At the cutting Edge of talent

The UAE’s fast-growing defence technology conglomerate Edge Group has a new leader in Hamad Al Marar, but its vision and mission are undisturbed.

Hamad Al Marar

Without hesitation, Hamad Al Marar, Edge Group’s new managing director and CEO, names the number one strategic challenge in his role: “Talent attraction.”

“For me it is always the number one. The need to preserve talent, retain it and develop it against rivals,” said Al Marar, speaking in a quiet meeting room at the Edge Group’s large stand at the World Defense Show in Riyadh in early February.

Al Marar had been informed of his promotion just days before the show.

Edge appointed Al Marar, who has spent four years in the group’s senior management team latterly as president of its missile and weapons cluster, to the top job on February 1.

He has the task of continuing the steep upward trajectory of this young group, which described itself, without irony, in its marketing material for WDS as “marking four years of stellar growth as one of the world’s fastest growing advanced technology and defence conglomerates.”

Edge boasted “an impressive portfolio of 160 innovative systems and solutions - a major accomplishment in a relatively short timeframe, and a global footprint that covers more than 50 countries across five continents.

“Edge is aggressively pursuing its product development roadmap and is fast becoming a partner of choice in the domains of autonomous systems, smart weapons, electronic warfare and secure communications.”

Al Marar stressed that Edge’s strategy to develop and manufacture defence products and systems for the UAE armed forces remains unchanged as does its aim to do this locally.

He added that the group is on track to gain 40 percent of its orders from customers outside the UAE within three years.

Today, the UAE military represents some 90 per cent of Edge’s business, with just 10 per cent coming from international contracts, said Al Marar.

However, this is changing quickly and achieving a 60/40 UAE/international business backlog split would represent a major transformation for state-owned Edge.

“If you take the trajectory we had - we made $60 million in orders in 2019, now [in 2023] it is $2 billion - this is the target we strive for and it’s a healthy and doable one,” explained Al Marar.

In 2023 Edge Group as a company achieved total revenue of $5 billion, he said. Alongside this it booked orders worth $5 billion giving it a total order backlog totalling $10.8 billion.

Al Marar’s experience in developing the UAE’s defence and tech manufacturing expertise over the past nearly two decades made him a sound choice. His career began in the government’s offset bureau, working with overseas suppliers to bring local production into the UAE.

He was also involved with Tawazun, the government entity tasked with privatising state-owned enterprises and turning them into commercial entities prior to the formation of Edge Group in 2019.

Al Marar gained exposure in programme management working on Tawazun’s joint venture with South Africa’s Denel on precision-guided systems made in Abu Dhabi and he has worked on acquisitions, enabling him to cut his teeth in this arena too.

To super-charge its growth, Edge has been on an acquisition drive in the past two years and has a roadmap of technologies and capabilities it is seeking to add to the portfolio.

“A large portion of the group’s robust growth strategy is anchored in its acquisitions of highly-specialised defence companies and small and medium-sized enterprises, which complement the established capabilities within Edge, allowing it to continuously grow and transform based on the requirements of its customers, which today include the armed forces of several nations around the world,” he said.

Edge has acquired 12 overseas companies in the past two years with others in the pipeline and the group will make a swift decision on a deal if it makes sense, said Al Marar.

As important as it is to bring in newcomers, skills, and talent to Edge, for Al Marar a major priority for 2024 is product delivery. “It is important to understand that we are slowly recovering from the Covid dislocations of the supply chain,” he explained.

Supply chain issues have impacted some Edge programmes, and Al Marar wants improvement this year. “We are not immune to the issues,” he noted.

He trusts that his direct experience in programme management equips him with the skills to lead in this regard and encourage his colleagues to trust that he understands what help they need to succeed.

So where in Al Marar’s view does Edge Group have the edge in the competitive world of defence technology?

He listed several advantages that in his view come into play: the ability to deliver a practical solution that is close to customer needs in short timescales; this is aided by its innovative and modern production approach – developed because it does not have economies of scale in the UAE enjoyed by some competitors; product availability; and fast decision making.

To strengthen its international acquisition strategy, in November 2023 Edge fully acquired the state-owned Strategic Development Fund (SDF), which will manage the group’s global portfolio through direct venture partnerships and venture capital investments.

Al Marar’s elevation to lead Edge enables him to “continue the journey” in playing a key role in developing the UAE’s defence technology manufacturing base. He feels a responsibility both to his country and to the 10,000-strong workforce and their families at Edge to provide a thriving enterprise that gives them job satisfaction, security, and motivation.

With his focus on people, in addition to ensuring existing and future products deliver is clearly how Al Marar believes he should be judged as he gets to grip with his time leading Edge.

Mark Pilling

Mark Pilling

Mark is a consulting editor to Arabian and African Aerospace.