Dubai: Like father, like son?
Well, yes and no.
While Abdul Hafeez Al Yousefi, former agricultural adviser to the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, is known to have made the desert bloom - his son Tariq Al Yousefi went on to sculpt his own destiny.
However, as Al Yousefi points to a 100-year-old olive tree in the garden of his upscale villa in Dubai, there’s an unmistakable sense of déjà vu. The eldest of Khan’s seven children, Al Yousefi proudly clings to the ideals instilled in him by his father. He is firmly rooted in Khan’s values and love for adventure and nature, yet he has since grown and branched out in fields that are vastly different.
A former officer with the UAE Armed Forces, Al Yousefi who has a string of degrees and is a flourishing businessman, is also an avid hunter armed with riveting tales to share.
He remembers his childhood days at Al Ain’s first-ever 'proper house' with concrete walls, which was specially ordered to be built for his father by Sheikh Zayed when he was roped in from the American University of Beirut where he was studying agricultural sciences.
“His Highness, who wanted to make the desert as green as some parts of Europe where he had been to, handpicked my father for the task in 1962 when some overseas consultants ruled out the possibility, citing the harsh climate. His Highness famously held my father’s hand and asked him, ‘Khan, let’s do this now, what do you say’. The trust and responsibility bestowed on him was huge and he readily agreed,” recalls Al Yousefi.
His father, in his memoirs, 50 years in Al Ain Oasis, dwelt upon his experiences with the ruling family, the challenges posed by the mighty desert and his lifelong friendship with Sheikh Zayed.
As Al Yousefi points out, Khan often talked about his friend’s warmth and kindness and was in awe of his magnetic personality. They had an instant rapport even though their initial interactions were through an interpreter.
“They met all the time, at work, at our home or the Sheikh’s palace,” says Al Yousefi.
Khan, who was of Pakistani origin but became a naturalised citizen of the UAE later, could not initially speak Arabic so a translator had been hired for him. “But one evening, when my father visited His Highness at the Majlis to update him on the progress of his work, the translator was missing. My father came to know that the translator had been let go because that would leave him with no option but to learn Arabic.”
Growing up in such an environment, Al Yousefi was inevitably close to His Highness and his family. His holidays were spent in Al Ain while he did his early education in Karachi. During his first semester at Al Ain University, His Highness sent him to England to do his A levels. He was under the sponsorship of the Education Department.
Al Yousefi’s foray into the UAE Armed Forces was also at the behest of the family.
He recollects how his parents were once on a visit to Houston in the US when he happened to go to the palace during his summer vacation. He was then urged to join the Armed Forces and was inducted into the Air Force wing. “On their return, my parents were extremely surprised to see me in uniform.”
Subsequently, Al Yousefi trained at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida and went on to become a pilot. Besides pursuing flying, he also acquired a series of degrees in aircraft engineering and other subjects like aviation management, power plant maintenance and business administration.
His education took him on a completely different trajectory than that of his father. “I worked with the UAE Armed Forces for 11 years during which time I was also sent as one of the two people from here to the prestigious RAF (Royal Air Force) College Cranwell in the UK. This was a lifetime experience where I got to train with British, American and other GCC nationals.”
But Al Yousefi could not complete his commando training in the Air Force due to a permanent disability he suffered in an accident during his earlier years in the US. He had been a keen sportsman. After a round of tennis, he met with an accident while waiting behind a jeep at the gas station for his friend who was at the convenience store. “I was pinned between the jeep and a car and ended up with a five per cent permanent disability due to my back injuries,” recalls Al Yousefi.
In many ways, his inability to complete his commando training was a crucial turning point. On the advice of His Highness' family again, Al Yousefi was transferred to Gulf Aircraft Maintenance Company (GAMCO) to oversee UAE Air Force aircraft maintenance.
Always ready to try something different, he accepted the role and soared to new heights. Soon, he was working closely on projects in Gamco with the investment major Mubadala and subsequently played an instrumental role in the setting up of Borouge, a joint venture of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and Borealis of Austria.
“The experience was invaluable,” says Al Yousefi, now a successful businessman with diverse interests in multi-level marketing, energy, biomedicine, education and philanthropy. The principles he learnt from his father have stood him in good stead.
“He taught me patience and how to build and maintain relations. He also showed me the importance of being grounded and living within one’s means.”
Al Yousefi, a father of three grown-up sons, Mohammad, Musabbeh and Hamad, stresses the importance of these life lessons, both professionally and personally.
Going over the photographs on the panels of his study, many of them with royalty, he walks you down the memory lane.
An enclosed courtyard adjoining the study, which adorns a collection of hunting trophies, also evokes special memories about his expeditions.
It is said life is a great adventure, and few fit the bill better than Al Yousefi.