In the interview below, I share some insights about my key learnings and observations to date, the road ahead, and the role I believe that we, as both an organisation and as individuals, can play in becoming purpose-led.
Congratulations on passing 150 days! How has your new adventure as the GCEO of Al Ghurair Investment been so far?
Adventure is an apt descriptor, as it seems like only yesterday that I marked my Day 100! Certainly, the pace is fast and no two days are the same, which I find a refreshingly invigorating environment to work within. As each day passes, I am increasingly encouraged by the advocacy for change within the business, and the collective belief in it, and support towards, the journey we are on together.
In my Day 100 communication, I introduced the start of our journey, outlining a framework of the five key strategic pillars for us to focus on to become ‘fit for future’. Each of these pillars are crucial to our collective success as a business, with the model powered and enabled by ‘Group Think’ – a common approach to our strategy, brand, and our purpose of ‘Enhancing Life’.
Over the last 50 days, as a leadership team, we have made substantial progress in planning our journey, for 2021 and beyond. Our next step is to operationalise the strategic pillars, to make them meaningful and measurable in every area of every business.
A purpose-led business requires purpose-led people, so it is only by embracing our way forward that we can succeed.
Can you please expand on what you mean by ‘purpose-led’; and why is it so important to you as a leader?
I believe that every successful business needs a ‘North Star’ – a point on which to focus during a journey, so it never loses sight of “why” we are doing what we do. Having a purpose is fundamentally different to having a goal – a goal defines what you are trying to achieve (profit, growth, diversification etc.), whereas a purpose defines why, and speaks to the heart of a business’ reason for being.
At a personal level, purpose is the reason one gets up in the morning – it gives meaning to our lives. Having a solid sense of purpose is critical to our business’ future success. With this ‘North Star’ and a genuine belief in why we are doing what we do, any challenges that hinder progress along the way become more manageable – because the path ahead is still clear.
My own belief system is centered around making a positive difference to:
- Self – investing time in my wellness and wellbeing, to ensure I can be the best version of myself for those around me.
- Family and friends – taking time for those who need me, and never taking it for granted that they will always be there.
- Professional growth – with a desire to make a positive difference to the organisations I work in, and the people I work with.
- Community – with a core belief in the importance of education.
Coupled with a passion for wellness, I have been an active member of school and hospital boards. Also, am an advocate for mental and physical health, and mind/body balance, a passion which I share with my wife.
That’s why Al Ghurair’s purpose of ‘Enhancing Life’ – of our people, our customers, our communities and of society as a whole - resonates with me on a personal level. It mirrors my outlook on life. We all leave a legacy to leave behind, so why not make it positive and meaningful?
How are you asking your people at Al Ghurair, as employees, to drive this purpose and try to ‘enhance life’ their own roles?
As a first step, I think it requires a mindset shift from being wholly task or role focused, to thinking more broadly about wider impact – on our colleagues, our clients, the community, and so on. I encourage our employees to ask themselves: if I did something differently, or better, or introduced a new approach, could I have a greater, more positive impact? Often, we become so focused on the task at hand that we forget to stop, think, and consider: “how can I make a difference for the better?”
In addition to this, my main ‘asks’ from everybody at Al Ghurair is firstly that they believe in what we are striving to achieve. To use a metaphorical example of an orchestra: when all instruments are working in harmony, playing a symphony together, the sound is exquisite; but it only takes a few to be off-key, and the whole performance is ruined. We need the dedicated musicians playing in harmony, not the individuals doing their own thing, in their own time!
Secondly, I ask that our people give their best every day, and in all that they do, and to work collaboratively as ‘one team’. In a choice of building a ‘team of champions’ or a ‘champion team’, we must always strive for the latter. With a shared belief in, and commitment to, our purpose we can drive and enable change together. The road ahead may not be easy, but effort and hard work breed success… and a lot of personal satisfaction for everyone involved!
As a leader, what or who inspires you to strive for success every day?
As a child of Greek immigrants, who migrated to Melbourne, Australia in the mid–1950s, I grew up in a family with a tremendous work ethic and a firm belief in the importance of hard work. My father was both an engineer and an entrepreneur, and my mother was both a homemaker and a retail worker: from them, I learned the value and benefits of working hard. By 15 years old, I already had my first job, working in Myer department store in Melbourne in a sales role, dealing with everything from ladies’ fashion to kitchenware!
I think that, with a strong work ethic instilled from an early age, came a lifelong passion for learning, and a desire to continuously progress, or self-improve. For me, sitting still and stagnating is not an option! Even with advancing technologies – which some may argue are beyond my generation! – I strive to be both a digital adaptor and an early adopter; I would rather continue to embrace what’s new than get left behind.
I credit this drive for progress for my diverse and exciting career path to date – which has taken me from Australia, to Sri Lanka, to Singapore and finally to the UAE, a country I have been proud to call home for the last 18 years.
As for who inspires me, three people stand out:
- My parents (Ok, that’s two people!), for all the reasons above;
- Nelson Mandela, for his resilient ability to stick to his beliefs and personal sense of purpose, despite hardship and resistance;
- Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, for his vision, innovation and commitment to progress. Without his inspiration, so many of us would not be able to call the UAE home.
What motivated you to make Al Ghurair Investment the next chapter of your career path, after Noor Bank?
From 2003, I have had a strong relationship with the Al Ghurair family. In the beginning, they were major clients; in 2009 I joined Mashreq so the link was more direct. Even in my previous role at Noor Bank they were major clients. The relationship is built on a foundation of mutual trust and respect.
In a business capacity, I have long admired the family’s commitment to progress and innovation, and the legacy they have built. However, it’s the family’s personal philosophy and belief system that inspires me the most, as community is such an integral part of their purpose. The family has donated one-third of the company's assets in perpetuity towards regional education initiatives – such is their belief in the importance and power of learning. Additionally, when you consider the areas of industry they have chosen to invest in – food, energy, transportation, construction, properties, and so on – these sectors all form part of the infrastructure of life, each serving a role in the advancement of society.
With great respect for the family’s value system, and the opportunity presented to play an integral role in the future transformation of this heritage company, there was no question in my mind that this was where I belonged. I have previously mentioned, that it is like coming home, albeit to a different house.
If you overheard somebody talking about Al Ghurair Investment in five years’ time, what would you want to hear them say?
In one sentence...
I’d like us to be recognised by our purpose ‘Enhancing Life’ and be admired for both our commercial leadership and social contribution.
If you’d like a more comprehensive answer, commercially speaking, I’d like to hear that Al Ghurair is a household name – recognised for the full breadth of its businesses, products and services. Currently, I feel the market recognises component parts of the business when they hear the name ‘Al Ghurair’ but many parts of the business are relatively unknown externally, so I would like to see that change.
I’d like to hear that the name Al Ghurair has become synonymous with innovation: having embraced tech and digital to become a high-performing, efficient, data-driven and ‘smarter’ business.
I’d also like to hear that Al Ghurair is an employer of choice, even if that is such an overused phrase, a sought-after place to work – either to start or advance one’s career – where opportunities to progress and develop are not only supported, but actively encouraged, and where our people are our greatest advocates.
Socially speaking, I would like to hear that Al Ghurair has continued to build on its purpose of ‘Enhancing life’ in the community and is recognised for its social contribution - to education, sustainability, food security and clean energy - throughout the region, and far beyond.
Lastly, as we approach year-end, and move forward from 2020, is there anything you would like to add to close the year?
I would just like to say thank you to all our people at Al Ghurair for the resilience demonstrated during the year.
The COVID19- pandemic has tested us all – both professionally and personally – and I know it has not been easy to get up every day with ‘doing your best’ in mind during some of the lowest points. However, I am proud that we have weathered the storm, together, and that we are ending the year a more cohesive and stronger business as a result. I am optimistic, and excited, for the year ahead, and looking forward to continuing our journey together.
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