He has built the most profitable company in Somalia. The company is also one of the leading in Africa. In the process, he has changed the lives of millions of Somalis at home and abroad. How did he do it? His message to the aspiring young businessmen and women in Somalia and beyond…
Whenever I meet with Somali youth, they often ask me; ‘What is the single most important secret to success?’ In response, I tell them that I believe there is no magic wand; but, the secret is a persistent effort that is sustained over a long period of time.
First, Allah’s guidance on success is the very foundation of success regardless of all one’s efforts. One can only succeed with the acceptance of Allah (swt), the most glorified, the highest.
Having said and made clear Allah’s guidance as the overall reason for success, below are a few points that I think were the basis of my success;
Religiousness: Somalis are observant and keen on character; for instance, the use of qat, smoking, and not observing mandatory prayers is seen and considered as being careless and not trustworthy. For one to be credible, he or she must be a religious person both by their deeds and in how they carry and present themselves.
Experience/Knowledge: one must venture into a business area that he or she is familiar with, a field that they have the experience, or have a background in (training). In my case; having worked with the British Bank of the Middle East (now called HSBC) and Citibank with extensive experience in operations in different departments proved very useful when we ventured into the banking and remittance industry. I advise “Don’t venture into uncharted waters without prior experience and knowledge, then expand and build your business ecosystem around your core competence”.
Technology Adoption: in a rapidly changing technological landscape, one must take advantage of such advancements to progressively scale up their operations in order to serve and reach clients better. Barakaat always used the latest available technology of the day to advance its remittance, banking, and telecommunications services.
Hire on Merit: one must employ or partner with people who know and understand their area of business and are trustworthy as per the Quran verse 28:26, “Verily, the best of men for you to hire is capable and trustworthy”. Employ based on merit, competence, hard work and experience, and above all trustworthiness.
Risk Taking: be courageous and take calculated risks. If one wishes to be wealthy; quitting employment and establishing his or her own business is an act of courage that our youth should embrace. In my case, I quit my stable job and ventured into the financial sector. In the remittance business, risk-taking is much higher than in any other sector as cash transactions are based on trust without collateral. We used to trust our agents in the world wherever they were, honoring their payment orders while they settled such payments at a later date. Be a risk-taker but take calculated risks. The biggest risk is to trust someone; one must know whom to trust and whom not to trust.
“Don’t venture into uncharted waters without prior experience and knowledge, then expand and build your business ecosystem around your core competence”.Sheikh Ahmednur Ali Jum’ale, founder Barakaat Group of Companies.
Sense of Ownership; from the time I worked at the bank, I realized that the highest any employee can grow is through professional hierarchy and not by wealth. When I established Barakaat, I tried to reconcile the two by ensuring that our employees and partners had a stake (profit sharing) in the business. We abolished the salary policy and instead adopted to pay a percentage proportional to the monthly salaries of the staff. So, if the sales increase so does their monthly income. As for the middle and senior management, I have decided to allocate a percentage of the yearly net profit.
This model makes staff members keen on the success of the company since they too feel a sense of ownership. This made all my subsequent ventures profitable as the employees and senior management were guaranteed a good percentage of the total company profit at the end of the year. The profitability of the company or its loss both affect our employees who due to this fact work harder to keep the company profitable.
Public Ownership; Corporations are more sustainable than individual businesses. We introduced, for the first time in the history of Somalia, a joint-stock company whose ownership, operations, and staffing span all regions; this has re-established the links between people that have been separated by the civil strife and allowed us to adapt to local dynamics in every city and neighborhoods.
Time Management; Time. Time. Time. You must invest a considerable amount of time to your enterprise if you want to become successful without compromising your religious and social obligations. I used to and still work almost 15 hours a day to ensure the operations of our businesses and portfolios have proper oversight, coordination, and guidance.
Live and Let Live; you must wish the people you work with well. When you see them grow, gain wealth, undertake major life-changing ventures, don’t be tempted to stop them. You were given the wealth, let them also make wealth. In fact, it helps them become wealthier.
Take the Long View: Be a long-term profit-driven businessperson rather than the “what is in it for me now” mentality. Willingness to assist others should be your foundation for greater businesses to come. In my case, when the central government of Somalia collapsed in 1991, we couldn’t remit money as a result of the conflict. I had to re-start the business in an extremely difficult environment and with a new method to ensure that we deliver funds. I had to personally carry cash from Saudi Arabia to Somalia in early 1991 several times – to deliver the remittances to the recipients. Sometimes, a commission earned from such cash deliveries could not meet my travel and accommodation cost but had to do. This personal service is what lay the foundation for Barakaat’s comeback and the boom thereafter.
Mr. Jum’ale shares five major personality traits behind his success in business
Early Riser: The Messenger of Allah said, “O Allah! Bless my people in the early part of the day (morning)”. With this in mind, I seldom sleep after waking up for Fajr prayer.
Be organized: In your office, there are competing priorities and tasks. Sit down in the morning and come up with a to-do list for the day. Nowadays, telephones provide notes for your day. Such a list has to be realistic and be clear on who will handle each task. Is it you or someone else? – delegate where you can. The company has to develop a system that is used to guide its daily activities and routine deliverables.
Afternoon Siesta: Since I wake up early, I tend to take a short period of sleep during the day- what is called a siesta during the afternoon. This injects refreshment into your day and gives it a feeling like it is a new day. This gives you the energy to do even more.
Prioritized company interest over my personal ego: A ‘yes’ man is not always the right-man to keep around; the person who contributes to the company’s profitability but with an attitude is more valuable than a ‘yes’ person.
Lastly, I would like to remind the youth to allocate more time to useful undertakings; especially to their work and responsibilities. One has to multi-task and balance work-spiritual-family life. It is usual for me to work more than 15 hours a day.