Sunday, May 19, 2024

Innovation and Empowerment: Huda Al-Lawati’s Vision at Aliph Capital

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Innovation and Empowerment: Huda Al-Lawati’s Vision at Aliph Capital

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Huda Al-Lawati
CEO of Aliph Capital

Huda has twenty years of experience in private equity, operations and investments across emerging markets. 

Huda is the Founder and CEO of Aliph Capital, a GCC-focused investment manager enabling traditional businesses to bridge the technology gap through active ownership and digital transformation.

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Prior to founding Aliph, Huda was a Partner at Gateway Partners Group where she was a member of the Investment Committee. Before this, Huda was Chief Investment Officer for Savola Group, one of the largest publicly-listed strategic investment holding groups for food and retail businesses in the Middle East and North Africa region. Prior to Savola, Huda was a Partner and Chief Investment Officer for MENA at the Abraaj Group.

She started her career with Schlumberger in 2002 after graduating from Brown University. Huda has overseen $2 billion in equity and $1 billion in debt deals, covering growth capital, MBOs, LBOs, venture capital, equity markets, and structured equity transactions across various sectors. She’s spearheaded strategic initiatives, corporate turnarounds, change management, organizational development, and investor relations. She is currently a board member at Spinneys, MAGRABi Retail Group and Saudi Fransi Capital. She has previously served on multiple boards and committees across the region including ADC Acquisition Corporation, Hala, Tim Hortons, Panda Retail Company, Herfy (Tadawul), AlKabeer, Savola Foods Company, SMG, The Entertainer, Kudu, Al Ula Development Company (a subsidiary of PIF) and the Young Arab Leaders. Miss Al Lawati holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Neuroscience and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Economics (Honors) from Brown University.

Your role as Founder and CEO of Aliph Capital focuses on bridging the technology gap for traditional businesses in the GCC through active ownership and digital transformation. Can you explain how Aliph Capital is contributing to this transformation and the specific industries you are targeting for disruption? 

Huda Al-Lawati: In today’s business landscape, embracing technology is crucial for any company to stay competitive and thrive. Despite the availability of tech solutions and demand from stakeholders, many companies struggle with digital transformation. Common hurdles include lacking tech expertise internally, unclear planning and budgeting, relying too much on consultants, and difficulty in setting priorities. Addressing these basics is vital for turning digital goals into reality.

embracing technology is crucial for any company to stay competitive and thrive

Huda Al-Lawati

At Aliph, we bring value by assessing a company’s digital readiness and crafting a clear roadmap for technology adoption. We ensure that the necessary resources, both people and funds, are in place to achieve digital ambitions. We also challenge priorities, balancing internal goals with stakeholder expectations and assessing the potential impact. After investment, we align all priorities with measurable KPIs and incentives.

An example of our approach is seen in our acquisition of The Petshop, the UAE’s largest pet services business, in 2022. We appointed new leadership, including a Chief Technology Officer (CTO), and developed a roadmap aligned with overall business objectives. We focused on enhancing online growth, particularly through the mobile app, with features like AI-powered search and express delivery. Additionally, we leveraged business intelligence and optimized the supply chain to drive savings and improve profitability.

You currently serve on the boards of Magrabi and Saudi Fransi Capital among others and have been on boards of ADC and Hala. How do you manage your time and responsibilities while serving on multiple boards and committees simultaneously, and what do you consider the most rewarding aspect of your board memberships? 

Huda Al-Lawati: My roles on various boards not only enable me to share my expertise and insights but also provide me with a deep understanding of markets and emerging technologies. This understanding directly informs Aliph Capital’s investment strategy and value creation plans, making the experience mutually beneficial.

Engaging with diverse boards is far more advantageous than working in isolation. It ensures broader perspectives on events, enhances the ability to make valuable connections, and grants primary access to the latest business developments.

Last year, you attended the 100 Women In Finance Middle East Chapter event. How does 100 Women In Finance help women in finance grow and feel empowered? What lessons can we take from their events to make finance more diverse and inclusive?

Huda Al-Lawati: Firstly, we should recognise that – despite the perceptions of some – the Middle East offers major opportunities for women. Over the last decade, women have achieved notable leadership roles across business, politics, and diplomacy, amongst others, often at a relatively young age.

However, globally, women hold less than 12% of top positions in private equity, showing that it’s not just a regional problem but a worldwide one.

In any profession, women or not – to succeed, you need to be passionate about what you do and strive for excellence. Building expertise in your field gives you the power to reach your goals.

Organizations like 100 Women In Finance are essential for supporting women in finance. They help with networking, mentorship, and career advancement, which is particularly beneficial for women in the Middle East. I had the privilege to speak at their event in Riyadh last October, and it’s been impactful for female professionals in the region.

Aliph Capital’s strategic collaboration with Jada Fund of Funds involves an investment in Aliph Fund I, a $250 million private equity fund based in the Abu Dhabi Global Market, focusing on mid-sized GCC companies. What sectors will Aliph Fund I prioritize, and how will it drive growth and development in these mid-sized companies? 

Huda Al-Lawati’s: The partnership between Jada and Aliph Capital shares a common goal: to support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which are crucial to Saudi Arabia’s economy, by providing them with resources such as capital, talent, and technology. The influence of Vision 2030 is transforming various sectors and industries, while advancements in technology, real estate, tourism, and infrastructure will contribute to overall economic growth. Aliph Fund I is open to investing in companies across Saudi Arabia and the GCC region, regardless of sector, reflecting its flexibility and broad focus.

How does your past experience influence your outlook for 2024, and what is the critical element in your strategy to guarantee the success of Aliph Capital?

Huda Al-Lawati: The GCC presents a significant opportunity right now. With a strong commitment to diversification, supportive public policies, ongoing reforms, substantial sovereign investments, and forward-thinking leadership, the private equity sector can flourish. Aliph is poised to provide the necessary capital and support to businesses positioned to benefit from these conditions.

The GCC presents a significant opportunity right now.

Huda Al-Lawati

The GCC’s growth today outstrips most of the globe. Our approach remains focused on identifying successful businesses in the GCC, taking active ownership roles, and facilitating their expansion.

Our success hinges on making informed investment decisions and diligently building a portfolio of high-growth businesses that will be attractive to future buyers.

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