"I love meeting new people and understanding different cultures," says Abdullah Fareed Al Gurg. Image Credit: Silvia Baron/ANM

With his numerous achievements and the responsibilities he shoulders, I had expected Abdullah Fareed Al Gurg to be older, perhaps portly and definitely formidable, so when I met him I was thrown. He is only 29, he has movie-star looks and, as if that wasn't enough, he is charming and articulate.

As group general manager of the Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group he is used to people doing a double take when they meet him. "It happens all the time," he says with a smile. "People always expect a bigger person to be in my seat!"

But he takes it as a compliment.

Heading a group with 23 divisions in trading, manufacturing and franchises and representing international conglomerates such as Unilever, British American Tobacco, Fosroc International, Electrolux, Grundig, Dunlop and ICI, Al Gurg, as a third-generation entrepreneur, is not overwhelmed by his position or power. "I appreciate the challenges ahead of me and the respect my staff give me. I know that I must better myself every day so that I can be worthy of all this and give more in return," he says.

The success and influence of his family name is something he grew up with. "We started our banner in 1960 with a small shop in Bur Dubai. Little did we know we would come so far and weave right into the fabric of the nation. The first generator, the first post office, the first telephone call, the first aircraft landing in Dubai - these were as much milestones in [Al Gurg group's] history as they were memorable moments in the nation's progress."

Being an organic part of the Al Gurg family, however, did not mean automatic entry into the family business. Even after having completed his studies and ready to take up work, he had to seek opportunities outside the family enterprise to cut his teeth in the world of business.

He started ten years ago, in the sales department of a call centre at Tejari.com, an e-commerce hub in Dubai. His job involved making sales calls to strangers.

"My first job taught me to be patient and listen to people without being biased. Today, [thanks to that training] I am able to separate my personal side from the professional one. It is very humbling to fight the battle of self."

Between then and now, he has also been project director of The Tiger Woods Dubai, chapter development manager for the Young Arab Leaders, manager of the CEO Monitoring Unit at Tatweer and a board member of Dubailand Theme Park city and the Falconcity of Wonders. He took over the family business in November 2009.

Today, apart from the mentoring role he plays to his team at work, he is also deeply devoted to his family and finds his children to be sources of inspiration. 

Work

I just can't take no for an answer - not even from myself. Pushing my own limits gives me a rush. I love getting things done come what may. Perhaps it was this fighting spirit that proved to Baba Easa (my grandfather) and my mother that I was capable of managing the reins of their business empire.

I have always been the youngest in the boardroom but I sit at the head. I appreciate it and am humbled by the responsibility. I let my outcomes speak more than my appearance. To get here I had to stay focused on my goal, follow instructions and move ahead always.

It's better to forget people who think I cannot read between the lines. Yes, I may seem calm and at ease but my mind works twice as fast. I don't like hypocrites and falsehood. What you hear may not essentially be what people are saying. You must keep a keen ear and a watchful eye always.

I know I am not always right and I have yet to learn a lot from my family, my managing directors and my chairman (my mother) and am not embarrassed to say ‘I don't know'. Each day has its own right. Sometimes we learn from a failure and sometimes a success teaches you. I would not have grown if I were embarrassed to own up to my shortcomings.

It is hard to accept the status quo as being enough. I think more can be given when you don't limit yourself to what is currently available. I believe being a perfectionist is critical and a must if you don't want it to cost you more money. When you're lenient you may make errors and pay the price for your mistakes.

My philosophy is simple because that is how I am. Plan strategically, step up and follow the system to ensure quality.

This all encapsulates sustainable growth. We plan to grow outstandingly at 12 per cent per annum. I am looking at new markets and new products for the company. We are in the process of organising and consolidating for our next step towards 2012. 

Play

Even though work rules my life, I do manage to make time for myself. It's important to me that I make time for a weekly trip to the movies and some gym time. I think everyone should have an outlet. For me, I love sport and travel. I enjoy socialising, staying in touch with old friends and family. I also love meeting new people, creating a bond, understanding different cultures. All this widens the mind. I hope to travel the world and discover the real me. Once you know where you come from you can be a better guide for those who are with you.

I think money is only a tool for buying luxury, not a means to true happiness. You can have the best houses, horses, cars, jewellery, gadgets, everything - but it is all meaningless if you don't do it with someone you care for. You need an anchor to your life, for me that solace is in my home. I treasure the moments with my family. My children are my escape. I begin each morning by dropping them off at school. The tiny conversations that we have, the thoughtful questions that they ask and the way they are particular about their things makes me wonder about things I may have overlooked as an adult. There is so much to learn from their point of view and opinions. They speak without any bars or mediocrity and that really gives a beautiful start to my day.

My eldest, Easa, is very calm and observant. When I see him I feel there is an old man inside this little boy, his thoughts are so disciplined and aligned. He is quite a contrast to his younger brother, Abdul Aziz - he is clever and naughty but he has a very pure heart. Last but not least is my princess, Mahara. She is the most demanding of them all. She rules the house and my heart. No matter how hard the day has been for me, the minute the children come rushing into my arms I know I am a blessed man.

I can easily relate to my children and their joy of play. In their laughter I see my own childhood reflected. I take them out with me a lot and we enjoy Chinese food just as I did when I was young.

I want to remain always young. In the last two years I have seen a shift in my thought process, it has been weighed down with the sudden responsibility. But now that everything is in its rightful place I feel elated and in control. I may age as we all do but I will not grow old in my ideas and thoughts. I think fresh ideas are what keeps an organisation bustling. 

Dream

My family has created my identity. I belong to this identity regardless of anything else. I am built this way and so I belong.

I had always wanted to contribute to my family and our business, that is why I find what I am doing exciting. I wanted to be the helping hand for my mother, to ease her workload and I am doing exactly that. The placement in the top office did not come easy, it has been a steady climb. I believe happiness comes from within and anything can be achieved if your heart is in it.

I dream of growing old just like my grandfather! I hope my children and grandchildren respect me the same way as I respect him. I am sentimental about the legacy that my grandfather has created, not just for his family but for generations to come.

The chair I am in is large because it was built large. But I have had the best teachers in the world. I owe a lot to my mother. She stood by me at the lowest points of my life. She helped me straighten up, even now a cold stare from her sends a shiver down my spine!

But jokes apart, she is the sweetest, most emotional person I have known. If it weren't for her I would not be here.

It was from her I learnt to pay it forward and I hope that I make the best of the trust she has given me. 

Inside info

"I come from a very conservative family. It trickles down to the way we live and the way people perceive us to be. We are dearly connected to the old Dubai set-up, which is why we take pride in our position and location overlooking the creek. This is the hub where it all began - the trade, the prosperity and the camaraderie. This is the real us."

Interview by Ruqya Khan, a Sharjah-based freelance writer