A Quarterly Newsletter from the UAE and Oman member firms of the PKF International Ltd.

VOL 18, Issue 2 April 2016

Interview

Mr. Hussein Adam Ali is the founder and Chairman of Swiss Arabian Perfumes Group established in 1974. Swiss Arabian Perfumes is one of the leading perfume companies in the AGCC with over 100 Retail Shops and caters to a wide cross section of customers all over the world. The Group has diversified into other businesses including packaging. Mr. Adam Ali also has substantial investments in the Property Sector in the UAE and is a founder member of Palazzo Versace and Dubai Pearl. His simple formula for success is : discipline, dedication, sincerity and fair dealings with clients and employees alike. He is a philanthropist, a passionate singer and avidly supports cultural and musical events.

Q. You are credited with establishing the UAE’s first perfume manufacturing company. Can you share some memories from that era when you collaborated with Givaudan Roure?

A. I set up Swiss Arabian Perfumes in September 1974, and it was operational in August, 1975. Givaudan is a world renowned manufacturer of Essential oils, Fragrance oils and Aromatic chemicals. Our collaboration was for their packaging of well-known Attars for the whole of the Arabian Peninsula and Gulf Countries and the bulk of this small packaging was done through a contract manufacturer in Holland who was obviously not happy to lose this business to us. When I went to inspect their operation with Givaudan representative, they virtually threw me out. But I had seen enough ! The challenges were many. To start with no data was available so I had to prepare the same on 3-1/2 years invoices. In 15 days time in Geneva I created my own statistics to be able to place an order for the whole year considering this was my first experience in organized packaging industry.

The second challenge was to face the envious existing Agent/Distributors in each country, most of whom too were not happy that even after their long relationship, they had been bypassed. I had to protect my flank.

Third – to set up in a new country, the United Arab Emirates – from scratch.

Fourth – My own health. I had developed chronic bronchitis and was hospitalized in Mumbai formonth at this critical juncture within two weeks of my arrival in Dubai on 20.2.1975.

Apart from these there were many challenges during the operation which I overcame with God’s help and perseverance and diligence. I can fill pages but one very important one comes to mind. Immediately after few months of the startup my eldest son Nabeel who was six years old then was playing with matchsticks and which he threw in all the paper waste outside my factory. It immediately caught fire and swept through over half the factory. I was panic stricken, I had no insurance and prayed to the Almighty to save me otherwise it was all gone. Before the fire spread further, winds changed and took the fire in the opposite direction. That was nothing short of a miracle.

Q.Swiss Arabian Perfumes Group (SAPG) seems to have been following a very aggressive marketing plan for the last few years. Can you throw some light on this strategy in view of the current local market scenario and considering that the perfume industry in the UAE is quite mature considering the giant strides taken by big players like SAPG.

A.Yes, there are too many new players and they have contributed to the ballooning rents and fees by chains and malls. Although we are a well established brand we see the need to continually spend on advertising and promotions which we plan to double in the next three years. We feel this is the best way to maintain and even increase our market share and build our brand in an unassailable position.

Q.Can you consider SAPG as an international brand, or has the focus been more UAE centric?

A. The focus is more UAE and AGCC centric but we are gradually expanding our sights on other important countries like India.

Q.Being the first perfume company to achieve ISO:9001 quality management certification is quite an achievement. Sometimes in a group as big as SAPG it is difficult to identify the success factors or key people. Who would you credit with the success of your group?

A. We are proud of our achievements. We are slow and steady and that is why we continue to thrive. Leadership and guidance from above is very important but we have a dedicated work force led by my two sons Nabeel & Nader and the credit goes to all of them.

Q. How is the group planning to combat the fierce competition in this industry from local and international players?

A. In addition to the advertising already revealed we are able to cut costs by having an integrated operation. We have our decoration, packaging, carton and plastic injection units to backup and support our mainstay – the Perfume Industry.

Q. Surely it can’t have only been all uphill all these years. What challenges have the group and the man behind the group faced, and how have they coped with them?

A. Our first major challenge was in 1984 when we started losing our market share. The need of the hour was new products and ideas which we successfully implemented in the following year and never looked back. The man behind all this is Hussein Adamali, the founder and MD until 2005 when he gradually gave way to his two sons Nabeel & Nader and especially in the last five years they are fully in charge of all aspects of the business. They joined the business in 1993 and 1995 respective. My role as Chairman for the past 10 years is to provide guidance and direction where required.

Q. How do the current economic challenges and the World Expo 2020 mesh with the group’s long term objectives?

A. We don’t let any setback affect us as we believe they are temporary in nature and every problem has a solution. We are here to stay. U.A.E. has been our home for 42 years and hopefully it would remain so for many generations to come.

We are also looking forward to diversify and invest in associated industries. We are working towards acquiring a sustainable shareholding in a new Paper Mill being set up in Abu Dhabi – converting pulp into paper for conversion industries It will be operational in 2 years time.

Q.Very few have been privileged to hear your mellifluous voice. How does a passion for in music tie in with a passion for your business?

A. Well it goes together and I do sing on stage as well so I do have admirers for the songs of K.L. Saigal, Pankaj Mullick, C.H Atma, Mukesh, Hemant Kumar, Mohammed Rafi that I sing from time to time. I also sing ghazals of Habib Wali Mohammad, Jagjit Singh, Mehdi Hassan & Begum Akhtar.I love to sing in small groups.

Q.What legacy would you like to leave behind – beyond the business acumen and indelible footprint of SAPG. Any words of wisdom for your followers?

The legacy that I wish to leave behind is that of a caring honest man with integrity, and as a philanthropist. The plight of the poor and less forttunatehas always moved me even as a child. These are the values I have inculcated in my children as well and they I am sure will do the same with theirs. I wish to set up a foundation for my philanthropic activities and also build and promote a music school to teach children as well as adults. I do also promote the card game of bridge of which I am a keen player.

As for words of wisdom respect your peers and colleagues. Do not gloat on your success. Everyone is dispensable.

Life is a continuous process of learning so never stop learning from others and your own mistakes. Don’t cut corners. Be fair and honest to others and it will come back to you. You reap what you sow and never give up. Never fail to accept challenges that are thrown your way. All this will lead to success.