How do you define leadership when it comes to overseeing the fortunes and growth of a company or brand?
Away from theoretical and textbook definitions that are often taught in schools and universities, I believe leadership is summed up in one word: involvement. I like to fully engage with the team, and I motivate each member of it to participate and share. For instance, I know each of my employees personally, from the security guards up to the CEOs and heads of businesses. I like to consult with everyone, no matter where they are in life and will not hesitate to get their opinions and advice. This gives a complete sense of the business from the ground up, while assisting in the synergy between group companies, departments and employees.
The pandemic has changed the fortunes of several firms and sectors, how do you visualise the growth trajectory for your brand in the short and long term as a result?
The pandemic has been challenging for everyone, we cannot sugarcoat this. It has been tough both on a humanitarian level as well as for business. Many of us have lost our loved ones. While there is an Arabic proverb that says the misfortune of some is the advantage of others, and some industries had the chance to blossom, overall, it has been difficult for firms and even countries. We are all in survival mode, trying our best to stay healthy and to keep things stable by safeguarding our families and looking for methods to beat the current complexities. We move ahead whilst keeping in our hearts many of our friends, families and loved ones whom we have lost due to the pandemic. From a business perspective, we had the opportunity to revisit the business models of all our companies. We have digitised all our existing lines of business while adding new business in the digital space.
Some looked at the pandemic as a problem, how did you look at it as an opportunity?
Opportunities can arise from all problems, in fact difficult times call for innovative measures. Covid-19 impacted all industries, many of which the Ghassan Aboud Group is invested in including food, retail, automotive, logistics and hospitality. What we chose to do was to adapt and utilise the situation to be in our favour. I took this pandemic as a chance to re-evaluate all of my business units and worked with the team to fix all the weaknesses that we usually are too busy or caught up in the moment to pay attention to. For example, Ghassan Aboud Group’s hotels, Crystalbrook Collection, based in Australia was one of the businesses that subsequently endured a negative hit. The team and I reconsidered our strategies for the eight hotels, shifting our focus to resorts. We rebuilt many and expanded others, building extensions when needed. This helped in stirring the situation to our advantage, with the resorts being 100 per cent occupied.
Finally, we did not stop evolving. I took on a bold move by purchasing Fantauzzo in Brisbane, Australia the first hotel of its size and essence to be bought during the pandemic in the Southern Hemisphere. I consider Fantauzzo a great addition and a gem that complements the luxurious and sophisticated Crystalbrook Collection hotel chain.
You invested in various fields over the years, but we see an increasing interest on your part in digitisation and technology.
The pandemic motivated us to accelerate digitisation and extend the use of technology. I am from a generation that never saw technology playing such a significant role in trade. One thing I am sure of, it will never replace the human touch, most important in traditional trade as we know it.
I also believe that digitisation and artificial intelligence will play a greater role in all our businesses. And thus, I decided to be one of the first to embrace this journey towards a smoother and brighter future.
At Ghassan Aboud Group we have added Buygro, an online B2B marketplace connecting traditional trade to their suppliers digitally. It revolutionises the food trade in a way that has never been tackled before. Since its launch, Buygro has grown ten times faster than our expectation, highlighting the market's need for such an innovation.
Soon, we will be launching an innovative business model in the automotive industry that will disrupt the supply chain within the industry.
Training staff to stay abreast of trends is a regular challenge that companies face, with budget allocation etc. How important is staff training for your brand?
I see training as an investment in my people and my resources. No company can succeed if it does not encourage self-improvement among its employees. I constantly bolster this concept through my Human Capital team and encourage them to pay attention to all employees and to provide programmes, courses and exercises that help evolve staff skills, as well as their ability to think outside the box.
What is the value you try to instil in your employees and believe contributes to the success of the company?
My group’s statement is, Building a better future….together. This is directed at my employees as much as it is directed to my partners and other stakeholders. Through my 25 years of experience, I can say with great certainty, that the most important skill required among employees is teamwork. On several occasions in the last few decades, I have noticed that to succeed we need to work collectively. Often, teamwork protects the company, and usually, concepts discussed within teams help ideas mature and contributes to creating integrated and well-thought plans.
What values do you believe must be embodied in any company for it to succeed?
Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs work for money. Although money is a success factor, and a big goal to work towards, it must not be the primary purpose. Companies must embrace the value of social responsibility while focusing on creating wealth. Institutions must strive to enhance people's quality of life. I usually refrain from working in countries where the betterment of society is not at the core interest. My ultimate goal is to support communities in taking that one step, or even those crucial baby steps, towards a better future.
How have you managed to set your brand apart?
The Ghassan Aboud Group has always valued originality and newness. Ever evolving is one of the traits hardwired within the group’s companies. I believe that stability and stillness belong to graveyards. Therefore, the community is used to seeing something new and exciting happening in my companies and brands all the time.
As a leader of your firm, how do you choose between peer consensus and intuition when making critical decisions?
From where I stand, intuition is seldom a mere feeling but an accumulation of knowledge and experiences. It is a compilation of all our experiences since we are born, all the people you met and learnt from, your parents, siblings, neighbours, school and work colleagues etc. As Michel Foucault revealed in the discourse analysis, these factors work together through your conscious and unconscious mind and help you produce thoughts and ultimately decisions. My intuition is a collective knowledge I accumulated ever since I was born into a business family, all the way till I started and pursued my own business. In the end, all my success I owe to God’s will.
How important is it for a leader to take a risk when the fortunes of the company is at stake?
The difference between an entrepreneur and other people is that an entrepreneur values adventure and risk-taking over financial stability. Entrepreneurs are mentally and psychologically prepared to win and lose. Many businesspeople locally and internationally flourished because they took risks, many lost their money and health. It takes skill and market knowledge, and although stressful, is part of a wonderful journey.
During the pandemic, my employees stood by me through difficult times as they did when we prospered. Salary reductions were necessary to maintain the stability of the organisations. Each organisation provides for thousands of families. So it is my duty to take calculated risks while also protecting companies and put their interests ahead while maintaining the families my organisation is responsible for.
Employees who did share the risk with me and worked creatively to protect this organisation are appreciated dearly. Now that things are more stable, I am rewarding them by all means possible, through better health insurance for their families, financial rewards and through compensating them with salary reimbursements for the reductions they have experienced due to the pandemic.
As an expat, how do you feel doing business in the UAE?
If you want to know the answer to this question, I think you should ask my 11-year-old son, who regardless of where we lived insisted on coming back to the UAE. The UAE is attractive to people of all nationalities, irrespective of caste, creed, age, social status etc. For children, it is adventurous and fun, and for adults, it is the land of opportunity. I came here with 80 dollars in my pocket, now I am worth 2 billion dollars. I have been living here for almost 30 years and it truly is where I belong, thus, it is difficult for me to answer this question as an expat would because the UAE feels like a beloved homeland.
As a leader of your firm how would you advise future entrepreneurs?
I advise them to do two things: Firstly, pay great attention to detail, and secondly, look for areas to pioneer because you can be an imitator and succeed but with innovation and creativity, you will be at the forefront of society.