x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Emirati entrepreneur sleeps little, but accomplishes much

Meet the young Emirati who harbours dreams of becoming a government minister and who is working all hours to fulfil his potential, writes Alice Haine

Abdulnasser Al Shaali, 24, an Emirati entrepreneur, Emirates Airline manager and graduate student, at his office Al Qasba, Sharjah. Antonie Robertson / The National)
Abdulnasser Al Shaali, 24, an Emirati entrepreneur, Emirates Airline manager and graduate student, at his office Al Qasba, Sharjah. Antonie Robertson / The National)

It is hard to catch up with Abdulnasser Al Shaali. If he is not at work as a flight manager at Emirates Airline in Dubai, then he may be at Paris Sorbonne Abu Dhabi (PSAD), where he is studying for a masters in banking and finance. He could also be at his office in Sharjah, where he is launching two businesses and writes a business blog, or even at home in Ajman.

His packed schedule sees him crossing four emirates in any 24-hour period, starting at 5am when he wakes up ready to leave his home in Ajman for work in Dubai. It ends when he arrives home, sometimes as late as midnight.

"I sleep around four hours a day," laughs the 24-year-old Emirati. "When I'm not at work, then I'm studying or in my office, writing articles or reading something."

Juggling the different demands is no easy task for anyone, but then Al Shaali is no ordinary Emirati. His goal in life is to one day be the Minister of Economy and he is determined to prove he is capable of doing the job.

Why he is so driven to succeed, however, is a different matter. Al Shaali says the answer lies in his unconventional upbringing and his mother's perseverance to see him excel.

His parents divorced when he was three and he and his younger sister were brought up by his single mother.

And it was this journey, being nurtured by his mother and then forming a relationship with his father as a young man - a relationship that was shattered last year in a family dispute - that has helped shape who he is today.

"It's not common here to be brought up by a single mother, but I can't remember anything about my parents being together," he says. "While it wasn't easy for [my mother], she did more than enough to cover the role of both parents. From a very young age she pushed me to achieve my maximum potential and this is why I love her so much."

When his parents broke up, his father, a prominent businessman, who already had a first wife, married again.

After the divorce, his parents shared the costs of raising him and his sister. His mother switched from a career in teaching to a government job because it was better paid and demanded less hours at her desk.

"Even before the divorce, she supported my grandmother and was always the strong one who managed things," he says.

Al Shaali's mother focused her energy on ensuring her children studied hard.

"She was very strict and pushed us but that was her way of making sure we grew up right.

"If I had a history exam, I had to state everything in the book word by word and if I got anything wrong I would have to go back and start again. She wanted to make sure we got 99s and 100s all the time."

Her determination to see her children succeed paid off and Al Shaali excelled at school.

He won national awards, including the Sheikh Hamdan Award for excellent educational performance and invested in the stock market using his pocket money when he was 17.

His father, however, was a fleeting figure in his life.

"We saw him rarely, no more than 10 times a year and usually at Eid or special occasions," he recalls.

However, the gap between father and son began to be bridged as he entered his teenage years.

His father agreed to sponsor his university studies in finance at the American University in Sharjah, a decision that saw their relationship change for the better.

"I started going to see him more often at his majlis. I would talk to him about university; he paid the tuition so it was his right to know what was going on. I went from seeing him eight times a year to three times a week. We became really close."

As Al Shaali neared his graduation in 2010, his father approached him about joining his company as finance manager.

After graduating and securing a job with Emirates Airline, his hectic schedule began. He would finish work in Dubai then spend a few hours at his father's Ajman office before driving back to Dubai to complete an MBA at Murdoch University.

Overseeing his father's business interests both here and in Syria, Al Shaali spent the next two years restructuring the company, cutting costs and almost doubling revenue.

As the business went from strength to strength, so did Al Shaali's relationship with his father.

"I was his right arm at work and we were friends. We would chill, go out together and I would get him to try new things such as certain types of food or Facebook."

But their relationship floundered when Al Shaali became embroiled in a family dispute, leaving him on the wrong side of his father's affections.

For a while the father and son continued to work together, but their special bond had been affected.

"It was very awkward. I would go to the office, kiss him on the head and leave," he recalls, adding that a second heated discussion over the family fallout ensured they went their separate ways in March 2012. The pair have not spoken for several months.

Al Shaali has since thrown himself into his work, his studies and the two businesses that he hopes to launch this year - a commercial consultancy to assist startups, government and corporate entities as well as individuals wanting to better manage their finances - and an online store for traditional men's sandals.

He spends most of his spare time in his Sharjah office, a space he has fitted out with modern furniture and framed pictures of his academic achievements, and says his ambitions are stronger than ever. Once he completes his masters at PSAD, he plans to begin a PhD in macroeconomics.

"If I want to stand out in this small population as someone who knows what they are talking about, I have to work hard."


Alice Haine is a senior features writer for The National.