Diversification, innovation and corporate image building are vital components for building successful ventures in Lebanon’s ailing agricultural sector, CEO of Exotica Etienne Debbane told The Daily Star in an interview Monday.
“We are excelling at every level of the business. At Exotica, we are successful and profitable at each of our operations: plant nurseries, floristry and retail, event organization, landscaping and gardening,” he said.
The various revenue streams has helped Exotica sustain its business operations for 34 years, Debbane added, explaining that a decrease in revenues in one line of the business is often compensated by an increase in another line.
Debbane said Exotica had made impressive growth over the past few years, expanding its well established business in horticulture and flower design in Lebanon to other countries in the Middle East.
In 2005, Exotica expanded its business to the United Arab Emirates, opening landscape contracting and retail divisions in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. It will also soon tap the Iraqi and Qatari markets, where it hopes to achieve significant growth.
The firm, which also does business on contractual basis across the MENA region, started in 1978 as an offshoot of Debbane Group’s agricultural business, which was among the first to introduce modern agriculture to Lebanon including greenhouses.
Debbane’s diversified portfolio has helped prop up Exotica at times of financial difficulties, he said.
“What could have been seen a liability turned out to be our major strength,” he added, saying the Debbane Group had also ventured into the telecoms and construction sectors.
A team of innovative and professional staff has been vitally contributing to Exotica’s growth through creating innovative products that met customers’ expectations and placed the company miles ahead of its nearest competitors, said Debbane.
“Our research and development teams are often asking ‘what should we offer?’ even before competitors are aware the product exists,” he said. “For instance, we are working today on a pan-Arab website that would allow customers to deliver the same Exotica bouquet to every city in the region,” he added.
Innovation and professionalism in doing business, Debbane said, are built on a corporate environment that encourages excellence but at the same time retains elements of family-owned businesses.
“Upholding family business values while at the same time evolving into a corporate-run venture made all the difference in terms of allowing the company to grow. This is probably due to the unique feature of our business” he added.
Debbane also warned against the tense political situation, saying further deterioration in political and security conditions could put the economy at stake. “This is not a pleasant atmosphere for a businessman. One is often compelled to halt investments, requestion expansion plans, and reduce expenses to a minimum. This reflects [negatively] on business and the economy,” he explained.
When asked whether agriculture in Lebanon was viable despite an array of problems plaguing the sector, Debbane said the country should boost export-oriented produce that should meet international standards.
“It is a competitive environment and no longer an opportunity market. Today you have to perform. It is not enough to invest you need to fit product to the demand on the market, or else you will end up selling for a loss.”
But Debbane said Lebanon vitally lacks appropriate infrastructure and an agricultural policy that could help secure international markets for Lebanese produce. “Instead of having institutions that help you to achieve your goals, you get institutions that hinder your work,” he said.
By The Daily Star