Dubai: When the UAE and Egypt recently celebrated 50 years of deep-rooted official ties between the two countries, there was an Egyptian father-son duo among the UAE delegation that visited Egypt. The reason why the UAE government invited Farouk Mohamed and his son Hisham Farouk, the chairman and the CEO of Grant Thornton UAE respectively, for the historic celebration was that Farouk is one of the earliest Egyptian expats to arrive here six decades ago and their company had celebrated 55 years in the UAE.
Farouk recollected his early days in the UAE with Gulf News and spoke about how the ties between Egypt and the Trucial States (the former name of the UAE) had formed long before the formation of the UAE.
In the 1960s, when an Egyptian delegation visited Dubai and explored how they could boost their relationship, the then head of Dubai Chambers sought the assistance of accounting professionals who could help businesses in the emirate, he said.
“When the delegation got back to Cairo, I received the offer to come to Dubai,” said Farouk.
After having completed his university graduation in Cairo, he had joined Price Waterhouse for a four-year internship. On being certified as a chartered accountant, Farouk said he started his own practice in a small office.
“It was also the time the Egyptian government nationalised all the private sector industries. This resulted in limited activities of the auditors as the responsibility for auditing was transferred to the Central Accounting Bureau.”
So, when the Dubai offer came up, Farouk decided to explore life in Trucial States. “I received an employment agreement from here and I decided to accept the job.”
The struggle to sleep
When he landed in Dubai in 1963, he was given an accommodation in a building next to the vegetable market. “There was no air conditioning or electricity at the time. At 5 every morning, the start of the auction and the bidders’ shouting made it difficult to sleep,” he recollected.
Farouk said he would fill up the tub with water before leaving for work in the morning. After work, he would sit in the tub with the somewhat cooled water while reading newspapers that came days after publication. This was his nightly ritual before going to sleep. During the extreme hot weather, he said he would move his bed to the roof and sleep under the stars. “But again the humidity would drive me back to my room and I would try to sleep till the auction begins again.”
The company that he joined was dealing in import and export business and construction. “I was the finance man and the manager for the construction company. I worked with that company for three years. Having the qualification and experience as a chartered accountant, I decided to independently practice my profession here in 1966.”
He recalled getting a permit from Dubai Municipality, which was the only authority to issue permits for professionals of all the fields back then. “I started my practice with limited people and limited resources. That office was located in Nasser Square in Deira, opposite Commercial Bank of Dubai and the erstwhile British Bank of the Middle East. There were four rooms. Two were used for the office and the other two for accommodation.”
Serving family businesses
The market was very difficult to penetrate, he recalled. In 1981, Farouk’s firm joined Grant Thornton International, one of the largest accounting networks in the world. Being associated with international professional firms since the inception of his company, Farouk was able to provide high quality service to the business community. He fostered a growing relationship with founders of various family businesses that became prominent figures in the UAE, earning their confidence and trust.
The firm grew in parallel to the UAE and supported the development journey of many family businesses, which until today are the driver of the nation’s growth.
The firm started concentrating mainly on audit and found it necessary to diversify its services to include advisory services and later tax. Increasing the services meant increasing the number of staff, having bigger physical offices, more infrastructure, and better organisational structure. All these have led to tremendous growth of the company.
Growth of family, business
Meanwhile, Farouk got married and grew his family in the UAE. His children, three daughters and a son, were born in Dubai and educated in American schools in the UAE.
Hisham joined the firm 25 years ago after completing his higher education in Egypt. “Hisham is the maestro of the existing growth of the company with his vision and well-planned strategy. He dared to take many decisions such as diversification of services, investment in infrastructure and new technology as well as investment in people. We could not have grown as how we are now without his leadership,” the proud father said.
In 2016, Hisham was appointed to the global board of Grant Thornton International.
The UAE firm, which had a grand celebration of its 55th anniversary, now has a strength of more than 500 employees, with the headquarters in One Central, Dubai, spanning 30,000sqft and branches in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.
“We cannot forget our people. Without them, we would not have reached where we are. And our clients. Without a good relationship and the trust and the confidence they put on us, we could not have reached here,” said Farouk.
His fondest memory was to witness the formation of the UAE and the strides made by the great founding fathers, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum.
Farouk considers establishing one of the leading professional firms providing services to various industry sectors in the UAE as his major achievement.
“Having kept the relationship with several family businesses which had started with us 55 years ago, we are now working with their third generation.”
In 2021, Farouk was awarded the Fakhr Al Arab Award for Excellence, which honours “Arab personalities or leaders of Arab origins who have been most influential contributors to the quality of life of communities around the globe, leaving a socio-economic impact.”
A UAE golden visa recipient, Farouk says his love for the UAE is not only in his heart but also in his blood.