Life & Style | People

Dubai businessman inspired by Japanese philosophy

Ammar Al Malik, director of operations at Dubai Outsourcing Zone, tells Burgess Baria it's important to aim for continuous improvement in all aspects of our lives

  • By Burgess Baria
  • Published: 00:00 July 6, 2012
  • Friday

Ammar Al Malik
  • Image Credit: Dennis B Mallari/GNM
  • Ammar Al Malik is one of the youngest Emirati business leaders in the country.
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Looking back, Ammar Al Malik is happy that he had the opportunity to study in five schools while growing up in the UAE. "It's quite incredible I changed schools so many times from Grade 1 to 12, either because of my family shifting residence or because of my parents wanting to give me a better education,'' says Al Malik, who is the Director of Operations of Dubai Outsource Zone (DOZ) - the world's first free zone dedicated to the outsourcing industry.

The zone hosts the outsourcing operations of around 120 companies including du, Jumeirah Group, Emirates Airlines and Dunia Finance. More than 5,000 skilled workers of 58 nationalities are employed in its precincts. In simple terms outsourcing is the contracting out of support services such as IT, admin, and call centres which would otherwise be performed by in-house employees. It is said to help firms to perform well in their core competencies.

"While growing up, all too frequently I would find myself in a new environment which required me to interact with new people and make new friends and I enjoyed it,'' adds Al Malik, who at 28 is one of the youngest Emirati business leaders in the country and a major force shaping the development of the UAE.

"Meeting a variety of people was one of the important things that happened to me in my formative years,'' he says. "The exposure to different people also helped me learn more about other cultures and has given me the ability to learn to adapt to almost any situation - factors that help me in my job."

Al Malik joined Tecom Investments - established in 2005 to build, manage and develop the business parks under Dubai Holding - immediately after graduating in e-commerce from Al Ain University. He says, "I was the Partner Relationship Manager in Dubai Outsource Zone as part of a three-member team handling internal processes and after-sales.''

Part of his job entailed managing the relationship between the company and its customers. "I enjoyed my role there," he says.

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In 2007, he got the opportunity to spend two years in Japan. "It was a scholarship sponsored by the Japanese government to acquire a degree in business management, and I was one of the two students selected from the UAE to go. I knew the degree would serve me well over the longer term as I was hoping to take up a management position. So I did an MBA from the Kwansei Gakuin University in Kobe, Japan.

"It was truly a life-changing experience. I found the Japanese to be great hosts and friendly people. It also became imperative that I learn Japanese, since I wanted to interact with my Japanese friends. It was exhilarating to learn a new language. It allowed me to reach out and make new connections, but it also helped me in day-to-day things - like understanding whether I was buying shampoo or liquid soap at the supermarket," he says.

The experience he gathered while overseas came in handy in several spheres of his life, including in his professional life.

"Taking this two-year hiatus and going to Japan was one of the best decisions I've ever made. It opened up my eyes to a whole new dimension of life - the beautiful diversity in cultures across our world, and our need to respect each one to succeed in business today."

It was there that he got to know about the Kaizen philosophy, which he uses in several spheres of his life including at work. "Team development is a leading dimension of Kaizen. At DOZ, all team members are required to attend at least two to four training programmes to improve their skills.

Also, every year, every employee is urged to set higher goals from the ones of the previous year. Each team member is expected to come up with organizational and customer improvement initiatives every year.''

As director of the Outsource Zone, Al Malik's role requires him to anticipate the operational requirements of local, regional and international companies who need to do business across the Middle East and North Africa.

As the only outsourcing hub in the country, DOZ complements the region's two other outsourcing destinations: Egypt and Jordan. The three countries together hold sway over a regional outsourcing industry that is estimated to touch $1.91 billion globally in 2012.

It is much to the credit of Al Malik and his team that DOZ maintained 100 per cent occupancy even through the years of global financial tempest. "DOZ is trying to create a business cluster environment that fosters innovation. I believe innovation in IT is the differentiator that will ultimately cement Dubai's status as the region's leading outsourcing hub."

He tells us about how travel and meeting people has changed his outlook and helped him realise some of his dreams:

Work

From a young age I realised the significance of information technology thanks to my father, who was an integral part of Dubai Municipality's IT team since the early 1980s. I remember using my father's computer at a time when Windows was just starting to make inroads into the personal computer sector.

After school, I enrolled in Al Ain University for a degree in e-commerce.

My working life began when I was 20, while I was in my final year at Dubai Men's College. I was the Strategic Planning Officer at the Dubai eGovernment Department, monitoring different IT projects such as mPay, which provides government services through innovative channels to ease the lives of people and businesses interacting with the government.

It is just one example of an innovation in the IT sector. Such programs were used by various government departments, and we had to ensure that all processes were flowing correctly.

I gained first-hand experience on how innovative IT can be purposefully used to meet specific requirements of end-users. For instance, with mPay you can use your mobile phone to pay for your parking ticket; or the touch-screen kiosks found in malls and business centres can be easily used to pay utility bills.

While in Japan I had the opportunity to watch the philosophy of Kaizen - continuous improvement - in action, and I let it permeate into much of what I do. The Japanese have taken this philosophy to great heights and have applied it to every sphere of national, economic and social life.

In essence it means to focus continuously on improving every area of a business - from systems and processes, right up to product development. So if you aim to continuously and consistently improve each part of the business by tiny increments over a period of time, then each increment has a cumulative effective building upon the next, leading over time to a huge increase in total quality and efficiency.

One of the amazing things about this philosophy is how it can be applied in everyday life as well. You realise that you don't suddenly have to take a lot of drastic steps and try to change everything in a single day.

What is also interesting in this philosophy is that there really is no end goal - the basic idea is that you can always keep improving on everything, becoming even better and more efficient.

I have a four-member team which I really respect. Without their dedication and hard work, I don't think we would have achieved anything.

Back-office support is huge, so we have the six or seven departments that are supporting us. In spite of work pressure, I have strict rules. For instance, I do not ask my team to work extra hours. In fact, I ask them to leave on time. This ensures they have enough time to relax after a day's work.

Another part of my work that I really enjoy is the face-to-face interaction with our investors and partners from all over the world. It's personally extremely fulfilling to represent their industrial needs to relevant departments and thus aiding the development of policies and procedures that support growth. Being part of an agency for change is never easy, but I'm proud of the privilege and the responsibility that has been entrusted to me. 

Play

I'm the oldest of five children - three boys and two girls - and I grew up in the patriarchal setting of my grandfather's home in Dubai - a household of some 15 people. That's perhaps a reason I greatly appreciate the values of family relationships.

I make it a point to leave work at 4.30pm, after which it's always family time. Come Thursday evenings, my wife and I visit our various relatives, or go to the movies or check out new restaurants.

I love to travel. I'm also an avid fan of all types of international cuisine. It's one of the most planned-for components of my travel. Prior to departure, I look up good restaurants where I can sample local dishes. Of course, I have a special place for Japanese cuisine! Sometimes, I cook too. It's a legacy of my life in Japan. Besides, cooking is such a stress buster.

I also love soccer. Another favourite sport is deep-sea diving, which I have been doing since I was 13. Tennis and shooting are others. My next goal is horse riding. Ice skating and skiing are also on the list, but I have promised myself that I will try them out on natural ice - perhaps in Europe - so that will have to wait for a bit.

In Japan, I developed a great affinity for kendo, a modern martial art form of sword-fighting, based on traditional swordsmanship which originated with the samurais of feudal Japan. Invariably, kendo would figure on my weekend schedule. 

Dream

I enjoy being in a position where I can influence change in an industry I espouse. If the work that I do makes a positive difference in the life of others, that is a great reward in itself. I find most businesses in the UAE are yet to appreciate how outsourcing some of their internal processes can actually help maximise efficiencies. It is my personal mission to push this education and heighten awareness.

In whatever I do, I hope to impact a wholesome difference to the community around me.

I often wonder at the brevity of the human lifespan, and yet it is so full of rapid change. Anticipating such change and responding to it by staying one step ahead of the curve means that essential difference between success and failure.

I wish to experience as many things as I can - within the boundaries of traditional values, of course - travel across the world, and experience different cultures and cuisines. After all, life is all about discovery. And I know everything is a possibility if I believe in myself and seek ways to continuously improve.

I also draw a lot of inspiration from a nice "Haiku" (Japanese Short Poem) that I greatly respect. The rough translation goes:

O Snail

Climb Mount Fuji,

But slowly, slowly!

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