AbdulMuttalib Al Hashimi is the founder and managing director of Next Level, the country's only consultancy firm that specialises in placing Emiratis in private sector and government jobs. Having worked extensively in the private sector, he is bringing his experiences to the fore to help the country's Emiratisation plan.
When did you set up Next Level?
I started it in May 2006 with another UAE national, my business partner. We wanted to start a company that focused on a niche specialisation, something we know. And we thought, OK, why don't we focus on Emiratisation. We do this on two levels. One is advising multinationals in the private sector: what do they need to do to attract Emiratis, how do they retain them, how do they develop them and where can they find them? The second part of the business is giving closer integration sessions to expatriates and how to understand UAE nationals; what motivates them and the culture behind them. We did that for the first three years, and then we had interest from the government sector, which had a bit of problem in terms of Emiratisation.
What motivates you?
I like to think I am an ambassador for UAE nationals in the way I project myself. It is more like I'm telling my clients that you might have someone who is like me or even better than me. There are UAE nationals who work in the private sector, like I did, and they are willing to work in the private sector. They have that cultural sensitivity and understanding and the skill set to work in the private sector.
How would you describe the journey so far?
The journey actually began before starting Next Level. It started when I was just an employee working in a catering company and I was the only UAE national there. That gave me an insight into the challenges you face as a minority employee, regardless if you are a national or not, and the stereotyping that is involved. At the same time, it has given me the cultural sensitivity because I started working with colleagues from other nationalities and, until today, that has shaped me. So I can sit down and interview and talk to many people because I have that cultural sensitivity and I understand.
What was your first salary?
I started on very low pay as a junior at a catering company. Today, I look at the kind of pay Emirati graduates ask for; it's mind-boggling, really. We are talking about 10 times what I used to be making. My second job was at HSBC as a trader in the global capital markets department, where the salary was great. The bonuses were fantastic. We had good things in life: the car, the watch. The incentives were really good.
Did you have job satisfaction?
At the age of 28, I started asking myself the question: is this it? And I was bound by a glass ceiling. I was stuck in a cubicle and my job started from 7am and it finished at eight in the evening. It's quite stressful and fast-paced. I was sent to Kuwait to set up the trading department for HSBC, which had been absent from Kuwait for 30-odd years. I actually hated the idea of going to Kuwait, but it was more of a blessing in disguise. I think I needed the time to think about my life and think about what I really needed to do. I never really enjoyed the financial benefits I got from working in the bank. I was there for 45 months. And that's when I knew I wasn't happy. This was not me and not the vision I wanted for myself. I wanted to be happy and I needed the freedom to create my own success. This is when I thought, you know what, why don't I take the risk, start my own company and go to the next level. So next level has a meaning. It is the next level for me.
What is your idea of financial independence?
Financial independence is to be happy financially even with a low salary. The trick is to actually be able to control your finances so you set yourself a daily target, and say this is how much I am going to spend and on the weekend, I am going to treat myself. I actually envision it and you set a number and you can really control your expenses.
Did your parents teach you how to manage money?
When I was growing up and going to school, I saw my friends get pocket money to buy food at the canteen. My family would give me food to carry. At school, that was something to be made fun of. But it didn't bother me. In the summer period, I had to work for my money. Not in a family business; it could be gardening for the neighbours and they would pay me money.
How did this shape you?
The fact that money was not thrown at us meant that it did not spoil us. It made us appreciate money and work for money, rather than sitting and expecting money. And I saw that difference when I graduated. When I graduated, a lot of my friends were unemployed and sitting around waiting for a job. I was out there, walking in areas and knocking on doors with my CV to give to businesses.