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Over the years, Arabian Business has interviewed some of the region’s biggest and most important leaders. On their journey to success, they faced challenges, failures, and letdowns. Here’s their advice on how they triumphed against countless odds:
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1. When Arabian Business asked Mohamed Alabbar what he thought of some shareholders suggesting that his global property company, Emaar, is run on autopilot, this was his response: “Autopilot? Let me tell you one thing. Autopilot or no autopilot, my eye is on Emaar, day and night. There is nothing on autopilot here. Do I have a good system in place? Yes. Absolutely I do. But I watch it — all the time. Make no mistake, all the time, every single thing, I watch it. As for running Emaar, that is like breathing air to me. I mean, can you stop breathing? It’s as simple as that.” The lesson here is to always be on the loop when it comes to your business, no matter how successful it gets.
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2. Italian businessman Silvio Scaglia is the owner of luxury underwear maker La Perla and founder of Italy’s second-biggest telecoms company, Fastweb. His advice to entrepreneurs is simple and old-fashioned: decide with your gut. “By training I am very analytical but I pride myself to remember to take the final decision by the guts. You need to have a good solid understanding of the analytical situation but then you need to decide with your guts,” he said.
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3. Sunil Vaswani, chairman of conglomerate Stallion Group, has a personal fortune of $7.2 billion. Here’s his explanation of how he became the Gulf’s richest Indian: “You know something? I just never give up. If I set my mind on something, I just go for it and keep trying until I get it. Be single-minded. Rejection doesn’t bother me. It took me four years to get the first automobile franchise in Africa. They kept saying ‘no, we will deal with a Japanese company’. Four years of saying no, four years of rejection. But I got it. Nothing is impossible.”
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4. Michael Glennie is the president and chief operating officer of FRHI Hotels & Resorts, which holds hotel brands like Fairmont, Raffles and Swissôtel. Here’s what he told Arabian Business on how he deals with competition: “I’m never worried about sharing strategies with our competitors because in our business, it’s all about execution. You have to open that hotel successfully, and then 365 days a year you have to deliver."
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5. Marina Home Interiors co-founder, Khurshid Vakil, gave advice on running a business in new markets: “It’s not practically possible to run your own owned and managed show rooms everywhere you go; there are various challenges and the biggest is market knowledge. I think franchise partners bring in a wealth of market knowledge and infrastructure which helps easy entry to that particular market.”
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6. At 33-years-old, Ivanka Trump is executive vice president at her father’s Trump Organization, owner of a jewellery and apparel line, an author, and worth $150 million. How does she do it? “I think first of all, and this sort of applies to everyone, the thing that my father always said to me is that you have to really, as early on as you can, identify what it is you’re really passionate about. And you have to try different things until you really know for sure that that’s what you love doing. Because the only way to be great is to deeply want to work, to love to work, to be passionate about your work,” she told Arabian Business.
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7. CEO and president of Sony Mobile, Hiroki Totoki, warns that looking back only slows you and your business down. “We shouldn’t become nostalgic for the way things have worked in the past — we have to see the future and be excited by it” he said, referring to new technologies and consumer trends in telecommunications.
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8. Alain Bejjani, CEO of Dubai conglomerate Majid Al Futtaim started his career as a lawyer. But to him, law and business are one of the same: “I was always an extremely business-orientated legal practitioner, and honestly, in my view, there is little difference. You cannot effectively do business if you don’t understand the law and you cannot be a good legal practitioner if you don’t understand business.” The bottom line is, if you want a successful business, study up on the law first.
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9. Dubai-based designer Rami Al Ali has dressed countless A-list celebrities like Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé Knowles and Ivanka Trump, but he started out as an intern in a women’s beauty centre. “Believe and support [your] own ideas, even if they don’t get popular at the beginning, and even if it gets difficult. Most of the time, the judgement is always in comparison with what’s right and wrong from what they’ve seen. So if you keep insisting on something original that you created, you will definitely be able to build a stronger line,” he said.
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10. Arne Sorenson, president and chief executive of hotel giant Marriott, is motivated by a single expression: “Success is never final. Nothing’s ever good enough.”