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AISG's CEO: Building a team from within key to sustained growth
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 20 - 02 - 2013


Saudi Gazette Correspondent
JEDDAH – Bringing what might prove to be a game-changing approach to inward investment in Saudi Arabia, Christopher “Kiffer” Andress visited Jeddah last week. AISG Inc. has nine years of experience of construction, logistics and security provision in two of the world's more interesting environments: Afghanistan and Iraq.
Company services are broad ranging, construction management, logistical and supply chain services, design and compliance management, through to physical construction involving, as he put it, “from digging holes in the ground upwards.”
Andress thought that the 100 percent contract success of AISG was very largely due to the core driver of the business; the idea of training his US staff out of their jobs.
“The focus is American leadership but what can we do to develop local talent. We understand that we have to build a bridge with our host country,” he said. He gave the example of his recent projects in Iraq. During his contracting time there, he built a workforce of about 1,000 people, of which over 70 percent were local Iraqis, trained and skilled within the project.
“Our whole focus is supporting Western style business – transparency, attention to detail, but do it with a local workforce as far as possible,” he observed. It is really a commercial example of the aphorism: “Give a man a fish, feed him today. Teach a man how to fish and feed him for life.”
Andress said that AISG had been able to build a model and build a team that knew how to work in this part of the world. “For example hire someone who knows how to dig a ditch and make bricks and develop them into a mason, even move them up into management ranks. That is the whole focus of the company.”
That, he noted, was the business model and why the company had succeeded. “We opened projects and did not have to bring in hundreds of expatriates.”
Built on the experience and success of the idea in the Middle East, the next logical step seemed to be Saudi Arabia. “It's a booming economy and has a large, young and educated workforce we could draw from,” he said. Saudization he saw as a promise rather than a threat.
“The focus is American leadership but what can we do to develop local talent. We understand that we have to build a bridge. We looked at the parameters for Saudization – and we were already 85 percent Iraqi in Iraq.”
Andress proposes to use the same model that proved so successful in Iraq and Afghanistan. Use a small start-up team of foreigners to “get the engine running” so I can do the training and then look to develop local talent.
“We need to win some contracts, build a team, deliver to happy customers with as many local people involved as possible to build our credibility here,” he said. “From where I see it, the Kingdom wants to develop local talent, have a stable market and that is all good.” Eventually, through developing local skills and talent, AISG would be reduced to a skeleton staff but with a strong, well founded and above all, all-local business.
AISG's alternative business approach differs from the mainstream in that profit, while a major motive, is not the sole driver for the company. Andress explained this apparent philanthropical approach in terms of commercial sustainability.
Through developing local talent AISG has created several millionaires, one being a local materials supplier who had developed a major business on the back of AISG's orders.
“He is now employing local people and importantly, we have a very strong personal as well as business relationship with him,” said Andress. “That sort of relationship is, we feel, at the core of business activity in the region. It will support AISG's activities in the future delivering a reliable supplier while developing local business that will in turn yield more business. It's a win-win all round.”
“And,” he added, “I get to sleep at night!”


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