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Fist of steel: How Lebanese chairman of steel group made his way to Japan

Annual General Meeting of April 2019 with Pebsteel’s partners Nippon Steel and OKAYA. (Supplied)
Annual General Meeting of April 2019 with Pebsteel’s partners Nippon Steel and OKAYA. (Supplied)
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21 Apr 2022 07:04:18 GMT9
21 Apr 2022 07:04:18 GMT9

Nader Sammouri

OSAKA: With the rise of tall buildings and constant construction sites around us, steel became considered a faster way to erect buildings, as it cuts construction time nearly by half compared to those built-in concrete.

Not only is steel lighter than concrete, but pre-engineered steel buildings use a “pin-connection“ for the columns-base as opposed to other building methods which apply a fixed-based connection.

“The Japanese are fixated on steel and wooden structures as opposed to concrete simply because Japan is prone to earthquakes. Steel and wood are lighter than concrete. The damage caused by concrete can be huge and it would be difficult to remove the rubble and debris in case of an earthquake. Steel also gives buildings the advantage of swaying while the earthquake occurs. Thus, the chance of collapsing is significantly reduced. Also, in the unlikely event that a steel building collapses, the debris can be removed easily and sold as scrap. This reduces the loss for the owners,” Sami Kteily said, Lebanese-Canadian co-founder and Executive Chairman of Pebsteel Group.

The group has a compact record of 6,000 pre-engineered buildings and steel structures in over 50 countries.

Many emerging Asian economies such as China, Vietnam and India have some of the fastest-growing markets for pre-engineered buildings and steel structures due to their swift industrialization and urbanization. Vietnam, 27 years ago, was a sleeping Asian tiger that appeared to many as a form of risk, but Kteily took the plunge into Asia through it.

Kteily’s passionate approach to serving Asian markets eventually reached Japan, which is eminent for its strictness in design standards and technical requirements. Later on, two major Japanese public-listed companies, Nippon Steel and Okaya & Co. joined the ride as shareholders.

“Our relationship with our Japanese partners has been a 12-year honeymoon with no disagreements at all. Our track record of yearly profits and dividends continued after the Japanese partners bought shares in our company in 2009. They were impressed with our honesty and transparency, two values highly appreciated by the Japanese,” Kteily said.

He told Arab News Japan that he belived that the Japanese are long-term thinkers who are not interested in short-term relationships or quick profit. He added that they take their time to build a new relationship, but once the relationship takes off, it will be a relationship for life.

“They take good care of their customers, partners, and suppliers. That is why in 2015, when we decided to expand our fabrication business from Vietnam to Myanmar, we chose Thilawa Industrial Park as a base for our factory, which is owned and managed by the Japanese. I recall a time when we transferred a one-million-dollar down payment for a piece of land, a transfer that couldn’t be located within the banking system for more than 2 weeks. We didn’t worry because the transferee and the bank were Japanese,” he explained.

Sami Kteily (second to the left) in front of Mount Fuji with his Japanese partners

When Pebsteel began doing business in Vietnam back in 1994, they offered their customers the option of forfaiting, as in buying now and paying two years later.

“That seemed like a crazy idea because Vietnam back in 1994 had awful reviews, and many international banks used to ask me whether Vietnam was still at war or if particular customers were from the South or the opposing North. Though the war ended in 1975 and the country was unified as the Socialist Republic the following year,” he said.

In 2019, though already at the peak of success, Kteily enrolled in an executive MBA program at the American University of Beirut.

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