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Getting Personal | ‘Great Place to Work®’

Our Group Managing Director, Syed Kashif Akhtar, reflects on how Havelock One Interiors was founded and has evolved ever since, based on a unique opportunity for market entry combined with a special corporate mindset.
And this led us to where we are now, the first Fit-out Company in the Middle East, having been awarded the 'Great Place to Work®' certification in the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait.


Looking back

In 1996, the British fashion brand Debenhams decided to open its first store in the Middle East. The contract to supply and install the shop-fittings was awarded to Havelock Europa Plc. They sent a team of eight members from the UK to complete the first store in Souk Al Sharq, Kuwait in 1997. The Debenhams team saw a long-term opportunity in the region and recommended to the board of Havelock Europa to establish its presence in the Middle East. As a result, Havelock One Interiors was incorporated in Bahrain on 1 September 1998*.

The new management team took the task of growing the Company as more than a mission and developed the business with an entrepreneurial mindset and the aim of building lasting relationships with internal and external stakeholders, alike. Ever since, our management philosophy has been based on the belief that happy employees lead to satisfied customers.

Fast forward to 2020, Havelock One has established itself as a leading turnkey fit-out contractor and interior manufacturer in the Middle East. We now have seven offices in five countries, spread across core GCC markets, employing approximately 1,000 employees on our payroll. Our manufacturing and operations hub is located in Askar, Bahrain, where we are currently setting up an additional, much bigger manufacturing facility as we have outgrown our existing 300,000 sq. ft. factory.

Looking ahead

Thus, more than 20 years later, our business is still in expansion mode. Yet, the industry is also experiencing the challenges of maturing markets. We are addressing this issue with a strategic approach to leveraging our highly skilled resources. While we could easily quantify our financial assets, our technological capacity and capability, the management team saw the need to scientifically assess the engagement level of our employees. How empowered and proud do our employees feel, in order to master the challenges ahead of the industry, markets and, hence, our Company? How can we support our people to ensure that Havelock One thrives at present and in the future? We decided to tap into the vast knowledge of the ‘Great Place to Work®’ Institute to help us understand our organisation’s strengths and weaknesses.

What is the ‘Great Place to Work®’ Trust Index©?

Trust, as experts say – and I would agree – is the foundation of all relationships. At Havelock One, we have been building trust by nurturing mutually beneficial relationships with all stakeholders invested in our value chain. And therefore, we are in line with research that demonstrates that a workplace built on trust is able to weather unfavourable market situations and tough competition better.

The ‘Great Place to Work®’ Trust Index© considers three primary relationships that each employee nurtures as they go about their day-to-day work:

  • their relationship with their line manager and company management (fostered by Credibility, Respect & Fairness)
  • their sentiments about their job or role (manifested as Pride)
  • their feelings towards their colleagues (in the form of Camaraderie).

Is Havelock One Interiors a ‘Great Place to Work®’?

By December last year, ‘Great Place to Work®’ Middle East conducted a detailed employee survey at Havelock One to analyse the level of trust that our employees have for the management and how much they value their organisational environment.

I am proud to say, the feedback received was outstanding – in terms of quantity and quality. Out of 471 employees qualified to take the survey, 392 responded, representing a response rate of 83%. According to ‘Great Place to Work®’, this is significantly above average for employee engagement surveys.

“We congratulate Havelock One on becoming the first fit-out company in Bahrain, Kuwait and UAE to be certified as a great workplace and for excelling in all five dimensions of the Great Place to Work® Model – Credibility, Respect, Fairness, Pride and Camaraderie”, said Ibrahim Mougharbel, Vice President of Regional Marketing at Great Place to Work® – Middle East.

He added: “Great Place to Work® works with leading international, regional and local companies and governmental entities around the world to identify and build great workplace cultures by using the best global people practices. Our objective is to evolve the business community in the Middle East and GCC region via empowering employees and accelerating performance, to reach their full potential, and in order to increase businesses’ revenues.”

Uncovering the internal strengths of our organisation


The survey results showed that 90% of Havelock One employees feel proud to tell others that they work for our Company, which is very close the regional best score. Looking at what they have accomplished, 86% of the survey respondents also shared that they feel a sense of pride in what they do.

It is great to know that our employees believe in our Company’s vision, mission and values and share the same sense of pride in Havelock One’s contributions to the built environment.


The credibility of our management is also high among Havelock One employees. Specifically, 86% of survey respondents strongly believe that the management is honest and ethical in its business practices. On this particular aspect, Havelock One’s score once again is very close to the regional top performance. This is further supported by a vote of confidence of 83% in the management’s competence of running the business.


Looking back on their onboarding experience, 85% of the respondents said, they were made to feel welcome when they joined the organisation. Consistent with our approach to retain and develop talent, 77% of the respondents said they want to work for Havelock One for a long time.

Giving credit where credit is due, I would like to compliment our division directors, senior managers and HR department for establishing a sound onboarding process. Our approach to hiring has always emphasised that we do not just want to fill a requirement, we want ‘our’ people to stay and evolve as the Company grows.


The survey results also indicated that 77% of the respondents consider Havelock One a friendly place to work.

Our regular employee engagement activities have had an impact. Kudos yet again to our management team and HR department. Beyond just having fun, strengthening Camaraderie among employees through a good level of cooperation within each department, team building events, sports tournaments and wellness programmes have created the foundation of the “Team Havelock One” spirit.


Completing our top eight organisational strengths, 75% of the respondents said they are treated as a full team member in Havelock One, regardless of their position.

Fairness has always been a position we take when we make decisions at the management level. I am humbled to know that our employees recognise our continuous effort to be fair and judicious towards all members of our organisation, irrespective of their role in the Company.

Our badge of honour

Earning the ‘Great Place to Work®’ certification validates our belief that the investments in our people have a multiplier effect on our business. For the year 2020, we have successfully created a high-trust workplace in Bahrain, Kuwait and the UAE, based on our employees’ experience as determined through the Trust Index© survey.

We move forward with confidence that our workplace culture gives us a competitive advantage for recruiting and retaining top talent, higher productivity, better-quality products and services, which will eventually lead to commercial success. On behalf of the management, I appreciate the support of our team in our venture to become a ‘Great Place to Work®’ across the board – and to sustain this status for years to come.

Opportunities to improve our culture further

The survey feedback has also provided us valuable insights in identifying key themes for further improvements in the future by analysing employee feedback and suggestions. The Company’s management will work closely with various team leaders on opportunities for enhancements on an organisational and department level, as highlighted in the survey.

Post scriptum

I recently read an article that resonated quite well: “Great Leaders Understand Why Small Gestures Matter” by Bill Taylor, published last month by HBR. As the co-founder of ‘Fast Company’, Bill is probably much better at observing and elaborating on the small little details, and how they impact the bigger picture. But as a practitioner I can tell you, it clearly makes a difference to care!

*The Company was established as Havelock AHI and rebranded to Havelock One Interiors in late 2018.

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