New Roads to Riches

Meet the man who’s answering the underdeveloped world’s call for western-style business expertise

Written by Rick Spence

Hasham Hamam had a problem. The owner of H. Hamam Imports & Exports, a trading company based in Alexandria, Egypt, was locked into a cycle of buying and selling undistinguished commodities—lentils, rice, wheat flour—in local markets or to other traders who would sell them abroad. He longed to increase revenue by directly exporting his products but had no idea how to tackle the logistics, quality and marketing challenges that his dream entailed.

Enter Akram Hamid, a Qatar-born entrepreneur now running his own Toronto-based consulting firm, Dallata Consulting Group Ltd. Two years ago, introduced by a mutual friend, Hamid took a personal interest in Hamam’s challenge. Hamid worked with Hamam Imports & Exports to cut costs, identify the needs of consumers in adjacent markets, ugrade product quality and add value by processing some products in different ways to meet the tastes of various cultures. Today, Hamam’s 20-person company exports to emerging markets in nearby Libya and the Middle East and is adding value-added products, such as tuna, to its roster. To differentiate the wares further, Hamam’s processed products are now sold under Dallata’s proprietary brand, Zarina (named for Hamid’s niece), which now markets products in 27 countries.

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Hamam was delighted to find in Hamid a consultant who understood his needs, spoke Arabic and knew foreign markets. “It’s rare to find someone who will do so much for you and give you the opportunity to grow very fast,” says Hamam.

As Hamid’s skills become more recognized, they also are leading to incredible growth at Dallata. By focusing its services primarily on underdeveloped markets such as Africa, the Middle East and Russia, the 27-employee consulting firm (18 full-time, nine part-time) has achieved success unimagined when Hamid founded the company in 2006. In 2011, Dallata’s revenue reached $87.8 million, up from just $867,000 in 2006, good for 10,031% growth over five years—and third spot in this year’s PROFIT 200 ranking.

Hamid takes great pride in bringing the benefits of today’s more open global economy into regions crying out for better product quality and fundamental management discipline. “We take the road less travelled,” he says.

Dallata’s reward for its work: time-based consulting fees, plus a percentage of the costs saved by the client, plus a percentage of the revenue generated by increased production. “We go to our clients and combine our financial interests with theirs,” says Hamid. “When we make money, it’s because the client is making money.”

Dallata’s journey has taken it in many directions. Because so many clients had needed significant help in selling their products abroad, Dallata moved into the trading business in 2009, using its expertise and contacts to help its clients, which produce commodities such as wheat and rice, expand the markets for their products. Trading now accounts for about 45% of Dallata’s business.

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Dallata’s professional staff—bright, global players who are all expected to have an MBA or be studying for one—have moved into other unexpected areas, from technology development to recycling and other environment-friendly solutions. The company’s software developers even created their own CRM system to ensure that the company’s globetrotting staff can always access and update client data.

Hamid, 45, has two master’s degrees and is working on a PhD in international finance from Cambridge University. He insists that Dallata’s success springs directly from its flexibility. “Most companies use this one solution that fits all,” he says. “All the advice we got, even from the banks, was to just stick to one industry and don’t spread yourself thin. But I believe that if we’d done that differently, we wouldn’t have this success.”

Although Hamid expects revenue to double again this year, as it did in 2011, competitors are starting to keep an eye on Dallata. “When we were a lot smaller, it was easier,” he says. “Now, when we’re into a market, because of the growth we have had the past few years, they are taking note of what we do.”

Dallata employs several tactics in order to keep its edge. It is moving into new markets such as India, Pakistan, Asia and Latin America, and it is increasingly focusing on larger clients and longer-term consulting contracts. Dallata has eased its financial pressures by arranging a blanket deal for receivables insurance from Export Development Canada. And while Dallata appreciates the efforts of its Canadian bankers, it recently switched to an international bank that offers a more global branch network and a greater understanding of diverse business cultures.

Probably most important, Dallata offers tremendous support to its staff, who create the value in the company by speaking seven languages and earn consulting fees of $600 an hour and up. Hamid says 80% of his staff stood either first or second in their university class. For a chance to join Dallata, recruits must survive a months long apprenticeship in which they serve part-time and try to prove their worth. If they survive, the rewards are sweet: Dallata’s overachievers enjoy benefits such as flex-time, generous bonuses, paid tuition and paid maternity leave that could last for several years. Dallata also gives its staff 20% of their time to work on new business ideas and projects—and pays people 25% of the revenue generated by ideas that are accepted and implemented.

“I’ve been extremely lucky to have this kind of group around me that makes me shine,” says Hamid. “The more they give to our company, the more our company gives back to them.”

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