A successful entrepreneur is image of his own brand

A successful entrepreneur is his or her own brand ambassador, in fact they are the brand itself, conveying inspiration, commitment and history.

What those men and women have done is dream and make their dreams come true in better or worse, and through all seasons, difficult and mild, generous and dry.

There is not typical character of an entrepreneur. Some have been inspired by their fathers, some by their environment, or their own strife for self achievement.

Some fought, some studied hard, some are humble and some well deservingly boast thier success, and all of them have experienced many losses, that is certain.

They, however, share an optimistic outlook, a spirit that has been trained to find an opportunity or a lesson in every obstacle.

Even when the global crisis seems not far from the UAE, its three finalists to the Entrepreneur Of The Year organised by Ernst & Young in the Middle East, retain the "never say die spirit".

Three of the nominees from the UAE Joseph Ghossoub, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Holding Group; Mehdi Amjad, President and CEO of Omniyat Holdings; and Abdullah Mazrui, Chairman of Mazrui Holdings spoke to Emirates Business on their debuts, aspirations and visions on facing current challenges.

Are we supposed to pack and leave our business? They ask, only knowing that the answer is a "no".

They are staying to fight, like they have done through all crises, to come out stronger and more successful.

Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year celebrates those who are building and leading successful, growing and dynamic businesses, recognising them through regional, national and global awards programmes in more than 135 cities in 50 countries.

The Entrepreneur Of The Year programme is now in its second year in the Middle East, and its average winners have $350 million or more in yearly revenues, 20 per cent annual growth, and over 1,000 employees.

The survey

Åccording to a new survey of Entrepreneur of The Year finalists and participants by Ernst & Young in the Middle East and globally, a majority said the speedy adaptability of the entrepreneurial mindset and scalability of their enterprises can meet the challenges forced on the region by any changes in the global economy.

Most entrepreneurs in the region believe that personal energy, dynamism, the quality of human capital and not the state of the economy are the deciding factors in starting new businesses.

PROFILE: Joseph Ghossoub, President & CEO, The Holding Group

Being nominated for the Entrepreneur of the Year award, according to Ghossoub, is a serious test of personality, achievements and business results. It is not a simple matter of liking.

"I would say, my nomination is a result of what I have been doing for the past 13 or 14 years. Today, we sit on the largest communications group in the Middle East. In a region where companies are overprotective of themselves, we have managed to acquire two large networks with a long history in the communications industry, Intermarkets in the year 2000, and Madco Group in the year 2003.

"We were able to do things differently, and our group now spreads across Morocco down to Jordan, covering North America and parts of Africa, all of the Gulf and some markets in the Levant region, offering services in various communication disciplines that we run.

Joseph Ghossoub never stops dreaming. "If you stop dreaming, I believe you just die, and when it comes to me I dream reality."

He came to the UAE in the mid 1980s as a director at Intermarkets, which he later bought and included in his group. He remained there until the end of the first Gulf War. "The times were not as great as they are today. We had a good business but at that time communication industry was affected like all others by the regional unrest.

"We came out of it, however, intact and even stronger. We grew immediately afterwards because I predicted the reaction of the market, maintained my position, and applied different measures while retaining all the employees, contrary to others in the market."

Between mid-1993 and beginning of 1994, Ghossoub left Intermarkets for a fresh start. In 1997, there were talks over an affiliation with Young & Rubicam, which a year later acquired a minority share in The Holding Group. The partnership still lives with WPP recently acquiring a major stake at The Holding Group.

"The WPP partnership has offered us a whole new scope of things to be done differently." This does not oppose the entrepreneurial vision, he noted.

"We have a stronger backing allowing us to do things that couldn't possibly have been done individually."

The future, in Ghossoub's mind is every coming moment. "According to the pace of life today, five years could seem like eternity. Change is happening overnight, and we are present to witness it as long as our eyes can stay open, live on TV and through other media."

"There are challenges," he says, "that are inflicted upon us by others, such as the global financial crisis. We are affected by it, no doubt, but we will weather it. I have seen it happen before during the three Gulf Wars, the financial crises of the 70s , 80s and 90s and during 9/11."

He adds "we are inspired by the leadership in this country: Visionary, courageous, and adapting to change. We cannot live in a changing world without being able to adapt or we would be left behind; and being an entrepreneur dictates that you look for opportunities, search for ways of doing things."

An optimist, Ghossoub, believes that it is time where everybody has switched to the "looking through the empty half of the glass" mood, as he calls it. "You have to think of what can be done. Pessimism is paralysis."

Being one of the most important and prominent figures in the advertising industry, Ghossoub is very confident that the market will grow soon enough. "We have been growing at a 30 per cent growth rate. A slow down, of five to 10 per cent still means we are growing at 25 per cent rate per annum, and that, for God's sake, is great!"

What has changed for Ghossoub in all those years. Nothing is the way it used to be, he replied. Starting with three newspapers and one TV station, to more than 500 satellite stations, 340 magazines and a lot of newspapers and online media, it is a different world all together.

"Our business has become much more scientific allowing measurement and planning. No one draws by hand anymore, compared to the times when I had to fight to bring in the alien beast of a Macintosh to the office and pay for it out of my own pocket, because no one believed it would be of any use. Later in a year's time we had 12 of those machines and we were of the few pioneers in adopting technology in our creative workshops."

PROFILE: Abdullah Mohammed Al Mazrui, Chairman of Abu Dhabi-based Mazrui Holdings

Abdullah Al Mazrui has been running different businesses for decades and expanding them to form a family conglomerate of diversified business in a short span of time. In September 2001, he established Mazrui Holdings (earlier known as Mazrui Holding Company), bringing all the family businesses under one umbrella.

He is also the Chairman of other companies and establishments including Emirates Insurance Company, The National Investor, Abu Dhabi International School of Choueifat, Arab International Logistics Company (Aramex), Jashanmal National Company, Depa United Group, Chemanol and Modern Decor & Wood Products Manufacturing.

"I'm very honoured to be selected as one of the finalists for this international prestigious award. It is always nice to know other people and other parties recognise the distinction, business promotion and contribution to the local and regional economies. Definitely we are very proud of their recognition of my contribution to the country's economy," he told Emirates Business when asked how he felt being nominated among only three UAE businessmen as finalists for Middle East Entrepreneur of the Year award by Ernst & Young.

For him, the award is one of contributions to the region's business community from Ernst & Young which, he says, are one of the pioneering consultants and auditors engaged in the region for a long time.

He says the honour goes to the entire team of Mazrui Holdings for their dedication and hard work that has led to this recognition. "We as a company have received many awards in recognition to our performance and company growth and services. Most of the awards we get are not personal but collective for the company.

"We are a group of companies. Our companies get award, for example, for excellent management, record profits and so on. My selection as one of the finalists of the award is again a recognition of the entire group. Without this dedicated team of management I have on board, I would not have been able to run the company as successful as I'm doing it now. It is a team work."

About the company portfolio, he says Mazrui Holdings has around 30 different business units in a diversified area of construction, oil and gas, banking, investment, insurance, consumer products, retail and services, industrial sector and education.

"We have been bringing a number of new companies to benefit from the platform of Mazrui Holdings since its inception in 2001. And the expansion of our portfolio continues," he said.

Referring to the current slowdown, Mazrui says the global crisis has been severe in the UAE, but it is lesser compared to other economies, which he said can be justified by the 2008 third quarter financial results of most of the UAE firms, reporting encouraging growth of up to 40 per cent and more in revenues and profits.

"This is a clear picture that shows the UAE economy is really healthy. The recovery of the local economy will be much faster than others due to its strength. The economy will be back on track with the cooperation between the private and public sectors.

"One thing I would like to emphasis is that the UAE is a very successful business-oriented country. It is highly diversified in its nature of businesses and people who live here, working together and creating successful story."

PROFILE: Mehdi Amjad, President and CEO, Omniyat Holdings

Mehdi Amjad grew from a boy fascinated by his father's life as a businessman and jewellery trader.

At the age of 13, he used to buy gold coins from his father in the morning to sell them by afternoons, making money out of the fluctuated differences in gold prices.

What does it to take to be that businessman?

"I would say determination," replies Amjad. "Since my childhood, I knew I wanted to run my business. I used to challenge my father when I was young, buying and selling gold to him. I used to enjoy it."

Is it in the blood, do you learn it from the environment or from the people you are inspired by? "Possibly. But then you need to have the formula of success, to be able to turn the desire to reality."

Jewellery trading was a boring, slow business model for Amjad. "I decided that was not the business I wanted. Although it was difficult for my father to accept my decision in the beginning, he eventually suggested that he become my partner for a 50-50 stake, which was a quite interesting negotiation."

In the years 1993 and 1994, Amjad scanned a whole range of sectors. He found interest in computers and studied the market quite hard. Sitting at the Omniyat Holdings offices, in Burjuman Business Tower, Amjad can overlook the Khalid Bin Al Walid Street, known as "computer street" where he started. He later formed IT distribution company, Al Massa, also had its offices in that street. Amjad started exporting products from Dubai to Iran and Iraq. Being born in Iraq and from an Iranian descent, he chose familiar markets to start with. "IT business was fast, exciting and evolving all the time."

According to Amjad, the IT business is a very tough business, very fast and very low margin. "That means you need to be tuned, sharp, fast and you need to be cost effective", he explains. "That school is the best school. I always believed that people who could be successful in IT business could make any business successful."

By the end of 1995 Amjad was running a good level of business and his income was by far bigger than what he earned working for his father. He liked his business.

Al Massa Group was born in 1996. Along with a Kuwaiti partner, the company was founded with one million dirham capital, and a small office with two employees, to grow later into the largest IT distribution company in the Middle East and North Africa, turning around $430 million in 2004, according to ITP.

"I had a phenomenal experience within eight years only. I have learnt so much. I shifted from a customer of IT distributors to become their major competition."

Later Omniyat was launched in the beginning of 2006, after a few successful investments in real estate. Omniyat has grown from a single tower developer to a portfolio of Dh15 billion and has already launched and Dh6bn under development, equivalent to a total of Dh21bn. Speaking of challenges, Amjad is convinced that business is a continuous challenge. "It has never been a walk in the park, working hard for 12 hours a day, waking up in the middle of the night to do business with the US or Singapore, maintaining the competitive edge and beating others in the market, in short, creating a business from total scratch."

"I had a lot of failures", he reiterates. "One thing happened with the loss, I have learnt so many lessons."

Omniyat Holdings owns the property developer company and real estate fund management.


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