From the classroom to the world of automobiles, Michel has experienced a lot. Image Credit: Supplied picture

Imagine a life painstakingly built brick by brick suddenly being destroyed by a war, leaving you jobless, homeless and penniless? Not once, but twice.

That's exactly what happened to Michel Ayat, CEO of the AW Rostamani Group (AWR Group) and Arabian Automobiles in Dubai - first during the civil war in Lebanon in 1975 and later in 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait.

While others may have found it difficult to bounce back, Michel rebuilt his life. He started from scratch and grew stronger.

"Nothing shocks me today,'' he says. "If I face a challenge I always analyse the situation, study the impact and evaluate my chances before finalising my counter measures. My experience during the wars taught me that.''

From being headmaster at a school in Beirut, he learned the ABCs of the automobile business in Kuwait where he fled after war erupted in Lebanon. Although he had been a headmaster, he still had the humility to be a responsive learner when he arrived in Dubai in 1990 where he took up the challenge of working at Arabian Automobiles, a company that has grown under his stewardship.

A man who believes in giving 100 per cent at work and at home, Michel, 63, loves his exercise routine in the morning, savours his time with his granddaughter Vicky, and enjoys the moments he spends with his wife Victoria and their three grown children who live close to his home on The Palm Jumeirah.

A team player, Michel believes in the importance of communicating to staff, listening to his team and leading from the front. He tells Friday how he shifted into top gear every time the going got tough.


I am a workaholic and treat every day as a new beginning. Being a teacher at heart, I endeavour to impart all that I have learned to my staff. From the two wars I experienced where I was reduced to being homeless and penniless, I learned how important it was to be resourceful and never to lose heart. This is how I survived every setback in my life. I put my counter measures in place and move forward.

I was born in a small village called Kfarshima, about eight kilometres from Beirut. It was a quiet and picturesque place in the mountains. We lived a fairly simple and middle-class life. My father Ibrahim wasn't well educated and was in the construction business, while my mother Renée looked after the home and us six children.

But my father was keen for all of us to get a good education, so I did my master's in political science from the University of Lebanon. But in my heart I loved pure mathematics. When you have a passion for something and decide to pursue it, you are usually successful. When I got an opportunity I took a diploma in modern mathematics from the American University in Beirut.

I enjoyed teaching maths and after college I got a temporary teaching job at the university. I must have been good because in 1972 I was headhunted to become the headmaster of a new school in Beirut. I was 23 at the time and I accepted the offer and became the headmaster of Friendship College. I taught there from 1972 to 1975. Perhaps the school would have grown from strength to strength had it not been for the civil war that broke out that year.

When the situation worsened, we had to shut down the school. We also had to abandon our homes and moved to another village, Bellouneh, a short distance from Kfarshima. For almost a year I waited for things to settle down, but my hopes faded with each passing month. And when things became unbearable, my family suggested that I leave Lebanon and go to Kuwait to be with my older brother Nain.

In 1976, at the age of 27, I arrived in Kuwait not knowing what to expect. My future was uncertain. My brother suggested I get into the automobile business. He was working in the sector and he offered me a job there. I had no idea what it entailed. As headmaster teaching maths, I had no idea how to sell cars. However, thanks to my brother's help, I got a job as a salesman for the company that was the distributor of Rolls-Royce, Range Rover and Daihatsu. Initially, I was not very happy with my job because I felt I was not contributing much to the company, so I decided to resign. However, my boss refused to accept my resignation and instead asked me to head the Daihatsu division. I had to do everything from selling to test-driving to managing the showroom.

But I loved this new challenge. It was also working at Daihatsu in Kuwait that I met my wife Victoria and we married. I have three kids - Rania, a doctor; Zaheer, who's in advertising; and Ruba, a teacher.

I was feeling happy and settled in life, but that was short lived. In 1990, while I was holidaying with my family in Austria, Iraq invaded Kuwait and within a week my bank and credit cards were frozen and we were penniless. All we had were our clothes, passports and a little money. But on the flip side, we were all safe.

However, even after the war ended, I was not sure whether I wanted to return to Kuwait. So, desperate to make a fresh start in life I decided to come to Dubai and landed here on September 19, 1990.

With 14 years of experience I began doing the rounds at the automobile companies before I was hired as the motors manager of the Arabian Automobile showroom in Deira. Within a few months I was promoted to general manager. I worked very hard and put in to practice the 14 years of experience I had earned in Kuwait.

I feel my role as a leader of the organisation is to define a strategy that will work for my company, communicate it clearly to the management and enlist the support and dedication of the entire team to translate that strategy into results.

For me, the employees on the last rung of the ladder are as important as the ones on the top. I believe that success in an organisation comes only with the successful implementation of a strategy by everyone. For this to work you have to ensure that everyone, right down to the last person, clearly understands his or her role and that we are working collectively towards achieving a goal.

Since 2008 we have created seven satellite sectors around our main company that deal with car leasing, batteries, tyres, lubricants and other car-care products. Our goal is to create a galaxy of AWR (Abdul Wahid Rostamani) companies.


Today, I take care to savour every moment in my life. I am up at 5.30am, maintain a regular exercise schedule, enjoy a light breakfast and then I am off to work at 8am. I value discipline and order in my life and want to give my best shot at everything I take up.

I live on The Palm Jumeirah, one of the most beautiful spots in Dubai. It gives me joy to kayak on the weekends. Kayaking has been my hobby for a very long time.

When I look back at my life, I feel blessed that I have a loving family and have all my children living around me. I enjoy the company of my granddaughter Vicky. It's a blessing to have a loving family, successful children and being in Dubai, the place I love.

I attribute the stability of my family life to my loving wife Victoria who has given us all a cosy home and hearth.

I still believe in split shifts and take a two-hour break in the afternoon. I leave the office at 2pm and the 45 minutes it takes for the driver to drop me off at home is the most efficient and productive period in my entire day as I carry all my work-related literature home, talk to my staff over the phone, work on my laptop en route and drop my staff emails.

At home I have a warm lunch with my wife, take a 30-minute power nap and then I am back to work by 4pm, fresh and active for the evening. I have many engagements after office hours and these two hours give me energy to face the day. I firmly believe each day holds a new promise.


On a personal front, I hope to some day revive Friendship College and have a school where students come for the love of learning and teachers teach with dedication and passion and share a wonderful bond with their proteges.

I hope and pray that peace and prosperity returns to my country.

On a professional front, I dream of steering Arabian Automobiles towards becoming a world-class organisation. I am also working towards making it an organisation with an annual revenue of $2 billion (Dh7.34 billion) very soon.