A CHER­ISHED LEGACY

“IT'S OUR DAILY AM­BI­TION TO IM­PROVE THAT GIVES US THE REA­SON TO CON­TINUE TO STRIVE HARD,” SAYS AB­DULSALAM ABU ISSA, DEPUTY CEO OF SALAM IN­TER­NA­TIONAL, SPEAK­ING TO QATARTODAY ABOUT THE COM­PANY'S JOUR­NEY AND HIS PAS­SION FOR RARE COL­LEC­TIONS THAT SPEAK ABOUT

Qatar Today - - INSIDE THE ISSUE - BY KEERTANA KODURU

“It’s a daily am­bi­tion to im­prove that gives us the rea­son to con­tinue,” says Ab­dulSalam Abu Issa, Deputy CEO of Salam In­ter­na­tional, speak­ing to Qatar To­day about the com­pany’s jour­ney and his pas­sion for rare col­lec­tions that speak about the his­tory of his coun­try.

The jour­ney of the third gen­er­a­tion of en­trepreneurs tak­ing for­ward the legacy of the fam­ily busi­ness that has trans­formed it­self into a global pub­licly-listed com­pany has been quite an ex­cit­ing one for Ab­dulSalam Abu Issa, Deputy CEO and Board mem­ber of Salam In­ter­na­tional. “I joined the Salam legacy al­most five years ago, and this jour­ney has been in­ter­est­ing. I started my ca­reer by work­ing out­side the firm to gain ex­po­sure. I al­ways knew that Salam would be my fi­nal des­ti­na­tion where I would grow per­son­ally and pro­fes­sion­ally. What is more im­por­tant is that we are a pub­licly-listed com­pany, which means that we don't run like a fam­ily-owned busi­ness and are gov­erned by strict cor­po­rate laws with rules and reg­u­la­tions. With these chal­lenges you have to be mind­ful of ev­ery ac­tion and de­ci­sion,” says Abu Issa.

In such chal­leng­ing times, Abu Issa re­al­ized that there are daily tri­als and the pres­sure on the younger gen­er­a­tion is much higher. “The pres­sure of be­ing part of the gen­er­a­tion that will take this legacy for­ward in these tough times makes the pres­sure even higher. One small ef­fort yields re­sults and that is an en­cour­age­ment in it­self.” Abu Issa rem­i­nisces about his life, the ini­tial dif­fi­cul­ties and the fi­nal eu­pho­ria. “When we started, it wasn't easy and my grand­mother was of great help who worked day and night to get us to this point. My grand­fa­ther, the late Ab­dul Salam Mo­hamed Abu Issa, used to travel a lot to ex­plore op­por­tu­ni­ties, brands and part­ners. We are very proud of some of the part­ner­ships we've built over the years in­clud­ing brands like Canon who have been with us for over 55 years.”

The sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of the Salam legacy di­ver­si­fied from a re­tail-based fam­ily busi­ness to a pub­licly-listed com­pany that dab­bles in in­ter­na­tional brands.

Speak­ing about his own choices, he says, “When I grad­u­ated, there was an agree­ment with my fa­ther that it wouldn't be wise to join the busi­ness im­me­di­ately but to ex­plore and ex­pe­ri­ence what the real world had to of­fer. Work­ing in the oil and gas, bank­ing and contracting sec­tors, gave me an all-round ex­po­sure. When you're com­ing from di­verse in­dus­tries, you have a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive; ev­ery­one should have a taste of the real world, ab­sorb and un­der­stand dif­fer­ent cul­tures and use all

this to un­der­stand the uni­verse and the peo­ple in it." If you have the op­por­tu­nity, the younger gen­er­a­tion needs to use it to ex­plore the world, ad­vises this young busi­ness­man. “The op­por­tu­nity you get here as a Qatari is much more pro­gres­sive than any­where else around the world. There are peo­ple to sup­port you and in­vest in train­ing and de­vel­op­ment needed to build ex­po­sure in the tal­ent avail­able,” he says.

Salam Stu­dio de­vel­oped and di­ver­si­fied into a fash­ion and tech­nol­ogy store and even­tu­ally be­came a one-stop de­part­men­tal store. “Work­ing in the head of­fice, my job is to sup­port all the busi­ness struc­tures and get in­volved in prob­lem-solv­ing.”

De­vel­op­ing lo­cal ca­pac­ity

Qatarisation is a mis­con­strued term for most ex­pats in a coun­try whose pop­u­la­tion com­prises 90% ex­pats. He feels that the whole con­cept of Qatarisation has not been clearly un­der­stood by ex­pats and lo­cals liv­ing in the coun­try.

“There is a great need to de­velop lo­cal tal­ent as we are a mi­nor­ity in our own coun­try,” says Abu Issa while he also be­lieves that Qataris should take mea­sures to make the ex­pats feel se­cure in the coun­try so that they in turn feel and treat this place like home.

“The idea be­hind Qatarisation is right but the ap­proach may be wrong in some or­gan­i­sa­tions. Com­pa­nies feel the threat of be­ing Qatarised and they should find a way to de­velop ex­pats and Qataris alike by giv­ing them more in­cen­tives and job se­cu­rity for a longer pe­riod. Even if all Qataris are em­ployed to­day, we will still need about 80% ex­pats to be work­ing to fill the gaps in the labour mar­ket. Qatarisation is not and should not be seen as a threat to ex­pats,” says Abu Issa.

Oil and gas price de­cline

With the drop in oil and gas prices across the re­gion, busi­nesses have been af­fected and the eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion has taken a down­turn. “Ob­vi­ously, the sit­u­a­tion hurts. It has put pres­sure on our fi­nan­cial re­sults but we are tak­ing it in a pos­i­tive spirit. This also presents a good op­por­tu­nity to re­vise costs, struc­tures and the busi­ness as a whole and we've found more ar­eas to im­prove on in terms of ef­fi­ciency and pro­duc­tiv­ity.

"EVEN IF ALL QATARIS ARE EM­PLOYED TO­DAY, WE WILL STILL NEED ABOUT 80% EX­PATS TO BE WORK­ING TO FILL THE GAPS IN THE LABOUR MAR­KET. QATARISATION IS NOT AND SHOULD NOT BE SEEN AS A THREAT TO EX­PATS."

We re­alised that due to the down­turn, some busi­nesses were not per­form­ing as ex­pected while some were solid. We aimed at strength­en­ing the weaker ones and in­vest­ing in the stronger ones. We learnt a lot in the process.”

Speak­ing of the fu­ture, he be­lieves in hop­ing for a bet­ter to­mor­row. “What we hope for is for the down­turn to re­cover but of course it'll take years. Peo­ple think that af­ter the sum­mer of 2017, we will see an up­turn or this low may even ex­tend to 2022. If we are able to read­just our­selves suc­cess­fully in the worst mar­ket con­di­tions then even­tu­ally we can work bet­ter in the re­cov­ery and up­side of the oil mar­ket,” hopes Abu Issa.

'Qatar My Coun­try' and 'Mo­ments'

Fol­low­ing a two-year-long project with metic­u­lous prepa­ra­tion, the con­glom­er­ate of Salam In­ter­na­tional In­vest­ment Ltd. (SIIL) in­au­gu­rated “Qatar My Coun­try,” a pho­to­graphic archival ex­hi­bi­tion that re­veals pre­vi­ously un­seen, rare col­lec­tions of the state that we now live in. The ex­hi­bi­tion re­veals some of the per­sonal col­lec­tion from the archives of Salam founder, the late Ab­dul Salam Mo­hamed Abu Issa, who brought the first cam­era into

"WHEN SHEIKH KHAL­IFA PASSED AWAY, MY FA­THER WANTED TO LOOK INTO OUR PER­SONAL COL­LEC­TION, AND WE FOUND A LOT OF IN­TER­EST­ING MO­MENTS FROM HIS TIME AS THE RULER."

the coun­try to start his own stu­dio.

“Our legacy started with photography and our founder's pas­sion for this art started in the late '40s. This was a start of our fam­ily's roots in Doha. He took a lot of pic­tures that are to­day con­sid­ered very rare and ev­ery time we show peo­ple un­seen pic­tures of Qatar, we are able to share a part of the his­tory through our grand­fa­ther's vi­sion,” says Abu Issa.

The im­ages show not just Qatar's dra­matic trans­for­ma­tion as a na­tion that rose from the desert but they also cel­e­brate the spirit of en­trepreneur­ship that was alive in its peo­ple. The main col­lec­tion is from the '50s and cov­ers about rulers, land­marks, and vis­its by am­bas­sadors and global lead­ers.

Re­cently launched at The Gate Mall's Maysa­loun Hall, the ex­hi­bi­tion ti­tled "Mo­ments" in me­mory of Sheikh Khal­ifa bin Ha­mad Al Thani, pays trib­ute to the na­tion's grand­fa­ther Emir and recog­nises his con­tri­bu­tion to Qatar's progress. It is drawn from the pri­vate col­lec­tion of the Abu Issa fam­ily. The col­lec­tion on dis­play of­fers a fas­ci­nat­ing glimpse of the Grand­fa­ther Emir, mak­ing it a must-see event for Qatar's na­tion­als, ex­pa­tri­ates, stu­dents and photography en­thu­si­asts.

“We are very happy that the Qatar Na­tional Mu­seum is work­ing with us to have a part of the col­lec­tion dis­played there. This def­i­nitely ce­ments our re­la­tion­ship with the coun­try. This par­tic­u­lar ex­hi­bi­tion got the high­est traf­fic among all our col­lec­tions, show­ing us that peo­ple are hun­gry to know more about Qatar. It is a new coun­try but the col­lec­tion is in­ter­est­ing to see. Ev­ery­one is talk­ing about it,” says an ec­static Abu Issa.

Abu Issa says that they've al­ways heard great things about the man who lifted up the na­tion to be­come the new Qatar. “When he passed away, my fa­ther wanted to look into our per­sonal col­lec­tion and we found a lot of in­ter­est­ing mo­ments from his time as the ruler, hence the name – Mo­ments. Mem­bers from the royal fam­ily ap­pre­ci­ated the col­lec­tion, called us to wish and con­grat­u­late us on the ex­hi­bi­tion's suc­cess. We were try­ing to find pic­tures that were more sen­ti­men­tal rather than just go­ing for the typ­i­cal por­traits to show a bit of his char­ac­ter and add a per­sonal touch to it. Our aim is to share the his­tory of the coun­try that con­trib­uted to our suc­cess; this is where we built and grew our busi­ness and we are try­ing to give back through our cul­ture and photography.”

THE LATE AB­DUL SALAM MO­HAMED ABU ISSA BROUGHT THE FIRST CAM­ERA INTO THE COUN­TRY TO START HIS OWN STU­DIO.

Some im­ages from the "Mo­ments" ex­hi­bi­tion

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