Dr. Adil Alzarooni carved his path in Sharjah. His story, a blend of academic excellence and entrepreneurial spirit, is not just a tale of success but a journey of constant learning and adaptation.
Adil's roots are deeply embedded in his traditional Emirati family. His upbringing in a household that managed diverse businesses, from real estate to gas, laid the foundation for his business acumen. But it was his insatiable curiosity and drive for learning that led him to top his classes, not just in school but also in university.
Yet, the real world called for hands-on experience. Adil's first entrepreneurial venture was a chain of laundries. It wasn't just about cleaning clothes; it was about understanding the fabric of business, from operations to customer service. This experience was a prelude to his next adventure in the tech world. As the internet was weaving its web across the globe, Adil joined the revolution as a telecommunications engineer and ethical hacker, contributing to the growth of giants like Etisalat and Mobily.
But Adil's journey wasn't just about building businesses; it was also about sustaining them. This led him to pursue a PhD in Family Businesses and Business Systems from the British University in Dubai. His focus? To unravel the complexities of family businesses in the UAE, a topic close to his heart and heritage.
Today, Adil stands at the helm of two family offices, Al Zarooni Emirates Investments and Al Bidayer Holding. In these roles, he marries his entrepreneurial skills with his academic insights, overseeing portfolios that span from food and beverage brands to real estate investments. He approaches business with a blend of "emotional engineering" and strategic planning, a testament to his belief in the power of entrepreneurship.
Adil's latest venture, CapiZona Ventures, is a playground for innovation. It's where he channels his experience, knowledge, and passion for sustaining family businesses into the realm of venture studios, fostering new ideas and innovations.
In Adil's world, business is a canvas for creativity, a platform for learning, and a legacy to be nurtured.
In your over 22 years of experience in executive management, what leadership principles have you found most effective, especially in the context of government entities and family-owned businesses?
I believe you cannot succeed without teamwork. This means recruiting people with good work ethics and delegating, which are also essential for business growth.
You also need to listen carefully as you don’t know who or what will inspire your next idea. And be people-centric, i.e., treat everyone with respect and let each team member know that their contributions are valued.
Simplify processes as much as possible while raising the bar and insisting on higher standards. Do your research properly and experiment until it’s safe to get your idea off the ground.
What do you see as the key factors for the success and sustainability of economic zones, especially in the context of the UAE?
I believe the UAE has been quite successful in developing special economic zones which offer attractive incentives, cutting-edge infrastructure, and quick business setup processes. To stay ahead of the curve, I believe constant innovation and value addition are important, such as by creating live-work-play communities within the zones.
In addition, the country and its leadership’s overall approach towards providing an attractive environment for businesses, foreign direct investments, and entrepreneurs, goes a long way in ensuring the success of economic zones.
Your book, "Sustaining Family Businesses - The Essentials," addresses the sustainability of family businesses. Could you elaborate on some essential strategies you believe are crucial for the long-term success of family-owned enterprises?
I believe strategies can vary based on context. What works in one geography or industry or even business may not work in another. However, family businesses are like any other business, and require all the elements necessary to sustain a business, such as:
- keeping communication channels open;
- developing a clear organizational structure, defining each person’s roles and responsibilities; and
- diversifying investments by asset class, sector, and geography.
In addition, family businesses need to agree on family values, future vision, sectors, technology adoption and risk appetite during strategic planning. They need to implement strong family business governance practices and have a succession planning strategy in place for a smooth transition of leadership to the next generation.
Can you share a key takeaway or insight from your books that you believe is particularly relevant in today's business landscape?
Both my books emphasize on the importance of conducting research and developing strategies based on the findings rather than current trends; communicating well and often; and building strong teams.
Looking ahead, what trends or developments do you anticipate in the fields of economic zone development, family business sustainability, and education, and how do you think leaders should prepare for these changes?
The same trends that are affecting every other field, including rapid technological changes, globalization, social shifts and population aging, will impact economic zones, family businesses and education.
I think the only way to prepare for a future, which is beyond our current level of knowledge and understanding, is to prepare our teams and our next generation to be flexible about changing job roles, to think like entrepreneurs, and to upskill in order to survive. Gen Z, also known as the “job-hopping generation,” is already quite open to the idea of managing multiple careers and adopting a polyworking lifestyle.
For businesses, innovation will remain the key to survival. In this context, I again recommend the venture studio model, in which business leaders can explore new sectors and ideas, while their well-established companies remain unaffected.
Working with a core team, businesses can experiment with multiple ideas at the same time, using the same resources, while adhering to a strict timeline to evaluate whether an idea meets a market need and can be converted into a successful solution or not. This method is both time- and cost-efficient and could be both a great learning platform for next-gen family business leaders, and a success strategy for startups operating in economic zones.
What is the greatest life lesson you've learned over the years?
Failure is the norm. Success is the exception. For example, if you look at statistics, you will see that 90 percent of startups fail. So as educators, we need to teach students how to handle failure, to see it as a problem worth solving or as a redirection, depending on the situation.
As entrepreneurs, we need to see failure as inevitable but also appreciate how our mistakes can ultimately lead us in the right direction. In the long run, it’s better to fail at a mediocre product and build something that adds real value to your business and your customers.
Dr. Adil, what is your definition of living a 'meaningful life?'
I believe an ordinary but wholesome life is quite underrated. It’s good to be ambitious, take risks and build something new but not everyone will transform into the wealthiest person in the world or even their town, or have a startup that reaches unicorn status, as it’s statistically remote, and that’s completely okay!
The law of diminishing returns applies to your daily life as well. The first few thousands or millions may drastically transform your life, but if you keep chasing higher returns, you may not necessarily experience the same level of satisfaction and have a very ‘meaningful life’.
Just think about how often you sleep peacefully and wake up excited! I believe that is the only practical way to measure the quality of your life.
Image courtesy of: Dr. Adil Alzarooni