Abdullah Jasem is the Founder & President of Emirates Trade & Investment (ETI), a management firm that works with the UAE and UK Governments and private sector to increase trade, investment, and cultural ties between both countries. Abdullah saw an opportunity with his vast knowledge of UAE and Gulf markets, cultures, business practices, and societies and knew there could be a strategic and competitive advantage that would bring real commercial value and accelerate clients’ entry and growth in foreign markets.
What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?
Abdullah Jasem: Entrepreneurship is to unite people in an organisation and collectively generate economic and social value by solving problems and providing solutions.
How did your company come to be?
AJ: I was working in the economic department of the UAE Embassy in London in 2015 and had just co-organised the UAE Minister of Economy’s trade mission in the UK. After arranging or attending more than 80 company meetings (and a conference) in five days, I noticed the gap between the ‘door opening’ role of the Embassy, and the ‘deal closing’ role of the companies. There needed to be a bridge between them that strengthened the relations, navigated cultural dynamics, and managed the operations. That Is Emirates Trade & Investment .
How has your business changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
AJ: We have expanded our services to create more short-term sources of income; and we have also began reselling services of other businesses between the UAE and UK. Moreover, we decided to reinvest all our revenue in creating jobs and seeking more international clients.
What is your proudest and darkest moment so far?
AJ: My proudest moment was signing the first client and seeing the first source of income. Our most difficult moment was at the end of 2020 when we had lost all sources of income for seven months until mid-2021.
How is your company changing the landscape?
AJ: We are keeping a low-profile to not expose our changing of the landscape yet, but we are doing so by partnering with the UAE Diplomatic Corps and leveraging an international network of partners and clients. We navigate industry sensitivities carefully by aligning and allying with fellow companies rather than rivaling and competing.
What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would do differently?
AJ: I wish I knew how to be stronger in negotiations and understand that concessions should not be a comfortable choice. It’s better to lose an outcome from a position of strength and assertiveness; rather than lose an outcome by choosing to concede.
What advice/credo do you live by as you grow the business / what is your professional and personal mission statement?
AJ: Invest time in relationships; rather than money in operations. Our currency is trust, not money.
Where do you find inspiration when faced with challenges?
AJ: I look at my past and try to identify the gaps in my thoughts that, when put together, could lead to an epiphany.
What does “success” look like for you? What do you think will help you achieve it?
AJ: My definition of success changes with every step I take forward. Right now, success to me is to have a presence in 100 countries in the next five years. In the next year, we want to have a presence in 15 countries, including the four countries we are present in at the moment.
What will help me achieve it is the right team internally, and the right partners externally.
What’s it like to work alone or with your partners? What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs about building and leading teams?
AJ: If you are an extrovert, invest your money in people and build a team you can trust very quickly. If you are an introvert, invest your money in your knowledge and skills, and then hire a team that can become an extension of your capabilities. I prefer to work in teams.
Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work and greater vision; would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day? How has it changed in recent months?
AJ: I don’t have a daily routine. Quite the contrary; I try to have a different day every day. However, in the last three months, I have developed somewhat of a routine which is: work from 8am-6pm and again from 8pm-12am.
What kind of an entrepreneur do you want to be known as, as in, what do you want your legacy to be?
AJ: I want to be an instrumental part of the process for every international company that does business with the UAE; and to be the same for every Emirati company that wants to internationalise.
What keeps you motivated during this time?
AJ: Having to guide my employees forward and seeing the results of our success reflect in their growth and ambitions.
What is a quote or some words of wisdom that help get you through the tough days?
AJ: Things can always be worse; and people with positive intentions whose success can serve the world are bound to succeed eventually.
Have you experienced mentorship in your career? Do you feel it was easily available to you?
AJ: Yes, I have actively sought mentors since I was 16. I have eight mentors who are my advisors and act like checkpoints that help me actively gauge and shape my growth through our interactions.
Who are the people who have mentored or influenced you in your life or career? How has their influence changed the trajectory of your entrepreneurial journey?
AJ: One of my most influential mentors is Dr. Savvas Savouri who I have known since 2012. As the CIO and Chief Economist of Toscafund Asset Management, Dr. Savouri’s published thoughts are a constant wealth of knowledge. Our regular meetings are a life lesson in themselves, where Dr. Savouri points out discrepancies and solutions to issues I need to be thinking about and working on.
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