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“The BranD We BuilD as
imporTanT as The anT
e BranDs We represenT”
eading a business empire that spans a range of interests from automotives to real estate and retail to hospitality, Hisham Saleh Al Mana still maintains that more important than the impressive brands his company represents is the brand his company aspires to be. And that single aim drives the company’s expansion plans, within the country or beyond. It is probably that determination that decided Infiniti’s choice in partnering with the group to open its first dealership in UK for the Infiniti brand. Speaking to Qatar Today Managing Editor Vani Saraswathi, Chairman , of the Saleh Al Hamad Al Mana Group, Hisham Saleh Al Mana reveals things closest to his heart – businesses, cars and education.
The wave of change
“The older generation had a good balance between social and business life, which unfortunately we are not able to maintain now. The time for socialising is limited. Young Qataris tend to be business-oriented, and apart from time with family, time for social activity is not much,” he says, as he begins to assess how local businesses are shaping up. “Many people are content with their life, with their wealth and achievements. It’s not what appeals to entrepreneurs.” It’s that element of discontent, a hunger for more, which helps people move forward. But for the citizens here, there seems to be little to be discontented about. “Yes, you tend to take things for granted in a country like this. The infrastructure is ready, opportunities are aplenty, and from the wealth point of view, we really don’t challenge ourselves. We don’t go that extra mile. That’s true. “But you see, it’s the society that has brought about this kind of thinking. The mindset has to change. In the old days, before my generation, they didn’t have it so good. There was a lot of work, physical exertion, diving to get the pearls. Because then there was no wealth generating entity to make life better. They struggled to make life better, and that struggle is lacking now. “The influence on the youngsters has to come from the family structure itself. If the family is steeped in education, their knowledge contributes to the transformation. If that’s not available for you within your family, then there is this amazing opportunity being created by HH Sheikha Mozah in terms of
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Ò Éyo u tend to take things for granted in a country like this. The infrastructure is ready, opportunities are aplenty, and from the wealth point of view, we really donÕ t challenge ourselves. We donÕ t go that extra mile.Ó
education. You have to catch the boat. You have to push your children to embrace education, which will help them understand and prepare for the challenges in future,” he says, reiterating: “Education IS the tool you use. The ONLY tool to better oneself.” On the changes in the country, he says “Thanks to the wise leadership and vision of HH the Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Qataris today are living in this environment of plenty; I feel the younger generation are very fortunate. Qatar is undergoing a very important transformation now, and the youngsters need to ride that wave. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, not many generations will have the privilege of living through something like this. It is critical that youngsters seize this opportunity and secure their future.
Family business = Family values
Hisham Al Mana recognises the challenges he faces as a family business, to hold on to core values while being competitive.
“In the quest for market domination, or under the pretext of being competitive, you should not tarnish your name,” he stresses. “People should associate your name with only the best. Your name has to be a stronger brand than the brands you represent. Today people think ‘I collect brands, therefore I become a good businessman’. That is not correct. Collecting brands or representing international brands will mean nothing, if you as a family business, do not understand the values of that distinction.” As he succinctly puts, in today’s world, it’s no longer about representing these brands and becoming business people. It’s about bettering yourself and the people with you. On the network of local businesses in the country, he definitely sees scope for improvement. “There are arenas where we see ourselves enhancing the communication process, and learning best practices from others. We have to learn. Unfortunately, when people say they do not want to do what x or y is doing and want to do something different, we forget that there
are good examples out there that will benefit us. “There is nothing wrong in adapting best practices. I still feel the UAE as a whole, the way businesses interact there is cohesive. How they communicate with each other is good and efficient – we can learn a lot from that.”
One of the most exciting business moves for the Saleh Al Mana group is the UK dealership for Inifiniti. “When Nissan decided to enter Europe with Infiniti, they were looking at the right partners… Across continental Europe they found different partners. But in the UK they realised that going with large local dealerships, the brand may be lost. “This is a very niche luxury brand, so they wanted to enter with limited number of dealerships across the country. They wanted a business partner who has the right exposure to the brand and were passionate about the Infiniti brand. Eventually, they found us to be the right fit.” However, this recognition and move will come with its own unique set of challenges. But Hisham Al Mana is geared for
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it. “Now, we have to learn from the best practices from the European markets – it’s very important that we detach ourselves from how we run the operations here and have a completely different mindset for the UK market. We are currently looking for the right calibre of people to run the business there.” boarding school followed by my Bachelor’s and Master’s studies provided me an opportunity to understand and appreciate cultural diversities.” On the developments in Qatar, he says in the 90s when he came back to Qatar to take over the family business, the business climate was completely different. “That’s when a lot of development was beginning – the city was different from what it is today. Suddenly we witnessed exponential growth in Qatar and across the entire region. At the moment, what is happening, from the economy point of view, is a correction, an adjustment. Unfortunately the repercussions of Dubai have had a negative impact here. He does feel that a lot of the reaction in Qatar is psychological. “People talk about real estate collapsing – I disagree. Again, it’s a correction period. Our portfolios of businesses include real estate. In the 80s and 90s the rents were fairly stable, it went up a bit. Then in the last five years, rents
When not working? I spend time with my family and my children – twin girls, Aida and Al Anoud, my sons Saleh and Faisal. What is more challenging? Questions at home or at work? Equally challenging. With my 4-yearold twin daughters, 2 ½ year old son & new born baby boy, you can imagine how demanding things can be. Inspiration? My father. Though I only had a limited time with him. I was 24 when he passed away. But I learnt so much from him… Apart from him I would say it’s Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan. I see him as a good role model. His management style is truly inspiring. Legacy you want to leave behind? I want people to say I did something different. An entrepreneur with a unique outlook. That I took my father’s vision and transformed it to new dimensions. I would like to continue to contribute to the economic development of the country, not just the commercial. If you had the power to change one thing, what would it be? One of the worst things is the imbalance in distribution of wealth, across the planet. I would like to see this rectified. It is frustrating to see all the money available to provide basic amenities in the poorest countries, but it is not delivered due to the bureaucracy. Things can be improved in a short time but for politics. Favourite car: The GT-R Skyline. It represents Nissan’s most cutting edge technologies. Outside of my brands, I think the Porsche and Ferrari are super cars.
Not surprisingly, cars have always been a fascination. Growing up with the Datsun brand (first fleet of cars from the Nissan company that was eventually phased out) which his father represented here, it’s not surprising that his first wheel memory is the Datsun. Prior to going to university, he brought his first car – a Datsun 280ZX – a sportscar, one of the first generation of Zs that you see now. Though passionate about wheels and everything it brings with it, he says it hurts to see the recklessness of some driv-
“The influence on the youngsters has to come from the family structure itself. You have to push your children to embrace education… (education is) the ONLY tool to better oneself.”
ers. “We need to embark on an education drive definitely. There are ways of having fun with the car, without risking lives. It doesn’t have to be dangerous driving. “There is very little we can do when somebody is set on killing themselves – rash driving on the dunes, without headlights. It again boils down to education – the influence your loved ones have on you. It hurts you when you see vehicles bought from you involved in these casualties. But it’s not the car, it’s the driver – we need to focus on them.”
tripled. That was ridiculous. Rents can’t triple in that short a snap. Now there is an adjustment – and that has led to panic. I believe, going forward, for 2010, it will probably flatten out a bit, there will not be a major spurt in growth, but there will be no drop either. We have to hang in there.”
One day at a time
The cycle of learning and development
Even as his business heads West, a lot of Hisham Al Mana’s personal transformation also occurred there. “My education in UK, starting with a
Speaking on how he manages a company with such varied business interests, he says, “I take it day by day.” And a bit of time management. “I wouldn’t say we are perfect, because we are still developing. There are times, despite best of planning, things will crop up that will divert attention. But I don’t believe in saying I am planning for the next five years. For what? And how?” n
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