My first day in UAE: I walked in the sun to save on taxis

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Hussein Adam Ali
Hussein Adam Ali

Hussein Adam Ali, chairman of Swiss Arabian Perfumes Group, shares how he laid down foundation of perfume industry here

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Published: Sat 12 Mar 2016, 11:00 PM

Last updated: Mon 12 Dec 2022, 1:53 PM

I was 30 years old when I arrived in the UAE in September 1974 from Yemen on visit visa with an aim to set up my own business in Dubai.

I belong to a well-established family known for perfumes business and was keen to establish my first venture - Swiss Arabian Perfumes Group, in the emirate.

It was easy for me to relate to the local citizens as I was born in Yemen and spoke fluent Arabic and understood Arab culture and traditions reasonably well.

I explored the opportunities in the UAE to set up my business in association with Givaudan SA of Switzerland. I went to government offices and met different people to know the procedure for establishing the factory. I realised that things were very simple in Dubai even at that time.

With Shaikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, during an event to honour Swiss Arabian Perfumes chairman.

I spent two weeks in Dubai and realised that the emirate was expansive and had more procedures so I should explore some more options before taking a final decision to set up my perfume factory in the emirate. The weather was hot, but I did walk even in the sun to save on taxis. I was very cost conscious.

I moved to Sharjah with the help of a friend and the then secretary of Sharjah Chamber of Commerce, a Pakistani gentleman named Yousaf, who took me to the municipality and within two hours I was able to obtain trade registration and municipal licence. In next two days, I secured post box, telephone number, cable address, bank account and started negotiations with a well-known Sharjah national to lease the factory premises. Yousaf was very helpful and he was one of the five employees I appointed to establish the base of Swiss Arabian Perfumes Group.

Today, the group has more than 1,000 employees and has a wider presence in the Gulf, Middle East, Africa, Azerbaijan and Canada.

With Shaikh Tariq bin Al Qasimi at the launch of first Swiss Arabian Perfumes shop in Sahara Centre in 2006.

Yousaf was appointed as an assistant who could run errands, collect mails, keep track of construction and report back to me regularly. He went on to work for me for more than 30 years as my right hand until he retired.

After establishing the base, I went back to Yemen where my father relocated from India in 1886.

I again arrived in the UAE with my family on February 2, 1975 after experiencing some life-time moments. I travelled by air from Hodeidah to Sana'a to catch a connecting flight to Cairo, stayed three days to collect visas and then took a flight to Abu Dhabi. We arrived at midnight and immediately took a taxi for Dubai to reach my apartment at 3am.

The lift was shut so I had to carry my three small children aged two, four and six and our luggage to my fifth floor apartment. Following week, I fell very sick and developed bronchitis and within another week travelled to Mumbai for a four-week treatment.

Classic memory

One classic memory I want to share is about the occasional power outages in Dubai during my early days.

I used to move with family to my factory office in Sharjah whenever there was a power breakdown in the night so they had a comfortable sleep. It was occasional in those days, but I still remember that unique experience, which no one can expect in the wake of today's excellent infrastructure.

Saif Al Ghurair and Nabeel Adam Ali at the inauguration of first shop of Swiss Arabian Perfumes in Murshid Bazaar.

With an investment of half a million dirham, 5,000 square feet perfume factory had been set up in Sharjah and became fully operational in six months. I was my own boss and drew a minimum stipend to cover my expenses.

Today, Swiss Arabian Perfumes is known for its exotic range of products and the group's name has almost become synonymous with Arabic scents.

The UAE has provided me like many other successful people a peaceful environment and stability due to the wisdom of its wise Rulers. If I compare today's business environment with 42 years back when I landed in the UAE, I would say that things were much easier then as explained above and although things are more challenging today.

My personal life> Social media

I have active social media accounts and I operate them myself.

> Best advice received

When you are in a difficult situation, be careful and not to hurt yourself - given by my mother.

> One golden rule

Never give up but be fair to others as you expect others to be to you.

> Advice to somebody who landed in UAE today

Be patient and persevere. Success will come. Honesty always pays in the long run.

> Favourite book

I do not have time for books, but whenever I have time I like to read historical books.

> Popular movie

I love English movies, dramas, suspense and romance.

> Ideal leaders

My favourite leader was the late Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and now His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. They are an example of great visionary leaders.

> Favourite place

The Capital Club and Palazzo Versace in Dubai.

(As told to Muzaffar Rizvi)

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