Brand View: Abdul Majid Rabbat, the CEO of SARA Group, on planning, operating and running a family business
Was it always your plan to join, and run, the family business?
Actually, I wasn’t planning on joining the family business. I was working in a completely different field and was asked to re-join SARA back in 2016 to inject new ideas at a time when it was going through a restructuring. We went through major changes, reinventing our business model and re-branding the Company. My role evolved a lot since then leading to the position that I am in now.
With only 21% of family businesses surviving through the third generation, what is SARA Group’s secret to success?
SARA Group was established in 1967 by my grandfather in Saudi Arabia; it has been in operation for the last 52 years, which is a rarity for a family business in the region.
Our success relies on holding our Company to the highest business and ethical global standards which we ensure by working with independent advisors and committees composed of fantastic global business leaders and academics. We always aimed to build a Company with strong foundations for the long-term – regardless of who was leading it. Also, we have developed an internal cultural based on the strong core values of our founder. Over 52 years, these values seeped into every aspect of the operations and it is part of our daily work to ensure that these values are maintained.
What is SARA Group’s expansion plans in the Middle East?
What are the three most important elements a business needs in order to make it in the retail world?
I would not presume to speak as if there was a magic formula for success in retail. However, I can speak to some of the elements which have led to our success in this field:
1) An outstanding customer experience, measured by the total sum of interactions a customer has with a brand or a business such as: convenient locations and accessibility, store layout and merchandising, excellent service offered by the sales team, customization of the products, solutions or the shopping experiences, marketing touchpoints, and so on.
2) An outstanding product offering and a unique value proposition, by being up to date with the latest trends and provide the latest innovations that can successfully solve clients’ problems, satisfy their needs, and make them come back for more. In our case, as a retailer in luxury products, we do not compromise on quality or design either.
3) A strong and strategic alignment with the other functions of the company such as procurement, logistics, warehousing, IT, human resources, marketing, finance and controls, and all the other departments that actually form the backbone of any retail space.
What is your leadership style? Are you a delegator or a hands-on leader?
There is a quote by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, that I repeat on several occasions, which says: “The making of leaders is a secret granted only to those who have overcome their own ego and who understand that their greatest achievement is to build people, not edifices.” My aim is to develop and build my team and let them grow and thrive within SARA. More broadly, I aim to ensure that SARA is always developing great leaders and launching great ideas – whether I am present or not – and that is the culture we always intended to have in the company.
What is the best advice you’ve received from your father?
Question everything, even what is working, because you don’t know what you don’t know. It is a simple statement but in fact very few apply it. Sakichi Toyoda developed a technique used in Toyota called the “5 Whys”. The technique helps determine the root cause of a problem by repeating ‘Why’ 5 times. This is similar but, in our case at SARA, we apply it to problem solving and to understand why things work. This ensures that we know how to repeat a successful formula and always look for opportunities to improve.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I was lucky to be able to take risks early on in my career. I worked at the World Bank, then started a company in China, went to Harvard Business School and finally worked in venture capital. Through this all I turned down several job opportunities in more standard careers, and I always worried that I was making the wrong choices by not following a more “standard” career path. So, my advice to my younger self would be, not to worry, every experience taught me something valuable about life, business, and about myself.
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