Riding the waves of growth ASIS Boats CEO – Roy Nouhra shares his story of passion and success on Business Pulse
UAE based entrepreneur Roy Nouhra may have just celebrated his 40th birthday, but the Lebanese-born businessman is far from ‘over the hill’. The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘entrepreneur’ as a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk. Nouhra believes the description to be simpler than that.
“A person with an unexplainable or immeasurable passion,” he said nonchalantly. “That’s it. That’s what it takes to succeed in business.” That and patience and a clear strategy, he eventually concedes. “An entrepreneur has to offer something that either doesn’t exist or is better than what is already out there. You must keep reinventing yourself,” says Nouhra, CEO of Dubai-based ASIS Boats.
“I cannot sit back. I need to keep challenging myself, my staff and ultimately, my company. If that goal is met then another goal will be set.” The goal today could easily see Nouhra mistaken for a superhero. “I want to take over the world,” he said with a smile.
A swift clarification confirms that what Nouhra plans, is to make ASIS Boats the number one manufacturer of rigid-hulled inflatable boats (RHIB) in the world. “We are currently in the top three and it’s going to be a lot of work, but I will get us to that number one spot. I believe we are the best.”
A RHIB or rigid-inflatable boat (RIB) is a lightweight, high-performance and high-capacity boat constructed with a solid, shaped hull and flexible tubes at the gunwale. The vessels are particularly popular with the military, sea rescue and commercial sectors due to their ability to take on large quantities of water in bad conditions but still maintain buoyancy.
“We decided to enter a niche market in boating, concentrating on RIBs rather than fishing or speed boats,” he said. “We do a specific type of boat, which is mostly used for rescue and security. We went niche and then we broadened our product range to suit the customers. But our development of just one product allowed us to concentrate on selection, delivery times and build quality. This gave us a real edge in the beginning.”
PASSION FOR BOATS
ASIS boats officially started operations just 15 years ago, but the dream began in 1980 between two water-fanatical brothers. Born in Lebanon and raised in Paris, France, and Montreal, Canada, the brothers dreamt of owning and running a business from a young age. “It was a pipedream I suppose,” said Nouhra, recalling a day on a boat with his dad, Raymond, and brother, Rainier, more than 30 years ago.
“Rainier was nine and I was six. We were wake boarding in Spain and he said one day we would own our own wake boards and everyone in the world would want to buy them.” Their father founded the Solico Group of Companies in 1966. Solico Group has headquarters in Jebel Ali and covers the Middle East, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas, specialising in manufacturing, trading, contracting, investments and philanthropy.
In 1997 when Nouhra and his brother moved to the UAE after having completed an education in the US, both were keen to take a place at the Solico table, but knew their business ventures would be born from passion. “My brother and I wanted to create something more fun, born out of passion,” says Nouhra. “Passion drove us and the leverage came from the fact we wanted to launch direct onto an international platform.”
Nouhra believes the secret to success is making sure passion comes first. “I am passionate about boating and racing. Fine tuning boats and cars to get the best from them. As a race car driver you are always striving for the next best thing from a machine. My background in engineering also gave me a boost but the drive was from a need to quench my own desire for mechanical perfection.”
Nouhra holds a degree in Civil Engineering from Washington DC University, a Masters in Engineering Management and a Harvard degree in Business. In spite of tremendous growth and success, ASIS remains essentially the same entrepreneurial company it was at its inception – a close-knit company culture serving ASIS and its customers well.
“Listening to the customer is key,” insisted Nouhra. “We are a solution provider. We discover their unmet needs and find a platform to meet everything they require. It goes all the way from pre-design, design, construction, training and after-sales service. It’s a holistic approach.” Solutions including boats being hoisted from ship to water from a single point, ways to reduce fatigue for both vessel and operator and amphibious crafts are just a few of the unique features ASIS Boats provides for current clients.
“Around 90% of boating accidents are due to operator fatigue,” according to Nouhra. “Weather, vibration, shocks from the waves and the sound from the wind and engine become tiresome. We produced an on-board system with headsets that cancel outside noise while at the same time connecting everyone on board wirelessly.” ASIS is a privately held company and clients include the UAE and GCC navy, police and coastguard as well as numerous commercial entities.
The boats are manufactured in an ISO 9001 state-of-the-art facility in Dubai.
“The delivery times we can promise in these markets is something very few of our competitors can match or even come close to. In the US, the delivery time for a commercial or military craft is a year, we can produce it in three months,” he said. “We are the only people in this particular field of boat manufacturing who do everything in house. Design, mould-making, boat and all components – except the engine and electronics, which are fitted here – are made here. I don’t rely on outside sub-contractors, which gives me an edge.”
But it wasn’t always plain sailing and Nouhra admits he never expected the business would be so successful so soon. “We started by making many mistakes,” he said. “Originally we wanted to manufacture water ski boats because that was where our passion was. It was a mistake that we stumbled upon the RIBs but it turned out to be the right decision.”
With no real business plan and lacking a strategy, Nouhra set out into the unknown. “In the beginning we had no clue. We didn’t have a clear strategy statement. It took some time and then we focused.”
The strategy statement was decided: to become the leader in the Middle East and GCC for RHIB in the military, commercial and leisure sectors. “We narrowed it down to type of boats, area and who our customers were. We went after that and we succeeded. Then we looked at making it wider, but only in geography.” More than 75% of the boats produced are for the military or rescue services in the Middle East and wider GCC. “This business we call the ‘no-failure zone’,” said Nouhra. “It’s a boat where saving lives could be the one job.”
Despite years of success and a five-year plan packing some serious punch, Nouhra says it’s important to remember the negative aspects of life in business.
“There are always dark days – in any business – it always happens,” he said. “Sometimes it doesn’t matter how hard you try, you’ll never make everyone happy. Don’t waste time with negative people and negative comments. But also accept that some clients will take time. You have to be diplomatic at the right moments. Dealing with the military can be very difficult in the beginning – they have different standards and mind set. You have to keep pushing and be determined and professional.”
In the first year of operation, ASIS Boats produced and sold just one boat every month. Now, 15 years later, a production and office team of more than 85 people, the turnaround is almost a boat for each day of the year.
“My advice is to have passion and love what you do,” he said. “You have a lot of different customers out there and the only way to stop second guessing yourself is to produce a product that you are honestly satisfied with in every way and that you would buy yourself. You will succeed. Patience is the name of the game.”
This article was featured on Business Pulse.