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 the country that has nurtured him.
The journey of the third generation of entrepreneurs taking forward the legacy of the family business that has transformed itself into a global public-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 public-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.
“The pressure of being part of the generation that will take this legacy forward in these tough times makes the pressure even higher.”
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 though 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 AbdulSalam 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 Salam legacy diversified from a retail-based family-business to a public-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 enterpriser. “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
“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.”
Qatarisation is a misconstrued term for most expats in a country whose population comprises of 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 descent of the 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. We realised that due to the downtime, some of the businesses were not performing as expected while some were solid. We aim at strengthening the weaker ones and invest 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 downtime 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’
“the late Abdul Salam Mohamed Abu Issa brought the first camera into the country to start his own studio.”
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 revealed some of the personal collection from the archives of Salam founder, the late AbdulSalam Mohamed Abu Issa, who brought the first camera into the country starting his own studio.
“Our legacy started with photography and our founder’s passion for this art started in the late 40’s. 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 50’s and is about rulers, landscape, visits by ambassadors and also 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 recognising 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 on 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 amongst 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.
“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, hence the name – Moments.”
Abu Issa says that they’ve always heard great things about the man uplifting the nation to being called 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 grew and built our business and we are trying to give back through our culture and photography.”