“I DREAM A LOT”
HUSSAIN AL FARDAN WAS HONOURED WITH THE LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD AT THE QATAR TODAY BUSINESS EXCELLENCE AWARDS. WHILE HIS ACHIEVEMENTS IN BUSINESS ARE FAMILIAR AND ARE TOO MASSIVE TO BE ENUMERATED HERE, IT IS HOW HE LIVES LIFE THAT MAKES HIM SUCH AN INT
Hussain Al Fardan was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Qatar Today Business Excellence Awards. While his achievements in business are familiar and are too massive to be enumerated here, it is how he lives life that makes him such an interesting personality. Qatar Today spent a Ramadan afternoon with this self-starter and came back inspired.
“The country should and could have the biggest museum for pearls. If Qatar does it, no other country will be able to replicate this.”
While the younger generation of Al Fardans have their offices in the “Manhattan of Qatar” (as Hussain Al Fardan himself flippantly refers to Doha's West Bay) in super luxurious, glassclad designer towers, the founder and the visionary of the Group is contentedly settled amid the comfort of memories in his old, but no less luxurious, office on Bank Street, his window overlooking the first pearl shop owned by the family in Souq Waqif. Hussain Al Fardan might be a multimillionaire but he keeps his office filled with memories; with the passageway leading up to his office lined with memorabilia, all saved and stored from his early life in Qatar. His office door and his schedules are manned by his man Friday Abdullah Khatri, an Indian national, who has been with him for 20-plus years. Even through the dusty hot days of June during the Ramadan season, this hard-working businessman comes to the office regularly and looks into day-to-day activities. There is one more routine in his daily schedule that he rarely forsakes: dreaming big. And it is this habit that has sown the seeds of the enterprise that has, through its many businesses, created a QR16 billion island on the shores of Doha, owns a successful public-listed bank, and retails the most luxurious cars in the country.
“I dream a lot,” reveals Al Fardan, “but when I dream, I dream big. I try to protect my dream by creating ideas. I give my dream or my ideas my full attention. I keep targets. Once I have put my 100% behind my ideas, I will try to make the dream a reality.”
Adding one more feather to his cap, Hussain Al Fardan was recently honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award by Qatar Today Business Excellence Awards.
“I didn't expect this though there have been many such occasions when I have been felicitated,” he says. “This makes me proud of myself, that I have done something to make others value my achievements. It makes me think about what more I can do. You have to be a creator and a dreamer.”
What's next for Hussain Al Fardan? Now that he has seen the creation and fulfilment of almost all his dreams, what is he dreaming about next?
He says, “I have done all I can for my business. I am satisfied with all the directions my life and my business have taken and my sons are doing their best in
continuing what I had envisioned.” But that doesn't mean Al Fardan has stopped dreaming. He prays for good health as he starts dreaming about the one business that only he has a stronghold on.
“I am giving myself time to go back to my hobby, and my hobby is doing a business that no one knows more than me. I have already started work on it and have proceeded well with it.”
This business he refers to is a pearl collection that Al Fardan has slowly built and that now takes up a whole floor of his tower. With his passion and love for the art of pearl harvesting, this businessman has built a collection that will one day bring laurels not just to him but also to the country.
“Not me, but Qatar has to, one day, become the biggest collector of pearls. The country should have the biggest museum for pearls. If Qatar does it, no other country will be able to replicate this,” he says. And if rumours are to be believed, the Chairperson of Qatar Museums, HE Sheikha Mayassa Al Thani is indeed planning in this direction and has visited Al Fardan in this regard.
All what he dreamed did not come true for Al Fardan by a mere wave of the wand, but through hard work and from taking the grassroots approach.
“I was a small employee in the first bank in Doha, the Eastern Bank Limited (now the Standard Chartered Bank) in the 50s. I learnt a lot from that bank. I learnt how to do business, accounting and marketing from there. It is around this time that I also started dreaming of owning my own bank,” he reveals.
While he had a trading business of his own, he was not satisfied with that alone. Al Fardan soon started the first exchange house in Doha but even that was not enough for the dreamer in him. “I wanted to have my own bank and I started to work on that plan.”
How cumbersome was the funding process in those years, we wonder and Al Fardan answers, “Money is not everything, what is most important is to have the will.”
“In those days we did not have money. But I managed to find funding support, people who put in 20% of the capital. These friends who believed in me and my dreams are the founders of Commercial Bank of Qatar. I then placed it for public listing. We made sure that the bank was well managed by inviting Chase Manhattan to manage us. We were the biggest bank after QNB, which is the national bank of the country.”
The planning process for Commercial Bank of Qatar started in 1971, and in '73 it was ready to go live. “It took us two years to come up with the license. In '75 we opened for business,” he reveals.
“I worked hard day and night, there were lot of challenges but we dealt with each diligently and now am proud when I l ook back.”
His next project, or his next dream, was the “craziest” in Al Fardan's own words. “That area where The Pearl- Qatar is now located was the best place for producing oysters. I had this idea of creating a paradise in this area.”
When asked about the perceived impossibility of the project at that time, he counters, “There is no word called impossible once I have made up my mind and started dreaming.”
Being in Qatar had its challenges and advantages. “Being in a small country, you can see success on the screens in front of you. Keeping in mind the population and by contemplating on the future population you have to make decisions instantly for your business.”
But the unprecedented growth of the population and the corresponding infrastructure and construction in the country must surely have been an eyeopener. “I always believed in the potential of the country,” he says. “When you see that the leaders are doing their best, the businesses are filled with confidence. HH the Father Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani had a vision, he opened the future like a screen in front of us, asking us, the private sector, to move forward and be a part of the country's future. This vision is being continued by HH the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.”
There is a lot to be done, according to Al Fardan, to build on the country's already burgeoning economy. “A lot can be done on the tourism sector,” he says. “We have the sun all year round and so much can be done to harvest this opportunity at times when the European countries experience their long winters.”
This gets him to dream in another direction, and he hints on this new dream of his. “Wellness tourism can be explored, we could become one of the best wellness destinations.”
Al Fardan muses on the new generation and their values. “The new generation should be ready to work hard and create things with their own hands. They have to be directed and should contribute to the country's vision in the best way. But the most important thing for them to do right now is to build up their knowledge, work in companies to gain global expertise in their fields of specialty, and then assist in their family businesses. Start from the ground level and then go up the ladder after understanding each facet of the business.”
Al Fardan loves the changes he sees and yet is not dismissive of the past. He loves the new buildings just as he yearns for some old houses. But there are some memories that remain fresh. “I love the Souq Waqif. I feel the smell of the past there. I remember the pleasant times of that era. I was here and I am still a part of Souq Waqif.”
The way the Souq Waqif has been developed as a tourist attraction is one of the best developments in the country, he opines. “It takes someone who has a vision to come up with this beautiful idea. It was HH the Father Emir's vision and he has done it.”
“And then when I travel from the old part of Doha to the Manhattan of Doha, I feel equally proud of the change that is taking over the country.”
PEARLS FROM THE MUSEUM Glimpses from Al Fardan's famed pearl museum, a private haven of the most exquisite pearls and other precious objects.
MEMORY COLLECTOR Among the artefacts and paintings, is nestled this ledger from SCB when Al Fardan used to work for the bank.