What is a man trained in aeronautical engineering doing in the world of tourism? A lot. Saeed Ali Bin Reda, chief executive officer of Global Village, is not only determined to increase visitor numbers at the Global Village in Dubai, but also to develop it into an international franchise that would make it truly, as its name suggests, global.
The 39-year-old obviously has an excellent sense of humour and laughs as he relates how way back in 2006 it took him two hours to drive down from Dubai Humanitarian City (where his previous office was), to join Global Village as CEO when it should have taken just 15 minutes! The reason? "There were no directions to the place!" he says. "So, the first thing I did after taking over was put up signposts all the way!"
He is also a stickler for time and principles, but won't hold human failings against his staff. "I am not the bossy type," he grins. "Ask my staff!" A workaholic who requires "maybe six hours of sleep a day'', he won the Best Leader Award at his earlier company Dubai Development and Investment Authority. Skilled at multitasking - he manages his family business while also developing his own business, HADI International - one of his dreams is set up a travel agency.
I started working early, at the age of 10. We are a family of businessmen. My father, Haji Jan Ali Bin Reda, who passed away last year, started his first business, a grocery, in 1930. He grew it into a chain, expanded to textiles, and later went into the real-estate business in the 1960s.
My father used to take me and my nine siblings to his office whenever we were free, particularly during the three-month summer holidays. He encouraged us to learn the trade. We worked at the store from 8am until 9pm with just a three-hour lunch break in between. This has been my routine since then. He also used to take me along whenever he went on business tours, mostly to India, China and Iran.
Now I know the business inside out. That's the reason I am still able to run our family businesses remotely, in spite of holding such a responsible job. Of course, my brothers are there hands-on, but I still help plan business strategies and focus.
I am very adaptable. It's something I learnt early in life. As a child I always wanted to bea pilot. But when I did get the chance to realise it - Emirates Airlines offered me a pilot-training course right after school - I hit the first road block. It turned out my eyesight was not good enough. That blow was softened by the fact that I had scored high enough on the tests to qualify for a diploma course in aeronautical engineering at the Emirates Airline College.
After taking the diploma I started my career with Emirates in 1994. But I had already noticed a thrust towards tourism in the country and attended part-time classes at the Dubai Polytechnic for a Higher National Diploma in Business Management, with Tourism Management as the major. I then earned a bachelor's degree in Business Administration from Dubai University. By the time I left the company, I had also won a Bright Ideas Award.
The Dubai Development and Investment Authority was my next learning ground and I went on to head several departments there over the next six years. After a successful stint with the Teams and Projects departments, I was appointed Head of Sales for Dubai Industrial City. The Best Leader Award and Best CSR Award from Tatweer followed. We also received the award for Best CSR Initiatives Company in the Arab Region.
Then in 2006, I was asked to take charge of Global Village.
Now, I am also developing my own business, HADI International. It's a dream I want to realise. I plan to start a travel agency soon.
When I was a student I used to sleep for only five hours. Now, I sleep, maybe, six hours. That's how fixated I become on whatever I am doing. That said, I do try to relax and let my hair down with my family and friends, although my training is too ingrained to allow me to relax too much.
I am not as rigid with my two children - Hadi, 10, and Abeer, 6. But I will educate them to value others' - as well as their own - time. I'll allow them to grow up independently, choose their own way. But I'd like them to either start their own business or enter the medical profession. However, my son wants to be a pilot, like I did at his age!
My mother was also a very big influence on me. I still live with her. While my father instilled the principles of business in me, my mother taught me the core values of humanity as taught by Islam. She pushed me to study religion, attend Islamic classes during the summer vacation... That's why I am very well versed in the Islamic tenets. It gave me a maturity beyond my years. If you study religion, any religion in fact, you mature early. It will define the person positively.
Having a family changes you. I used to return home at 1 or 2am sometimes, but marriage changed all that. Now I keep going back home whenever I can to see my children. I am a devoted father, take them out whenever possible, play with them or just be with them.
My friends are like-minded, and Friday afternoons I devote to meeting up with them. That's the time I really relax. I don't wear the national dress, just a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. I like to play table tennis and volleyball. Now, I've taken up bowling because my daughter is crazy about it!
Naturally, with my kind of work schedule stress does build up. When I was in my teens and working for my father, I used to take an electronic item apart and assemble it again. That was my way of unwinding. The bonus was that they rarely broke down after that!
Now I allocate a problem task to one of my staff and help them accomplish it - it's my way of taking my mind off my job. I enjoy teaching and helping others, so that relaxes me.
Rarely, when the stress is too much, I call up one of my friends and take off to a coffee shop or the beach. When I am relaxed I go back and find that it's easy to tackle the job.
I become emotional when somebody lies to me. I also hate it when people talk negatively about any nationality or religion. We should learn to respect every denomination, like our leaders in the UAE do.
My dream is to grow the Global Village into an international project, grow it into a big brand, to take it to the level of a franchise. I wish to see the Global Village one day on the same platform as Disneyland, a brand by itself. An Arabian Universal Studios that can go to Europe or Asia and expect its franchise to be snapped up.
To this end, we are developing and educating our team to international standards. We have formulated the policy and standards to follow, and are implementing them. We are almost ready to go global, except that it's not the right time to do so now, given the financial situation in the US and Europe. Theme parks are a part of the tourism industry, and right now the situation is very delicate. It's affected by every passing phase, whether related to health, safety or politics, and even a rumour can turn the tide against it.
I also have a very personal dream to grow my business within the UAE and also in other countries. I am also looking to enter other fields, such as health care. That's why I would like my children to study medicine.