Billionaire Ghassan Aboud, entrepreneur, philanthropist and founder of Ghassan Aboud Group, speaks to WEALTH Arabia about his approach to investment in the current climate and giving back to the community.
How did your journey towards success begin?
The journey began 25 years back in the UAE when I felt the urge to be an entrepreneur after a couple of years in employment. Since I studied journalism, I worked in the media sector for a while as an employee. However, I quickly realised that employment doesn’t excite me and would not help achieve my potential.
Sensing the opportunity for export of auto products, I started a small business on my own with limited capital and staff. Back then, Dubai was just beginning to be a hub for trade. I decided to specialise in the trade of vehicles and spare parts. The initial days were difficult, as I had to understand the trade and regulations. Over time our business became quite unique and we managed to develop strong relationships with suppliers and customers.
How did the growth story happen?
Encouraged by the initial success, I started reinvesting the profits into the business. Over the years, we were able to establish market leadership in this sector and grow into a large conglomerate with offices in the UAE, Belgium, Jordan, Australia and Turkey.
Today, our automotive business has a market reach of more than 100 countries. We ship a whole range of products from our automotive hubs in the UAE (JAFZA & KIZAD), Belgium and Jordan. The potential of this platform is tremendous as we are ideal partners to suppliers in the automotive industry to fast track their entry into many markets concurrently. Our products include new passenger vehicles, trucks, equipment, genuine spare parts, lubricants & accessories, etc.
As part of our growth strategy we are presenting our credentials to global OEMs seeking entry into the complex markets like Africa, Latin America and others.
The other thing we did was to create a diversified portfolio of businesses—hospitality, real estate, retail, food, media, logistics etc. As a major initiative, we established our own hospitality brand—the Crystalbrook Collection—with Australia as its headquarters. Today we have an impressive portfolio of hospitality assets and Crystalbrook Collection has already made its mark in the industry. We have hotels in Cairns and Sydney, with more being developed in Port Douglas and Newcastle.
Our logistics company Gallega Global Logistics brings two decades of expertise to the table – backed by extensive infrastructure and other facilities. Supermarket chain Grandiose has collaborated with Intermarche, the French retail giant, to offer a differentiated range of products to consumers in the region.
What was the best advice you were ever given?
To focus on the detail. Even clever ideas could fail if one does not ensure that there is attention to detail in execution. I have picked up on this advice from my early entrepreneurial career and have realised the benefits.
The principle I try and follow is to have a constant urge for learning. Learning is always an ongoing process and should never stop.
What does it take to be successful in this region?
In this region, a lot of business is done based on trust and mutual respect. Developing and sustaining relationships for the long term I think is key for success in this region. Our business has created several such strong relationships. This has resulted in mutually rewarding results and continued success. When a business partner believes you will be with them through the highs and lows, a strong relationship emerges.
The other factor is to take advantage of the diverse set of human resources available in the region. People live here from varied nationalities and cultures. This access to diversity can deliver advantages to business.
For investors in the region, where do you see the most growth? Where are the opportunities?
Investors in the region have been somewhat subdued given the current economic conditions. However, I feel this is the time to identify opportunities and invest in them. There are some irreversible changes happening in business models, for example digital transformation. Investors who realise the impact on their businesses and quickly tool up their teams will realise the gains in the long term.
Entrepreneurs can also capitalise on the advantages the UAE offers as a hub with great infrastructure and market access. With the massive potential of Arab African trade, we are well positioned to create a much wider business platform with UAE headquarters. Therefore, it is just not the regional business, but also the potential of the subcontinent and Africa right from here.
How are you personally working to taking advantage of those opportunities?
We we have been making investments in the region strengthening some of our business lines in the region. Our investments are going into food distribution & retail, logistics and expansion of product lines in the automotive sector. We are also exploring some interesting ideas on the digital front.
We are being cautious but are not pessimistic. We firmly believe that the tide will turn and the strongest businesses will stand to gain in the long run. The fundamental advantages of Dubai still exist and therefore its status as the hub will never dilute.
In the real estate landscape in specific, what do you feel developers needs to do to provide the best possible growth for investors?
On the real estate front, our current focus is on the Europe market apart from Australia as capital is being deployed as stable/long-term assets. Our projects in the region are completed, as such presently we are not developing any new real estate in the region, except for our own business operations.
How much risk on your investments are you willing to accept in the current climate? What sort of ROI do you expect?
We are cautious investors and therefore will not indulge in high-risk ventures. Our investments are restricted to the areas of our expertise and experience of the team. We have an increased interest nowadays in technology-based business models with what is happening on the digital side.
What do you see as the responsibility of UNHWIs to give back to their communities? How do you do this personally?
I firmly believe that social responsibility should be an inherent part of any business operation. It is an important duty of entrepreneurs to give back to the societies from which they generated wealth. Our organisation is well tuned with this philosophy. I support several humanitarian initiatives, mainly in the area of relief for refugees, through medical, education, vocational and other efforts.
I have been very passionate in this area and have always contributed a significant portion of my earnings to serve the underprivileged. And hopefully I will be able to sustain and grow my contributions in this direction in the coming years.