worked six-day-weeks, having only Friday off. (We exclusively sold Apple products then!) But of course nothing stays static. When we moved from a “shop” to an “office” as we started selling more corporate products exemplified by SGI we changed our weekend to five and a half days, having Thursday afternoon and Friday as days off, this is the situation we still use as our working week, an arrangement I must confess that I got really disenchanted with. My body (and my gardening) was telling me that it really needed a couple of days off in a week so that it can unwind and take care of itself…

Well, that time has now finally come. The government has decided, prompted by the Economic Development Board supported fully by the Chamber of Commerce (kudos to both for such a tangible step that people will remember them for) to switch and unify the weekend in Bahrain to Friday and Saturday.

Phew. About time! And I am really looking forward to that weekend.

Some of you might wonder why I didn’t just do it several years ago, as I own my business. The truth is, we have to respond to our customers needs, and as the government customers have Thursday and Friday off, while some of our private sector customers have Friday and Saturday off, we had to compromise and still keep our phones on throughout our weekend, just in case any of our customers require urgent support during their normal working hours. Now, with a unified weekend, we can join the human race as far as weekends are concerned!

1st September can’t come soon enough for me I can tell you. For a very very long time I shall enjoy two full days of rest… oh, but wait, our Saudi and Kuwaiti customers will still work Saturdays… DAMN! We have to at least keep our phones on for Saturdays just in case they need our assistance.

Still… better than a kick in the teeth!

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Mine!

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My sister is over with her kids for the summer break, and we meet almost every lunchtime at dad’s house, and as she’s got young kids, they come with their cartoons library of DVDs for their lunchtime drugged silence while we eat! One of the DVDs they’re watching now is Finding Nemo which I love to bits too, and it certainly keeps me quiet 🙂

The point? I love the seagulls in that movie, especially as they continuously squabble over every tidbit with the chorus of “mine, mine, mine, mine” etc. This is exactly what came across my mind as I read this report from Bloomberg about the Saudi objection to the Emirates laying down a life-sustaining gas pipeline from neighbouring Qatar. Why? Because Saudi is disputing the Emirates and Qatar’s claim that the pipeline does not run into Saudi territorial waters!

The same border dispute happened before between Qatar and Bahrain, and although I thought the real contribution of the Gulf Cooperation Council was to resolve these disputes – I naturally thought that as the GCC has been going on for 25 years, all of these disputes had been resolved… silly me! They still exist between most, if not all of these countries. Which is absolutely ridiculous.

I would have thought that “in the spirit of brotherly relations” that Saudi would have agreed to have the pipeline run on its desert to get from Qatar to the Emirates as it – being the guardian of the Gulf, Arabism and Islam – would understand that its brotherly relations between the two countries would make things cheaper and more efficient for them and aid in their development.

Fat chance.

So remind me please, what’s the point of the GCC again?

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Precidents work…

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Take for example this year’s F1 season opener in Bahrain which garnered much better television viewer figures than the traditional opener held at Australia, that – business-wise – should be enough to move that fixture permanently to the BIC in Bahrain, and it looks like Bernie is considering it.

And why shouldn’t he? The BIC has brought in BD 116 million last year and looks on track to bring in even more this year. All for an initial investment of BD 150 million, according to the GDN anyway, and we all know how reliable that paper can be. I’m skeptical at the figures because they look believable – as far as the revenues are concerned – if they are expressed in US Dollars rather than Bahraini Dinars (a Bahraini Dinar is equal to 2.65 US Dollars); how can an investment of BD 150 million return most of that investment in one year? I’m sure that the drug lords are envious!

There is no other way to find out the actual revenues because they apparently do not produce any annual reports, and if they do, they don’t post them on their website. I can ask I suppose, but this is not an investigative journalism piece, just various thoughts that crossed my mind as I was reading the GDN earlier. Even if the revenue numbers are wrongly represented in BD and they actually are in US$, last year’s revenue still constitutes a revenue-to-initial investment ratio of 29%, which is huge, and that is for a single year! I don’t know what their net margin is though…

If, on the other hand, that these numbers are actually correct, then more power to you BIC and everyone who sails in her; I have no problem their past success and wish them a lot more in the future… it just sounds a bit incredulous to me.

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Island no more…

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Bahrain used to be a collection of islands, each surrounded – obviously – by water. That virtually stopped when the King Fahad Causeway opened, and now it is further strengthened by the signing of the agreements to construct another causeway, this time between Bahrain and Qatar.

Apart from this being a huge step for business and travel between the two countries, it will also reduce the time it takes to get to the Emirates, some say (and I have no confirmation of this and would like to know if it is actually true) that this new causeway might shave off more than 5 hours from the trip which usually takes some 12 hours.

Now all we need is another couple causeways, one between Bahrain and Kuwait, and other between Bahrain and the Emirates and we would have had it sussed. Just imagine the marketing for Bahrain if and when that happens: “travel the Gulf without stepping into Saudi!” or “Even women can drive from Bahrain to Kuwait now” and all the other tag lines which could be coined.

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Optimism… maybe

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KoOKiE just brought to our attention something to be optimistic about, if true that is. I have not received the email yet, but let me relate what has been posted on the boycottbatelco.com’s guestbook:

Someone got this letter from Peter the CEO

“Please find attached a detailed response which I have forwarded to the people complaining against the new internet packages by Batelco. When I can get a representative team together from concerned users (hopefully within the next two weeks), we will kick off some research – in a collaborative way – which will lead to new, additional packages being introduced even unlimited… I don’t want to mislead you but this process will take couple of months, unless we can do it quicker. TRA approvals take at least 30 days.

I understand there are concerns and we will act responsibly.

I hope the info below allows you to conclude that we will benefit a lot of customers. We now have to find a solution for those high users – I get it.

Regards
Peter K “

I hope this is true… there were more than 250 people in that room last night, and all of them didn’t come there just to hear about new packages; most probably they knew about them and came to object to the unavailability of unlimited packages.

A friend just commented to me that only Shaikh Isa Qassim and his lot can bring that many people into a room! I don’t think that the BIS in all of its history managed to get that many people into an event, knowing Bahrain, they would have probably begged and threatened to just get 50. So that must have demonstrated to Batelco that they have done something wrong, and if that message got through, as the entry above suggests, then I am optimistic.

Batelco has a duty not only to its shareholders, it has a larger duty to its community, and “giving” BD 5 million here and there when you consider their net profit last year of BD 80 million, is less than peanuts. I was particularly aggrieved and dismayed when I heard Mr. K repeat – at least three times – a threat to discontinue donations to worthy causes in order to plough that money into making the internet access more affordable, particularly to villagers.

But that’s a subject of another post, in an Arabic paper coming soon…

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