The vice-chairman and chief financial officer of Seddiqi Holding — a family-owned firm which started in the luxury retail space and evolved into a retail, education, legal, real estate and investment conglomerate — Osama Ibrahim Seddiqi has seen how his legacy business has advanced and grown alongside that of his home city Dubai.
Having joined the business in 2005, he was the first member of the Seddiqi family to join the finance department and has since evolved the division in line with the organisation’s growth objectives.
Firmly dedicated to the company’s overall vision of operational excellence and customer-centricity, he has a lifelong passion for the luxury goods that made his family’s name. As such, he works closely with internal teams and external contacts to optimise the business’ retail footprint and operations.
With a bachelors’ degree in business administration from the National American University of Denver, and as a member of the Seddiqi Holding executive committee and board of directors, he is perfectly suited to spearhead the Dubai Centre for Family Businesses’ Family Business Advisory Committee as chairman.
In an exclusive interview, Osama Ibrahim Seddiqi talks about how his family business developed and diversified and the importance of planning for the future…
As a third-generation member of the Seddiqi family, can you talk about the establishment and evolution of the family business?
The core business, Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons, was established in 1950 by my grandfather, Mr. Ahmed Qassim Seddiqi. It was a relatively small business with a single brand in the portfolio, West End Watch Co. Over the years, his passion resulted in the evolution of the portfolio with new brands being added, such as Rolex and Patek Philippe. This certainly contributed towards how the business continued to develop as the industry and the country evolved. We started to witness a changing landscape in the UAE, as the country and the Emirate of Dubai began to develop further and Swiss companies started to take notice, thus enabling us to build our relationships with them.
However, this was before the UAE was formed. Once the UAE was formed in 1971, it become more accessible for companies to enter this market and explore the numerous opportunities the country presented.
My grandfather along with my father and my uncles, the second generation, were instrumental in establishing and strengthening our roots of the family business, as the UAE developed and grew. The family have continued to stay true to my grandfather’s original family values and vision through each successive generation. Even now as the fourth generation of our family start to make their contribution to the success and growth of our family business, they are still guided by my grandfather’s original vision and family values.
With time, as the business grew and with the new members, Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons and Seddiqi Holding has become a significant player in luxury retail economy in the UAE. The UAE has cemented itself as a regional hub for new business models, opportunities and initiatives that aid the economy, industries, citizens, and residents.
Our vision and growth at Seddiqi Holding is linked to the growth of our nation and economy and we are humbled and grateful for the support that we have received.
You grew up immersed in the world of Swiss watches, which laid the foundation for your career. Would you say the precision and beauty of these timepieces served as a metaphor or perhaps an inspiration as the family business developed and diversified?
It certainly did. It is a combination of the precision behind Swiss watchmaking which is intrinsically linked to our ethos and operations, the warmth of the industry and our peers and the relationships we have built with brands and our customers that truly form our north star in the business. We continue to be driven and inspired by our passion for the industry, inspired by our founder and this is something we strive to pass on to the future generations.
Going back to the very start of your career, was it always your intention and your family’s wish for you to join the family business?
I did not initially intend to join the family business. My previous professional roles gave me the opportunity to widen my expertise and experiences. I previously worked at a bank, and it was important for me to work hard and progress in my career as I began expanding my verticals to include customer experience and legal while delving into the corporate side, which included a focus on the financials of the business. From 2001 to 2006, I was a branch manager for a regional bank (National Bank of Dubai which is now Emirates NBD) and had to meet many challenges including the decentralisation of operations at that time. By understanding and overcoming various operational obstacles I was able to develop as a professional.
In 2005, I made the decision to join the family business and looking back I have no regrets — it has been an honour to work alongside my family members. My experience in previous roles certainly helped to shape my professional growth and prepared me for my role within the family business.
‘The ecosystem of family businesses and how we impact the community and country is something we need to protect via succession planning, while adapting to the respective changing industries.’
Now, as Vice-Chairman and Chief Financial Officer of Seddiqi Holding, what do your roles entail?
I see my role as a central figure within the organisation, here to serve and protect the Seddiqi family, the brands we partner with, our customers and our employees. They form the backbone of our organisation and I believe it is my role to ensure their best interests are at the core of everything we do. Additionally, I am currently looking into succession planning as we focus on our overall vision while ensuring the continued longevity and prosperity of the business.
As Chairman of the Family Business Advisory Committee of the Dubai Center for Family Business, you clearly have a great passion for the power and contribution families have made to Dubai. What are the aims of the Family Business Advisory Committee and how do you think they will shape the future?
The over-arching objective for the centre is the succession and continuity of the respective family businesses. Family businesses serve as the backbone of the UAE economy and are among the top contributors to the national GDP, job creation and Emiratisation.
As for the Family Business Advisory Committee, it is essential that we provide the necessary support and guidance to equip them and the future generations with the tools to prosper and grow. As businesses continue to transition, it is key to ensure that their vision remains at the forefront of their objectives so that we continue to collectively reap the benefits of our fast-developing nation. The ecosystem of family businesses and how we impact the community and country is something we need to protect via succession planning, while adapting to the respective developments within the various industries.
The success of family businesses is a testament to the success of the economy and how we have contributed towards the growth of the UAE on a global scale. It is important for family businesses to give back to our nation in recognition for the immense support and opportunities that they have provided to us over the years.
The Dubai Centre for Family Businesses is a clear indicator of the Emirate’s emphasis on attracting ultra-high-net-worth family offices and businesses. What was the evolution of that focus?
The progress and innovation experienced in the UAE has been instrumental to the successof family businesses. Trust and transparency form a strong base in the UAE, one that continues to positively impact the community, businesses and ultimately the economy.
The Dubai Centre for Family Businesses is committed to ensuring the development and perpetuity of family businesses. We are driven by the vision of the nation’s leaders to focus on supporting them as we collectively navigate the changing economy while continuing to prosper in our respective fields.
‘Much like in nature, an organisation cannot grow unless its roots are nourished and catered to consistently.’
According to 2021 statistics, family businesses represent up to 90% of all private companies in the UAE. Multigenerational firms have played a huge role in shaping Dubai’s unique offering, as a member of a multigenerational family yourself, what role do you think they will they play in the future?
I believe that if governance and succession planning are at the forefront of their long-term vision, their contributions will be endless. The future generations are the key to further shaping businesses as technology, infrastructure, trade etc continues to evolve.
The Family Business Advisory Committee, are committed to equipping the next-generation of family members with a platform to enhance their skillset, driving advocacy building and nurturing the next generation of leaders.
A well-established business can augment their industry and make significant contributions to the development of their respective fields which positively impacts our economy.
What advice would you give to global family businesses that are looking to establish themselves in Dubai but don’t know where to start?
My advice would be two-fold:
- I would encourage all businesses to grow organically as you look to entering the market or growing the business further. Humility and patience are crucial values to uphold as you put your best foot forward. Growth and success takes a considerable amount of time and is driven by many internal and external factors. However, establishing strong roots and governance are key to the success, enabling businesses to flourish. Much like in nature, an organisation cannot grow unless its roots are nourished and the plant is consistently nurtured.
- The founders of the family businesses are the gatekeepers to its success. Building on and implementing a strong long-term vision while strengthening the relationships in the family is crucial to sustaining any business. As the visionaries at the helm, we must look to them as our advisors as they continue to pave the way and advise the generational family members across various verticals. We must rely on them to ground the organisation and ensure that the successors do not lose focus on the long-term vision and values.
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