Amr Baabood is currently the CEO of Oman International Trade and Exhibitions (OITE),
Oman’s leading trade fair organization.
Founded over 35 years ago, OITE works closely with the private sector, government, and academia in Oman.
Amr Baabood grew up in the UK, holds a degree in Economics, and is a qualified solicitor.
What was the motivation behind setting up OITE in the 1980s?
Amr Baabood: Oman International Trade and Exhibitions (OITE) was set up in 1984.
The motive at the time was to market Oman internationally because nobody knew much about the country at that time.
In 1970 when Oman opened up, the first step was for people to know what was happening in the country.
What are the businesses that are around, how can I network with these businesses?
Amr Baabood: How can I work with the government? We were there as a company to get all these people together in one place, get to know each other, and obviously explore opportunities and at the same time bring in international investors, and companies into Oman. What has happened since then has been amazing because some of these companies who have come to Oman for the first time through some of our trade fairs have now become leading organizations within the country. We feel very proud to have been part of that journey and very proud to have supported Oman in its journey to where it is today.
You came from the UK to Oman in 2018. What experience did you have to bring to the role, if any?
Amr Baabood: Having graduated with a degree in Economics from the UK, I then went on to do a degree in law. I worked for around five years in Commercial Law and qualified as a solicitor in London. That’s when I realized that I enjoy the commercial part of the legal industry and that led me to explore other opportunities. I joined OITE initially as a legal consultant. The previous managing director was on his way out of the company and I had the opportunity then to become the head of the organization. Although I hadn’t had much experience in actually leading a company, I had had experience working in the legal background, advising the senior leadership teams. That was the kind of experience I had when I got appointed as the CEO.
It took me around two years in the CEO position to feel like I now get what it means to be a CEO and start to add value backAmr Baabood
What challenges did the pandemic present to you and what changes in your
organization did you need to make in order to withstand that terrible time?
Amr Baabood: As a company, were in a really promising position when COVID hit. The whole team was ready to take on this next challenge of going international. When COVID hit Oman in around February- March 2020 it was just before two of our
major exhibitions. The closure was a big shock. This was a challenge that no one had
expected and no one knew what was the right path to go or if there was any path at all.
We would have meetings and discussions for many months trying to understand what
was next. And the immediate challenge that we had first was that the big events which
our clients had paid a lot for were no longer happening. I think it was all about being open-minded, having strong communication with firstly your employees, with all the stakeholders in your business and with your clients, and with society at large.
One of the opportunities at the time was virtual exhibitions, which of course we were excited about, but we also understood that they were limited in their scope because
humans are not designed to carry out much of their work virtually. We have to network;
we have to meet face to face. We tried a few of these events and they did manage to keep some cash flow going to allow us to meet our financial commitments.
Of course, we then had to restructure our financial arrangements with some of the lenders at the time to give us more time to be able to survive, because finance is kind of the key pillar in the survival of any business.
Virtual events are what kept us going.
We diverted some of our human resources from the trade fair side into the research
side to try to win new business and new clients. This to some extent, worked and managed to keep us afloat throughout the two years of COVID. When the main restrictions on COVID finally ended things were very tough. I think that we were lucky that we were able to recover. There are many lessons that we have learned as well from the situation on how to be a more lean and more flexible organization.
It has taught us things such as how to be more adaptable, and how to not stick hard to your targets because targets are continuously shifting, and objectives are continuously shifting. How to grow and invest more in smaller or alternative routes of bringing in revenue to your company, which could then help you in the future.
How would you describe your company’s success so far?
Amr Baabood: The way that we divide our successes is that we have longer-term
achievements, which we are aiming for mid-term and short term which are successes that
we have every day. I think measuring success can be very difficult because there is financial success. There are other ways to succeed.
For example, what is the reputation of your business? What is the trustworthiness of your business with your clients? Us surviving COVID is something I would always look back on as my greatest achievement. It’s the success of keeping our company intact and the kind of continuation of some of our major trade fairs, which have been around for 35 years.
As I mentioned, we have aims to go international. COVID has slowed us down by
three years. We have achieved success in some areas and in other areas, we have definitely learned many things.
What is unique about OITE and what sets you apart from everyone else?
Amr Baabood: The average age of the team members within our company is 26 years.
As a company, we’ve always liked to involve youth. They are usually the most up-to-
date, most energetic. And they love working in trade fairs because trade fairs are very
fun and dynamic and dynamic and they require a lot of energy.
Oman is also taking that step, by the way, trying to evolve and focus more on the youth
because there’s much opportunity and hope that they can bring to the country.
What would be your take-home advice for people who are starting their SMEs or
thinking about starting a business?
Amr Baabood: I think starting up a new business, you really have to be prepared for all outcomes. It is one of the biggest things you will do in your lifetime. You have to be
committed to what you are starting off. Patience is key, not just for yourself, but even for those around you.
I think starting up your own business all alone is very difficult. It’s the support network that gets you through the difficult times. I think you have to prepare yourself to find good luck by putting yourself in the right position. You might be convinced about your product or service, but try to see if others are also convinced and, see how you can be open-minded and work with as many people as possible. Have open communication with your staff and employees because they are the ones who are really going to be driving your business forward.