SPI Group hosted Ramy Jallad, CEO of RAKIA and RAK FTZ at its 22nd Emirates NBD Global Business Series session. In an up close and personal interactive discussion moderated by Shantanu AP, CEO of SPI Group, Ramy opened up about his work, motivations and decision making and gave a clearer picture about the economic development on the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah. Here are excerpts of the session.
What is your day to day role as CEO of RAKIA & RAK FTZ?
I am honoured to take the leadership of RAK FTZ and RAKIA and pursue their growth and development. In our day-to-day operations we seek to attract new clients from all over the world as well as strengthen the relationships we have with the more than 12,000 companies that call RAK FTZ and RAKIA their investment home. Expansion of our activities boosts business opportunities for foreign and local companies, that traditionally opened offices in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
We are helping to diversify RAK’s economy by developing various sectors and opening new doors.
Recently we have created a special offer for media companies including those in TV and radio broadcasting, publishing, advertising, communications, media monitoring and services, production and film support, music, entertainment, and events management.
We create new business opportunities with unique competitive solutions to encourage entrepreneurs, SMEs, and other companies and we are now also expanding the Academic Zone at RAK FTZ to attract international educational institutions in the emirate.
RAK FTZ plans include establishing new warehouses in the RAK FTZ Technology Park to meet the investors’ increasing demand for industrial facilities, master planning the Academic District to attract international educational institutions in RAK; continuously developing the infrastructure of the Industrial Park; and developing the one-stop shop physical location for the clients’ convenience. We host companies from more than 100 countries and representing more than 50 industry sectors.
As a business leader, what has made you so successful?
I think that the fact that I listen more. Listening to what requirements are really needed to do a job right and I think also at the same time going with my gut feeling when I know truly that something is right and wrong. I don’t do things or go in a certain direction just because of peer pressure or the pressures around me. I just go with the flow and listen to my intuition even if it means going against where everybody else wants to go. “Trust me, it can be vert challenging to convince everybody to make a u-turn and move away from their set ideas.
How have you managed to grow your business over the past few years?
Looking back to 2011, we had about 4,000 companies operating in RAK FTZ. A couple of years later, our client portfolio rose to over 8,600. Our determination in developing not only our facilities but also our systems and processes to provide ease to clients are definitely paying off. This is a proud moment for each of us in the free zone. In 2015, RAK FTZ has undergone major infrastructure developments, which included the opening of 100 new warehouses with permanent water and electricity supply; the launching of its District Cooling Plant; and the inauguration of its Boulevard Business Centre in Downtown Dubai. These developments highlights our ongoing commitment to provide a full range of facilities to meet investor needs.
The new warehouses are made from advanced, high-performance materials with reinforced concrete flooring designed to accommodate the heavier machinery that is often used in industrial manufacturing. They also have more electrical power capacity than their predecessors.
What are the advantages of RAK FTZ over the other ones in the UAE?
The UAE has become a leading host for global foreign investment because of its political stability, sound economic policies and business-friendly regulatory environment. Within the UAE, RAK FTZ provides international investors one of the most stable and secure environments to establish and grow their businesses, regardless of size. It has matured into the preferred destination for diverse sectors and industries, including value-added distribution and trading, consulting and other services, education, and a variety of manufacturing activities.
RAK FTZ clients have the advantage of a more cost-effective base of operations than the big city centres of the UAE, allowing them to maximise their profits and grow their companies more quickly. In addition to this favourable cost structure, the free zone also offers a comprehensive set of award-winning, ongoing business set-up services and facilities. Our objective is to ‘cut the red tape’ and ‘roll out the red carpet’ for our clients.
We provide fast-track licensing and registration, investor and worker visa issuance, and freedom to source employees and materials globally. With business solutions tailored specifically to accommodate individual company needs, RAK FTZ offers business centre facilities, a variety of offices, secured warehouses and land for lease across three specialised free zone parks. These include the Business Park for office clients, the Technology Park for trading and light manufacturing, and the Industrial Park for heavy manufacturing. Additionally, the Academic Zone caters to educational institutions, vocational schools and training centres.
Equally important are the quality-of-life facilities, such as housing, education, health care, resort and entertainment establishments, which cater to the Emirati and expat population. The cost of living and doing business in Ras Al Khaimah is substantially lower than the UAE average, and dramatically lower than other traditional business centres such as London, New York, Hong Kong and Singapore.
You believe in your gut but do you also trust in God or a higher power while making important decisions?
Well I listen, I consult and I calculate while making decisions but a lot of that comes with your own gut feeling to make a right calculated decision. I can tell you that nine times out of ten I make decisions based on the gut as the starting point which is my gut instinct. I believe that a smart person takes that gut feeling and then supports it with facts because today in organizations you have people to convince you with numbers that might tell you otherwise. I think that’s actually my guiding force. Again, today we all live in the numbers society, with reports, with KPI’s and we all look at our metrics in the organization to know even when you want to make a decision especially in finance or especially when you’re talking about spending any kind of money. While we have those kinds of research and analysis, it’s a balance between that and the gut.
On a personal level, what are your rules or do you have some rituals or something you genuinely follow in your daily routine?
My teams are here so I don’t know really what I can say as they’re always in the know of my personal rituals and personal win or loss first. I always wake up in the morning promising myself to do at least five things I have to do no matter how the day goes and how plans go. As CEO, my agenda changes constantly like whether it’s twelve o’clock at night or when everybody leaves the office but those five things have to be done. It could be anything, making a phone call, reading a report, answering a couple of emails that are very important or making some decisions. Sometimes results take a long time and one starts to question whether, at the end of the day, am I making a difference? Am I adding value? The fact that I do those five things and I do them myself makes me know that I’m moving forward as well I make it a point to always have my ear and my finger and on the pulse of every single part of the organization because I’ve got to know what’s happening. People might think that’s micromanagement but I think it’s not. In order to run an effective company, you’ve got to know what’s happening in every area. That’s what makes anybody successful in an organization, to strategize it, to drive it forward, to understand the complexity, to provide solutions and to also communicate with the team and guide them. I think sometimes I’ve got to know the business a lot more than they do from a general management point while I have to also rely on their expertise because they’re the subject matter experts. But I have to know the big picture.
Do you believe in work-life balance or you love your work so much that everything is consumed by that?
I work really hard but I don’t expect my team to be like me. I expect that my team gives us what they can. I think they know that I don’t expect them to spend all their hours in office. In today’s age, as long as you get the work done and you get your targets and you’ve got your tasks and you’ve got your responsibilities under control, you are doing fine. I’ve always been very passionate about what I do. There were some jobs that I liked and some jobs that I didn’t but I can tell I am madly passionate about all of them. I am somebody who thrives on negativity because I look for the opportunity. When there is a challenge I love it and it is the reason I work.
To function well, I have to have a very supportive network around me and understanding from people who know me is that I am very passionate about getting results. I’m very passionate about delivering. I can deal with sleepless nights now the systems are in place, but there’s always something that we can improve upon and I’m always looking for innovation, for improvement. Entrepreneurs here can understand that.
As long as you’re making progress, as long as you’re taking those steps and doing something, improving and taking calculated risks and moving that day forward, that’s what moves business and what drives a corporation.
I’ve discovered the hard way when I was always looking to get the right solution, always looking to get it right before it’s launched never worked. You have to continue to keep moving forward and not wait to do an action till you get all the information, till everything is 100% right.
Ingeneral what qualities are you looking for in people and what’s really important when you hire?
From my years of working in different organizations and coming across and interviewing thousands of people, I would say that the best performers are the ones who have that drive and that passion more than the experience. People are quick learners as well and you’re not going to hire somebody who doesn’t have the professional qualifications and competence but it doesn’t mean that they have to have the exact experience that you need. People can be motivated just like myself and I take it from how I built up my career. I don’t know everything and I still don’t know everything but I know that today in the workplace, passion to get something done is a lot more important than just having a beautifully written CV with experience.
Do you have some trick question or something which helps you know about people?
Again, by learning and interviewing so many people, you become better at the interviewing skills but usually you can find out how much passion that person has by not asking work related questions. Ask them what they like to do, ask them how they solve the situation, ask them really what situation or what problem that they actually experienced in their life and how they got out of it and ask them about the particular hobby. Ask them what they like doing outside of work and once you have passion as a character trait, it can be translated even in the workplace.