Despite an ever-changing business landscape, OFFTEC Holding Group CEO Basim Said says the company has continually managed to adapt to the needs of its multi-sector clients.
Offering everything from office furniture to software and security solutions in Jordan and the region, OFFTEC has come a long way from the small stationary company it started out as around 100 years ago.
OFFTEC Holding Group CEO Basim Said believes one main reason behind its longevity has been the unique relationship it has nurtured with suppliers and clients. Said is now hoping to replicate this success in new markets.
When was OFFTEC originally founded? Initially, what was the company’s core business?
OFFTEC was established in Palestine in 1910 by our grandfather, Boulos Said. At its onset, the business served as a source for stationery items and general office supplies, such as books, manual typewriters, and some basic furniture. Our branches in Jerusalem and Jaffa were established even before the invention of the mechanical calculator, so it’s safe to say that technology was extremely limited in those days. At the time, it was called the Palestine Educational Company.
How would you describe OFFTEC today?
Comprehensive, innovative, and customer-centric. The company has expanded its product portfolio immensely under eight separate business divisions, covering everything from office technologies, office furniture, software, and physical security solutions to banking and plastic card technologies, not to mention IT infrastructure and IT security solutions. Today, there isn’t a business in existence that would not benefit from our products. You can find the OFFTEC label in banks, office buildings, governmental agencies, schools, factories and any place of business.
Why have you felt the need to develop such a comprehensive line of products? How do you choose which technologies and solutions to add to OFFTEC’s portfolio?
Since its establishment, OFFTEC has been driven by its vision to become a leading and trusted provider of high-quality, state-of-the-art business technology solutions. Over the past century, we have adapted to the rapidly evolving business environment to provide the competitive, cutting-edge, end-to-end solutions and services that modern businesses need.
When developing our product lines, we focus on how we can best fulfill the requirements of our diverse customer base. A bank, for example, would seek out sensitive, high-quality banking technologies that operate with consistency and accuracy. Security would also be a paramount concern, requiring physical security solutions that protect against intrusions and theft, as well as IT security solutions that safeguard client information. OFFTEC is able to provide leading products that fulfill not only those demands, but also a bank’s need for furniture solutions, copiers and printers, banknote sorters and even ATMs. Our comprehensive product range allows us to act as a convenient one-stop shop, simplifying the procurement process for our customers across industries.
What are some of the products that your company was first to introduce to the Jordanian market?
OFFTEC has a long track record of blazing the path for revolutionary technologies in Jordan. In the 1960s, we were the first to bring banknote counting machines to the Kingdom, and we remain a market leader for these devices to this day. OFFTEC also played a pivotal role in changing the way that checks are printed and cleared in Jordan, helping to introduce Magnetic Ink Character Recognition (MICR) in 1992, and then, in 1997, the first automated check clearing system in Jordan, implemented at the Central Bank of Jordan and serving all local banks. Other examples of OFFTEC’s nationwide firsts include microfilm and microfiche systems in 1978, plastic ATM card personalization in 1984, and financial smart cards in 2006.
We are also extremely proud of our pioneering partnership with the government of Jordan. OFFTEC was one of the first companies to collaborate with the Jordanian government on the launch of its first wave of e-government services, which now allow people to complete administrative procedures and transactions online. More recently, OFFTEC was chosen alongside GEMALTO, the world leader in digital security, to deliver the new national smart ID card project, which combines state-of-the-art digital and graphical security features to improve service standards and reduce administrative costs. This is a game-changing endeavor, and OFFTEC’s role in bringing this project to fruition is indicative of the level of trust that our customers have in our abilities.
When did the company start branching out into other countries? What are the main challenges you have had to overcome throughout your expansion?
OFFTEC’s expansion has been fruitful, but challenging. In 1947, as the political situation in Palestine deteriorated, the company established its presence in Jordan, which remains our base of operations. In the 1940s, we started a stationery business in Egypt, which still stands today; that business was nationalized by the Egyptian government in 1962. The same thing happened again in the 1960s in Iraq, when our operation there was taken into public ownership. Later on, we were forced to abandon a business in Lebanon as a result of the Civil War in the mid 1970s. So regional instability and conflicts have undoubtedly played a role in slowing our progress. However, OFFTEC has endured, ultimately overcoming the many speed bumps it has faced along the way.
Besides Jordan, you are currently present in Iraq, Palestine, and Sudan. Which market has been most successful for OFFTEC?
Throughout our long history, regional turmoil has resulted in many doors being closed to the company. However, the door has always been open to OFFTEC in Jordan. The Kingdom’s security and welcoming business environment has made it the ideal place for OFFTEC to grow and prosper, and our operations here have certainly proven the most stable and lucrative. However, it must be said that, even in times of war and economic instability, all of our regional branches have been very successful and have generated handsome returns for our shareholders.
Over the past century in operation, what are some of the major changes that have been made at OFFTEC?
Present-day OFFTEC is worlds away from its roots as a small stationery and bookshop in Jerusalem. We have always strived to stay attuned to advances in technology and business so that we can provide our customers in our subsidiaries—Palestine, Sudan, and Iraq—with broad and evolving service offerings. In 2005, we moved forward in our diversification efforts through the establishment of the public shareholding company OFFTEC Holding Group (OHG), which now houses three business lines in Jordan and regionally –the business technology solutions arm, OFFTEC; customer loyalty and rewards platform, ePoints; and consumer product leasing and financing company, Alwasleh. As such, 2005 was the most significant milestone in the company’s history, when the family business was transformed into a public shareholding company, and OHG was listed on the Amman Stock Exchange (OFTC).
Although the business has developed greatly over the years, there are some constants that have remained unchanged throughout. Since our establishment, we have aimed to bring our customers the highest quality standards through our partnerships with best-in-class international vendors. Many of these vital relationships have lasted for over 40 and 50 years, such as our partnerships with De La Rue/CPS in the United Kingdom for banknote counting and sorting machines; Kyocera in Japan for our document printing solutions; Fichet Bauche in France for safes, vault doors and safe deposit lockers; and Kardex in Germany for document archiving solutions. Furthermore, for more than 25 years, we have had partnerships with two US-based companies; Datacard for plastic cards personalization solutions and Steelcase for office furniture. These enduring partnerships with our suppliers have strengthened our business for over half a century, allowing us to continue to bring the very best to the Jordanian and regional markets.
What are your plans for the future? Do they involve venturing into new businesses or other markets?
OFFTEC’s expansion strategy consists of two main components; growth in the types of products offered and growth in countries served. We are constantly striving to achieve both. When it comes to our product lines, we are always on the lookout for new items that would meet the needs of our customers. As for regional expansion, at the moment, we are exploring the possibility of growing into the GCC area and Eastern Africa.