It is clear from meeting him, why Mishal Kanoo is well known as both an influential leader in business and a philanthropist as his values centre around people.
“People are without a doubt our secret to success; being a service related business our people are our ambassadors to our customers”
The Kanoo Group is one of the leading family businesses in the Gulf and has a 125 year history, starting from humble beginnings in Bahrain, expanding in to Saudi Arabia and then the UAE. To maintain consistent growth over such a long period The Kanoo Group is reliant on ethical trading along with strong values and beliefs.
Mishal believes that companies should focus on not just attracting the best people but also retaining them in their business.
“Unfortunately this is not as easy as people think in this part of the world as although you have some really good people, and some really dedicated people, you have a lot of people who are job hopping. They come to this part of the world as they see it as a bonanza, then realize that it’s like any other place on the face of the earth, and it can become a very expensive exercise then they don’t like it and they want to leave. That is the hard part but if you want to find stability it’s trying to find the people who want to come in and not just for a job but a career, something where they want to give from themselves and also receive financial rewards, but also the recognition for their efforts”
A keen collector of art and stalwart figure in the development of the Dubai art scene, it is fair to assume that Mishal appreciates the creative mind and it is a key attribute that he likes to see in his senior leadership team.
“I hate using this expression as it is now something that people have used and abused but ‘thinking outside the box’, and ‘disruptive’; these words are used and thrown about like they have gone out of fashion. When I say that, I mean to say that I look for someone who is not necessarily going conform with what is available but is also able to see what is out there and can try to take it and then make it fit. There are many great ideas out there globally. Wherever you go, there are fantastic ideas but certain ideas cannot be applied whereas some can; so you need the sort of person who has an open mind to be able to see things outside but to be able to take that potential and bring it in to being something workable. So the person has to be imaginative but pragmatic at the same time”
I asked what he thought the challenges were in today’s market for the family business.
“The challenges don’t change, they are always going to be the same within any business. Within the family business there is an extra flavor which is around perception of people. In some cases it is senior managers’ in terms of their upward trajectory. How far can they go if their next position will be taken up by a family member? That’s one of the major issues. The second issue is whether they want to speak up against a family member when they think that the family member will win the argument, no matter what. So those are two perceptions rather than realities. In some cases they are going to be realities but in some cases they are going to be perceptions but it depends on the family and how they look at the business. Do they look at it as a professional outfit or is it just something to feed the family, and I don’t mean financially, I mean by putting the family members in positions just because they are family. These are issues I think you will see wherever you go. It’s not country or business restricted”
There is a huge amount of change in the drivers of the economy across the Gulf which is both challenging but it is also a time for opportunity. I asked Mishal what family businesses should think about in managing these changes effectively.
“The thing for a family business versus other businesses is that we do not look at quarter to quarter, or year to year as a public company has to do, so there is no pressure in terms of third parties. Asa business you can look long term and subsequently you can try to build up the right people for the long term requirements of the business. It is therefore easier to look past the downturns. It is actually easier to pay for and keep good staff in a downturn than fire them and then try to rehire others. This, as the cost is far more expensive than keeping people who are good. When a business is expanding you need people to be able to go out and reach to your customers. They may not be the best, but you will still go out and hire them because there are doors to be opened. The downturn happens; your core will always stay but the ones who are the negative ones, who are not contributing. If I don’t have the customers, then why do I need them? Those who are producing the best, even if they are expensive, I know they’re worth keeping because eventually there will be an economic upturnand the cost to replace them is immense and I don’t mean just financially, there is a cultural cost and an emotional cost. It’s easier and cheaper to keep the right people, the core. Constantly around you”
Even though there is a clear difference in meaning between inspiration and aspiration, they go hand in hand for a strong leader. The process of a team or an individual to be motivated is critical to organizational success and I am sure that what inspires Mishal is something that is encouraged throughout his business.
“A person who is willing to do something out of the norm and take a risk, a calculated risk with a basis for what he or she is doing.”
Many of the family businesses we are working with at the moment are moving away from what has been the norm for them, as the downturn has prompted new ideas to be brought to the table around where and what to invest in, and where to focus growth strategy. In essence, Mishal places heart felt value into human capital which is the family office’s key to success.