Your family is well-known in the construction and real estate business. Are you following in their footsteps?
Although my family and I are one unit, I have chosen to diversify the family business, and I have branched out into the logistics sector. Furthermore, after my first successful venture in the logistics sector, having analyzed the market, I realized the potential of the consumer retail sector; that, along with my personal passion for fashion and food and beverage, allowed me to co-establish a company which focuses on retail franchising. This is not to say that I will not carry on my family’s legacy in the construction and real estate development sector in due time, but I am currently looking to pave my own road to success. Although it may seem that I am burning the candle from both ends and juggling too many balls at the same time, eventually I will be joined by my brother, who is running the family business in Lebanon. He will relieve me of some of my current responsibilities, and then hopefully I’ll be able to juggle some more and expand the family’s business portfolio.
Can you describe your companies?
GLS (Global Logistics & Services) is my brain child company, and was established in 2004. We cater to the US military and large NGOs (Non-Government Organizations). Although it was a competitive market to penetrate, we succeeded in earning our plan among our clients, and have expanded our services in five countries, including Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, Lebanon and Iraq, and soon to be included in our geographical coverage is Afghanistan. Our core function is the procurement and transportation of perishable and non-perishable goods for our clients. We have also expanded our services to the US Military and established a construction division in order to cater to their needs. Our team consists of 60 highly trained professionals, 20 of whom are running our Kuwait office. Our managing partner Nizar Halabi oversees the company’s operations from the airport base in Iraq, while I oversee the Kuwait office and coordinate with our other offices.
On the other hand, Al-Mutawa & Al-Khatib Co. is a completely different ball game. With a focus on retail, the company operates fashion and food and beverage franchise concepts. I have to say, although my first company gave me a lot of experience and a feeling of accomplishment, simply put, my second company is a lot more fun. Don’t get me wrong, the logistics business is very adventurous, as most of the countries we cater to, bring us close to the line of fire; however, I’d much rather travel to the world’s fashion capitals, attend trade fairs and fashion shows, and dine with international celebrities. Our portfolio of brands includes Bertoni, G-STAR RAW, Flavio Castellani and Colin’s.
Bertoni is a Scandinavian fashion brand. We are opening our first location in the Avenues Mall. We are also expanding the brand regionally, and are discussing partnership agreements with other retail operators in the region.
G-STAR RAW is a premium denim brand from The Netherlands. It is one of the world’s fastest growing denim brands. The biggest sign of success for G-STAR is that many of the other fashion brands are trying to copy their style. We are also opening our first G-STAR RAW mono brand concept in the Avenues mall.
Flavio Castellani is a high end Italian female fashion brand. I came across this brand while my wife and I were shopping in Italy. She fell in love with the brand so much that we approached the company and proposed representing their brand in the region. After doing our due diligence, we signed a regional agreement with them.
Colin’s is a mass market denim brand, and is a market leader in a number of European countries. Its origins coming from Turkey. This is a very promising brand with a great potential for expansion.
How do you decide which companies to approach?
Well, I would like to tell you that we have a room full of people researching brands from all over the world, but the truth is we come across most of the brands we represent during our business and vacation travels. When we find a brand interesting, we look into the market it caters to, the price point, the companies’ structure, and their brand equity. If we find that a particular consumer segment will respond positively to one of these brands, we enter into dialogue with them. Sometimes we manage to persuade the companies to enter the market; other times we feel that the brand is not strong enough to survive in our market; and sometimes the companies take a conservative approach and decide to wait until they penetrate the Arabian Gulf and the Middle East.
I have always had a passion for fashion. After coming across a number of fashion brands I thought would do well in Kuwait, I contacted my friend, who is now our Managing Partner Tarek Khatib, and discussed this opportunity. My contacts in the real estate market, along with his retail know-how, created a perfect marriage and planted the seed to what is now a promising retail management company.
You believe in keeping busy, but is it stressful?
Stress is the cost of success. Yes, work is stressful, but I try to balance it out by spending as much time as I possibly can with my family. At the end of the day all I do, I do it for the benefit of my family. I learned this from my father; no matter what problems he had in the office, he never brought them home with him. I used to ask him how he managed to do that, but didn’t understand. Now that I am a father myself, no matter what problems I have in the office, when I see my son and I play with him, suddenly all the problems in my world seem far away.
How do you relax?
I don’t really ‘relax’; but I unwind when I train kickboxing. My personal trainer comes to my house three times a week, and he pushes me to my physical limit. On the weekends I meet up with my cousins at our summer house on the beach. Although there is an age difference between us and we are in different business sectors, we have common interests.
Apart from the kickboxing, do you enjoy sports?
From a young age I was addicted to adrenaline. At 13, I was on the international squash team. I played for the Kuwait Sporting Club, but gave it up after the invasion of 1990. However, after the invasion, I spent a large part of my secondary education in various boarding schools across the US. There I developed a joy for snow sports, and joined the ski team and also learned how to snow board. In Vermont, I was the first Kuwaiti on the school’s snow ski team. I started the snowboarding team there and it is still going strong!
To me, sports are like a doctor’s appointment – you cannot cancel them out. Sports are a part of my daily life. I feel so passionate about fitness and sports that I have a personal gym at home. I am also a member of Platinum Club, which is two kilometers from my home, so I jog there. I hope my son will be enthusiastic, will enjoy life and be into sport. When I was younger, I was a real adrenaline junkie; I enjoyed fast cars and raced them, but I do not want him to take after me in that. I want him to take on the positive and safe part!
You have also been traveling around Kuwait recently?
My father ran successfully for a seat in the Chamber of Commerce, so for the past three months I was working full time on his campaign, which meant I would be visiting up to four diwaniyas a day in random parts of Kuwait. I am really glad I went through it because it was something I had always wanted to get into but never had the time. It was interesting getting to know the right people. Most people spend their time in diwaniyas having political or economic discussions or talking about business, so it has been a very interesting few months.
At the diwaniyas, a lot of the MPs come to talk and ministers visit and discuss their experiences, and since Parliament has been disbanded, we now get to hear about all the new candidates contesting seats, their beliefs and how they think they can do a better job in the government.
Would you be interested in running for Parliament?
I am not interested at the moment, but who knows about the future? I can see myself running for the Chamber of Commerce in years to come. My grandfather was on the committee in 1968 and my father is now on the committee. In the future, I might be interested in that.
What would be a typical day for you?
Usually I get up at 8am and I am in the office by 9am. I try to finish all my office work by at least 2pm and after that I have all my meetings and looking at construction sites for shops, researching business development, thinking about new concepts or discussing concepts with individual decorators. I finish by 6pm and go home to try to spend at least an hour with my family, playing with my son and relaxing before I go to the gym to work out, and then I would go out to the diwaniyas.
Do you hope your son will follow in your footsteps?
Definitely! I am trying to form a certain mould for my son. When I was as young as six years old and we had a day off school, I would go to the office with my father, and my grandfather used to take us to his buildings and show us how things were done. My son, who is only 18 months old, already comes to the office here and when she is born later this year, my daughter will do so too.
Where did you study?
I studied business marketing in California State University (Long Beach) and majored in business management at Bentley University in Boston. At 22, I tried to follow in the footsteps of my cousins who became investment bankers, so I worked with KIPCO in Boston; however, I am not the type of person to work for someone else; I am too ambitious and have too much drive and I wanted to start my own business.
Was GLS your first taste of running your own company?
No, I was an entrepreneur from a young age. At 19 years of age, I lived in Los Angeles and I had my first business encounter there. I was looking for an argila (shisha), I wanted to buy one but they were very expensive there, so I asked my father’s office to research how much they cost and how much it would be to send them from Kuwait to the US. I bought 500 and sold them in the market in Los Angeles. I bought them for $10 and sold them for $50; it was still the cheapest price there and I made a 400 percent return.
Have your passions changed with age?
Yes, with every passage through my journey of life, my passions have changed. While I used to invest myself in motorcycles and sport cars, now I am very passionate about my family life, my business success, and my health and well-being.
First published in Men's Passion issue #4 May - June 2008