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Tue 6 Aug 2019 04:57 PM

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In a digital world, leaders must prioritise workplace culture and employee happiness

Lessons from Leaders: An entrepreneur since his schooldays, Berkeley Assets Partner Omar Jackson presides over a business empire that incorporates the latest in digital and crypto technology with a fresh approach to private equity

In a digital world, leaders must prioritise workplace culture and employee happiness
Omar Jackson, Partner at Berkeley Assets.

It’s an unexpected thing for a cryptocurrency trailblazer and private equity entrepreneur to say, but Omar Jackson places equal importance on his team’s mind-set as well as their fintech credentials.

“Attitude is everything as far as I’m concerned. Having the right mind-set is so important,” he tells CEO Middle East. “Mind-set develops the right culture. You can learn facts and train skills, but with the right mind-set from the beginning, a great working culture is the end product.”

Jackson, still in his twenties, is a Partner at Berkeley Assets. A successful businessman whose entrepreneurial path started precociously early, his childhood cake-making business set the foundations for a lifelong entrepreneurial approach; today at Berkeley Assets he presides over a diversified portfolio for his investors while also managing several businesses including Cryptech World, a Blockchain tech company now owned by Berkeley, of which he is a co-founder and director.

Since launching over a decade ago, Berkeley Assets has grown to operate over 150 businesses in multiple industries across real estate, hospitality, logistics and technology. Based in London, Dubai and the British Virgin Islands, the company eschews more traditional funds and securities to focus instead on tangible assets such as real estate. It is a deliberate strategy intended to minimise investor risk.

His journey to building a positive team naturally starts from the recruitment process and follows a nurturing approach that values training, guidance and decisive mentorship.

“Some work because they have to, others because they want to, so we try to recruit the kind of person that is passionate and has the drive to succeed and grow,” he notes. “You must be patient during the recruitment stage and not hire for the sake of it, because you can damage your office environment.”

Based in Dubai, but originally from London, Jackson’s passionate mandate at Berkeley is to drive transformational change within the organisation, ensuring the ideal foundation from which to grow the business. His ultimate goal? To make private equity more accessible and transparent for everyone. And that, he is adamant, starts with the company’s own culture, where an entrepreneurial mind-set must go hand in hand with an environment that champions integrity.

“Happiness in the workplace is paramount – more so than a few years ago. Because of social media and the internet, people have more of a voice than they used to and that includes in the workplace. The corporate environment used to be very hierarchical. At Berkeley, we encourage everyone to have a voice and be willing and comfortable to voice their opinions, whether to their line manager or to the vice president or partner.”

Promoting a positive mind set encourages happiness and creates results, and safeguarding the company culture and ethics is tantamount. That means responding swiftly to any behaviours or actions that go against it, while maintaining a culture that fosters role ownership.

Jackson credits Sir Richard Branson and his relationship with Virgin’s senior management. Ash Shah is one of Berkeley’s senior partners and worked alongside Branson for 15 years.

“I’ve been taught how Branson does things and how he prioritises office culture and happiness. He was one of the first to have no uniforms, to give paternity leave, long maternity leave and ‘zero office hours’ in a corporate environment.”

At Berkeley, full suits are discouraged: trousers with a jacket help to foster an approachable yet well-presented appearance that encourages a friendly environment. This ties into another part of the company’s goals, which is to dust off the traditionally conservative and somewhat elitist perception of private equity and make it more accessible to a new audience.

“I want to bring fun to people investing. When people invest, they do it because they feel they should – for a rainy day. But they don’t enjoy the process, and there are negative connotations. As a private equity firm and one of few that works in the retail space, we want the process to be enjoyable for our investors,” he says.

He recalls his early days as a trader as amongst the most enjoyable of his early career, but with many high-profile collapses in finance, he says the industry needs to work to change its reputation.

“In the Middle East, it’s hard to come across an expat who hasn’t somehow lost money or been hurt – pensions, credit cards, insurance. There is mistrust which gives us more reason to focus on giving clients a service that differentiates. It enables us to rise by offering a solid service and enjoying the process.” Within the finance industry, despite its under-the-radar style, regional private equity is saturated. However there is huge potential, something that excites him.

“Regulation needs to become clearer and that will help to gain trust from the market. There is so much growth and opportunity and we are working so hard to educate the market in the retail space. Education is a huge part of it and when I get the chance to share my own personal experiences, it is so rewarding, I love it!” he says.

In the UK, Jackson was part of the committee for Young Enterprise Business and in the UAE has followed this passion for teaching – quite literally by visiting schools and speaking with students. Echoing his belief in sharing knowledge for the better good, his client approach is similarly jargon-free, accessible and (he hopes) imbued with a sense of fun. “I get a sense of joy from teaching and if I can influence just one person then I am making a difference. I think everyone should do it!”

As a child growing up in a single-parent household in West London, Jackson appreciated hard work from an early age. He credits his lifelong entrepreneurial work ethic to his mother, who worked two jobs to provide for her family. At school, he started selling cakes to students and teachers, before selling items on eBay and finally launching a successful business selling vaping products.

“Technology has changed since I was growing up and I think it’s difficult for young adults to express themselves, they are unintentionally trapped in computers and televisions and computer games and phones. It stops them from being open minded and experiencing the outdoors, being streetwise. And a big part of being an entrepreneur is being streetwise and being able to understand the psychology of others. That’s fundamental in having a happy workforce and happy clients, a good vision and an open mind. You need to be aware of what’s going on around you,” he explains.

His solution is speaking to youth, developing more ways to do this and encourage creativity amongst those who have a desire to do something different. He doesn’t subscribe to the idea of motivational speaking, because it encourages without giving enough practical tools for success.

Instead, Jackson believes those who have succeeded need to share a slice of their metaphorical cake.

“You have to have a purpose and to give back. It’s a competitive world that we’re in and you have to try and make a difference.”