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Mishal kanoo: a much-needed new breed of family business leader

Mishal Hamed Kanoo, is deemed one of the Gulf’s most charismatic business leaders. He is Deputy Chairman of the Kanoo Group, one of the largest independent, family-owned group of companies in the gulf region. Established in Bahrain in 1890 by Haji Yusuf Bin Ahmed Kanoo, the Kanoo Group grew from its early trading and shipping business to become one of the most diversified and highly regarded companies in the Gulf region, and beyond. Today, the Kanoo Group has interests in financial services, shipping, travel, machinery, logistics, oil & gas, ports, power, and chemicals. Kanoo is the 4th generation to run the vast organisation.

He joined as Deputy Chairman in 1997, and started straight away removing as many employees that were living off the fat as he could. From 1997 to 2008 the company’s profit increased more than tenfold, 
a run of success that he attributes to the overall growth in the Gulf economy, as well as the group’s 3,000- plus employees. Frequently cited as outspoken, Kanoo is passionate about dynamic leadership, enterprise and education. Walid Chiniara, who runs the Family Business advisory group in Dubai, says Mr Kanoo represents a much-needed new breed of family business leader, remaining politically correct, but saying what others don’t dare to say.

‘The only thing I will
 credit myself with doing is empowering people who are smart, intelligent, able and capable to reach their full potential’

Kanoo is passionate about the importance of giving credit where credit is due. Speaking with regards to his management style at the Emirates NBD Global Business Series in February 2013, Kanoo said ‘the only thing I will credit myself with doing is empowering people who are smart, intelligent, able and capable to reach their full potential. I have seen in this part of the world people are more than happy to take credit for other peoples’ work and I find this despicable. The idea of helping people must resonate in our heads.’

He is a powerful advocate of education, and believes that it allows people to take responsibility and control of their lives. When speaking at the American uUniversity of Sharjah (AUS), he said that the one piece of advice he would give current students and recent graduates is to always stay a student, ‘never quit learning or think that just because you have a job and are making money you no longer need to learn, or strive to gain knowledge.’ He said that today’s effective business professionals must have competence in many disciplines, an understanding of a variety of relationships, and the ability to analyse evolving business, economic and governmental trends. At the emirates NBD Global Business Series Kanoo is quoted to say ‘your brain is your biggest weapon, for it is the moment when you think – that is when you threaten people.... I want more people to challenge me and argue with me, because at the end of the day you raise my bar.’

Kanoo’s wide-ranging knowledge of regional business affairs and global capital markets, gives him a special insight into life in the Gulf region.
 He has a very strong track record of forecasting economic developments in and around the Middle East. He publicly spoke about gold prices be- ing overpriced and overrated at a gulf Business forum, far before warren Buffet talked about it. He often wrote about the Dubai property bubble when people were still buying, and some time before it burst. Recently at the Emirates NBD Global Business Series, he spoke of the need to support SMEs in the gulf, through protection. He said, ‘SMEs must be able to breathe, and the more they breathe the better it is for the economy. One of the reasons why you have entrepreneurial spirit in other countries is because you have government protection for these things, which we don’t have.’ He also supports the need for a two-tier public listing system in the region, to further protect medium enterprises.

Kanoo sits on the boards of over 15 companies ranging in sizes from US$10 million to over US$1 billion. Most notably, he is currently the Chairman of Freight-works, Johnson Arabia, and BRC, Vice Chair of UACC, as well as his own Family Business.