He’s modernizing the construction industry in Africa and the Middle East

“The construction equipment industry is really a global trading asset,” says Northeastern graduate Zayd Kuba. “It doesn’t matter where it’s manufactured.” Photo courtesy Zayd Kuba

Ten years ago, when Zayd Kuba worked at a dealership for used machinery and equipment in Florida, he remembers an ever-revolving door of clients walking in and out, some who had traveled from places as far as Saudi Arabia. In the age of digital transformation, he thought it strange that they had come so far just to buy machines.

A question lingered on his mind: Why hadn’t they checked online?

But he learned a few things during that internship. For one, he came to realize that an online marketplace for the construction industry didn’t exist in some parts of the world. He also discovered that heavy equipment can be traded all over the world, because unlike cars, it’s not bound by specifications and local environmental regulations. 

“The construction equipment industry is really a global trading asset,” says Kuba. “It doesn’t matter where it’s manufactured. Caterpillar, for example, has factories in the U.S., Brazil, Belgium, and China. They’re similar specs. A lot of contractors don’t care where it’s coming from because they know it’s the Caterpillar brand.”

The education about the construction equipment industry continued well after Kuba completed the internship and graduated from Northeastern in 2014 with a dual degree in economics and history. Having made important connections with friends from around the world, he moved to Saudi Arabia where he spent two-and-a-half years working for his family’s contracting business in Riyadh. There, too, he saw there was no centralized location to buy construction equipment. Supplied by the manufacturing giant Caterpillar Inc., a combination of new and used machines were coming from the United States.

“At the time I was like, ‘where can we find construction companies locally?’” He laughs. “‘Where are these machines?’ I was asking our procurement manager, ‘where did you go buy the machines?’ He said, ‘We go to this area and there’s a bunch of machines. You go to each dealer one by one.’ I’m like, ‘Is any of this online?’ He’s like, ‘nothing. We just got to go there in person and see what’s available.’”

With his sights set on working in the oil and gas industry, Kuba enrolled at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland to pursue a graduate degree in energy finance. Soon after, Shell came knocking with a job offer. Kuba had to decide if the career track he’d chosen for himself was still the right one. He couldn’t help thinking about the gaping need facing buyers and sellers in the construction industry in Africa and the Middle East.

“I called my brother and said I think we should try to do something about this,” he says. 

Founded in 2018, Plant & Equipment is the Kuba family’s solution to an enduring problem in the regional construction industry. Surprisingly—or not so surprisingly, depending on how one views it—the online marketplace for  construction equipment, commercial vehicles, and spare parts has thrived in the midst of COVID-19. Since March, the site’s listings have nearly doubled to more than 50,000 from nearly 700 dealers.

A large amount of the inquiries the company receives come from Egypt, says Kuba. The country is in the midst of developing the New Cairo district of the Egyptian capital and the construction projects that were already in progress are once again in full swing, as they are in nearby Oman and Iraq. 

For the Kubas, while the pandemic has forced them to close their office in Dubai, send their two dozen employees home, and suspend in-person meetings with clients, it’s also been a boon for the business. Sales have been on the upswing as dealers, once resistant to digitization, now because of lockdown measures keeping customers away, have no choice but to embrace the technologies that allow them to stay in business.

“Ever since COVID-19, they’ve realized buyers aren’t going to just walk in and shake hands,” says Kuba.

Kuba has enjoyed overseeing the expansion of Plant & Equipment, and intends to continue serving the region. Though he was born and raised in Orange County, California, he has long felt his calling was in the Middle East.

“I always wanted to build something out here,” he says. “I think there’s a lot of potential, whereas the States is a very mature market.”

For now, Kuba is celebrating hitting the 50,000 listing milestone a year early. Leading a company through the coronavirus crisis hasn’t been without its challenges, but for Kuba it’s been a part of the ride.

“Everyone on our team enjoys what they’re doing,” he says. “That’s really what’s important for all of us. I think we have a very bright future.”

Kuba is a member of Northeastern’s Young Global Leaders program, which comprises more than 100 graduates who advise university leadership and help to strengthen Northeastern’s network of international alumni. As a member of the program, Kuba is one of a number of alumni around the world who is helping to mobilize events to share their stories in order to help inspire and shape the Northeastern entrepreneurship ecosystem. 

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