Sheikh Fakhir Sheikh Tayeb is the CEO of Qaiwan Group. Qaiwan Group is one of the industry leaders in Iraq and the Middle East. It operates in many sectors, including construction and real estate, hospitality, education, health care, retail, trading, and others. The Group has over 25 years of experience with 3000 employees and over 50 companies in multiple domains, striving to serve excellence and create a positive impact across all the different stages of their business operations.
In this interview, Sheikh Fakhir shares with us the Group’s success story, growth into a conglomerate, and their focus on innovation and development across all sectors. Furthermore, Sheikh Fakhir discusses the vitality of the energy sector and the importance of renewable projects like the Qaiwan Solar Plant and explores the challenges and opportunities imposed by climate change. In addition, he emphasizes Qaiwan's role in education through Qaiwan International University and Qaiwan’s commitment to providing high-quality healthcare, and he touches on the booming real estate sector in Iraq.
How was Qaiwan Group first established? And what is the story behind the biggest conglomerate in the country?
I grew up in a big household and started working in my family’s business at a young age, where I began to learn the value of money. My family instilled investment and finance knowledge in me from a very young age. In 1993, two of my brothers and I started trading products, and we opened the very first Qaiwan store in Sulaymaniyah. The company’s success surpassed our expectations, and Qaiwan Group has grown into the conglomerate it is today. I think one of the essential skills that I have, which I really value, is that I have a clear way of organizing things in my head. Where others may see chaos, I see how it can turn into something beautiful. It is about strategy and the bigger picture. I am still running the business, and we are still growing. Today, we are known for our construction projects that are spread across the country. This includes private residential projects, such as Sulaymaniyah Heights, Qaiwan Heights, and Qaiwan City. In addition, Slemani Rotana Hotel offers the luxury of convenience and authentic tailored experiences for business and leisure for travelers and families. The contemporary property with beautiful design offers 240 modern rooms and suites featuring the latest in-room technology, luxurious amenities, stunning views of the city and mountains, and some offering exclusive Club Rotana Lounge access with additional benefits.
Qaiwan Group is one of the largest players in the energy sector. Can you share with us your latest projects and initiatives in this sector?
Unfortunately, there is a shortage of energy in Iraq. There is a growing shortage in power supply that does not meet the immense demand, and we have to rely on generators more often. Therefore, we have considered the need to diversify the energy sector. This is something we offer in our residential projects. Therefore, it seemed evident that we explored other options, such as renewable energy. Iraq has significant solar irradiance levels, and our mountains ensure we have wind speeds in some areas. As Qaiwan Group, we are currently working on our new project, Qaiwan Solar Plant. Our Solar Project is a 10 MWp solar PV power plant. We are in the process of constructing a large-scale solar photovoltaic power plant in Sulaymaniyah, Piramagroon district. The initial capacity is 10 Megawatts, but there is potential for future expansion.
How does climate change impact the energy sector in Iraq? What challenges does it impose? And are there any opportunities we can capitalize on?
Iraq’s environmental and energy challenges directly affect its overall stability and prosperity. Climate change has caused drought and extreme temperatures, which are big problems. We have to build a dam in order to save the water that we have. Besides water scarcity, Iraq has to deal with the effects of global warming since it is one of the biggest greenhouse gas emissions countries. We can capitalize on renewable energy, but the main challenge we will face is that the infrastructure of Iraq is not ready for renewable energy. Power generation from renewable energy sources would increase Iraq’s energy security and reduce the power sector’s greenhouse gas emissions, which account for almost half of Iraq’s total emissions.
However, integrating variable renewable energy systems such as solar photovoltaics and wind turbines creates a set of challenges to grid stability. Solar and wind energy sources are not reliable and can – therefore- not generate fully dispatchable energy yet. Those sources are only available when weather conditions allow and not necessarily when demand requires.
With the world heading towards sustainability and clean energy, how does this affect Iraq’s reliance on oil, and what does the way forward look like for companies operating in this sector?
Iraq’s reliance on oil must change since the world is leaning towards more sustainability. In fact, many traditional oil and gas companies are evolving to the point where they now consider themselves energy companies and view the energy sector in a broader term. Most of the R&D departments are focusing on sustainability and digitalization. This means companies have to widen their sectors and not only look at the energy sector the old-fashioned way; innovation is key.
In 2018, Qaiwan Group ventured into the education sector by opening Qaiwan International University. Could you tell us more about your commitment to improving education in Iraq?
Qaiwan Group has established Maya Institute in 2010 to improve the quality of education pertaining to commercial activities and protect the national identity. Maya Institute includes 25 different educational centers, including Qaiwan International University – UTM, the first foreign campus of the University of Technology Malaysia. Qaiwan International University was launched in 2018 and is located within the Sulaymaniyah Heights project. When establishing this, our mission was to meet society’s expectations with regard to local and regional scientific competition and play a leading role in the development of innovative technologies and human resource management in the country. The university is the only university in Kurdistan that provides a specialization in HR because it is our vision to empower employees and their rights within organizations.
We also operate two schools with a British curriculum with certified Cambridge education, and we are looking to expand and open more schools as education is something we are very passionate about.
You have committed to providing the highest quality healthcare. Could we know more about your healthcare projects in Iraq?
We are committed to improving the Iraqi health care to serve the Iraqi people. Anwar Sheikh Hospital has played an active role in delivering medical services, such as high-quality medical chain pharmacies, specialty clinics, and expert diagnosis in primary healthcare institutions. We provide high-quality, affordable, fully equipped hospital chains that provide fast, reliable, and accessible services.
With the expansion of urban areas and the increase in population, the construction and real estate sector is flourishing. What is your impression of this market boom, and what will future Iraqi cities look like?
The real estate housing market in Iraq has always depended on political stability and economic prosperity, and it has had its ups and downs. However, it still offers significant opportunities for investors, developers, and homebuyers alike.
Despite the ongoing challenges, the Iraqi government has taken steps to improve the real estate sector as part of its efforts to diversify the economy away from oil. This has led to the development of new projects, including high-end residential complexes, commercial centers, and mixed-use developments.
One of the key drivers of the market boom is the country's young adult population. This demographic trend presents a significant opportunity for developers and investors. This new generation would like to move out of their parents' house sooner and even live alone, which is not common within our culture. The real estate market has to, therefore, anticipate this demand for affordable housing. The future of the housing will be private residential areas operated by private companies.
How does operating in multiple key sectors bring value and synergy to Qaiwan Group?
Operating in multiple vital sectors increases the value of the combined entities.
The value has increased because of reduced costs, as we are our own manufacturers, increasing revenues and enhancing capabilities. This requires careful analysis, realistic assumptions, and effective execution.