Family man who tends to business

Profile: The managing director of Al Fahim Group, has been immersed in the business since he was a child and, despite his youth, is already preparing the next generation to take over the reins.

Illustration by Chris Burke for The National
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Rashed Al Fahim walked into his garage one day last year and noticed he owned multiple Fiat 500 cars.
"I realised I had five of them," says the managing director of Al Fahim Group, one of Abu Dhabi's most enduring family conglomerates.

Biobox: Rashed Al Fahim The managing director of Al Fahim Group

Favourite wrist watch:

Patek Philippe

Favourite cars:

Jeep Wrangler, Fiat 500 Ferrari Edition, Mercedes-Benz CL65 Black Series; personal favourite is his Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster made in 1938.

Favourite restaurant:

The Fish Market at the InterContinental Hotel, Abu Dhabi

Favourite Sport:

Any activities that involve the sea.

Gadget/mobile phone:

Apple iPhone

Last holiday:

Morocco and London



Key to success:


"I said to myself 'what am I going to do with them? I can't drive all five.' So I decided to do an auction for the cars with all the kids of the family."

Al Fahim's automotive division distributes Mercedes-Benz, Chrysler Jeep and Fiat cars in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, and the managing director tries to instil brand loyalty in the whole family.

He is the youngest of 12 brothers and sisters in the immediate Al Fahim dynasty, and most of his siblings also now have their own rapidly growing families.

"I wanted to encourage commitment to the brand," he says. "But I also said [to the children] that if I sell the car it has to be paid [for] in monthly instalments and must be paid from the children's allowance, not by their parents, because I want [the children] to take responsibility."

Keeping it in the family, but making sure there are no free rides, is an approach Mr Al Fahim also adopts across the conglomerate.

Although Al Fahim Group is run by a board of eight brothers, an international corporate structure is being put in place in each of the many business divisions, which include automotive, hospitality, industry, property and travel and tourism units.

The group owns and runs the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr hotel in Abu Dhabi and has a diverse spectrum of investments, including the development of the Dubai Pearl.

Mr Al Fahim, 36, has been on the executive board with his seven brothers for 20 years and worked in an unofficial capacity for longer. He seems older, resplendent in a white kandura and sitting in his spacious office, controlling a sprawling Abu Dhabi empire.

"I'm 36 and I feel older because I have witnessed three financial crises in the UAE and the 2008 one is ongoing," he says. "It's enjoyable, but the true fruits of what we are doing as brothers is to prepare the family for the future also and … hand over all these businesses to them in proper, organised manner."

Al Fahim Group and the family behind it have been fixtures in Abu Dhabi for longer than the UAE has been a country. The late Abdul Jalil Al Fahim founded the company in 1958.

Abdul Al Fahim was a confidante of Sheikh Zayed, the founding President of the UAE, and Rashed Al Fahim's brother Mohammed took the reins at the family company before retiring and penning the book Rags to Riches, a historical account of Abu Dhabi's birth as a nation. Rashed is 25 years younger than Mohammed, who is the oldest of the brothers and is affectionately referred to as Hamed.

"Until maybe 10 years old, I thought Sheikh Zayed was my uncle," says Rashed Al Fahim. "I used to go in the car with my father and there he was. Everybody knew everybody at that time."

Mr Al Fahim's father was clearly a huge influence on his life, raising his youngest child to take over the family empire one day.

"I was 16 years old in an official capacity as a board member," says Mr Al Fahim. "But it's not about age. It's about my father, how he groomed me and brought me up to like my business, the passion of it."

From an early age, Mr Al Fahim was tinkering with cars, pestering the mechanics on the shop floor and absorbing everything he could. Specifications for cars used to be listed in three-digit numbers and Mr Al Fahim learned all the codes in a bid to impress his father.

"Each number reflected an option, like a sun roof," he says. "Instead of me going to a salesman, I started to know all of them. I used to then order the cars for the house. My father's car, my mother's car. It was all a passion for me. I used to go to the workshop just to understand how a gearbox works."

Mr Al Fahim's father took him into the different office divisions during the school summer holidays to learn the business and gain an understanding of the social life of Abu Dhabi and the development of business relationships.

"At 9 years old I remember the first time I went to the Michelin tyre division and Hamed was making fun of me by sending me there," recalls a smiling Mr Al Fahim. "That time Hamed was the managing director, and he was making fun, calling me the chubby guy and said I looked like the Michelin Man. He said I was our new mascot."

For many another youngster, to be teased by an older brother would prompt tears. But not Mr Al Fahim.

"I didn't mind, I accept challenges and criticism," he says, laughing. "I didn't look at it negatively because I said 'this is our brand and he is the Michelin guy. Who does not know the Michelin guy?' I was not actually embarrassed. I was proud, although Hamed was doing it as a joke."

Mr Al Fahim's early years were not all dominated by work or teasing by his older siblings. As the youngest boy in a very wealthy family, he was not short of toys.

In 1985, he accompanied his father on a business trip to London where they wandered around a showroom that sold "exotic" cars. There were miniature, two-seat Ferraris and Lamborghinis.

"I cried so much in front of my father, saying 'please buy me this car, buy me this car'," says Mr Al Fahim.

So his father spent Dh50,000 (US$13,612) on one of the replicas, and at the same time snapped up the agency licence to sell the miniature cars in Abu Dhabi. Not long after, the first of the cars were delivered to capital.

"We brought the first five cars and because I was a kid I didn't want to sell them. I was living in heaven at that time," says Mr Al Fahim.

But soon after he had parked the five Lamborghinis and Ferraris in a semi-circle in his majlis, the little replicas began to disappear.

"Every day a car was disappearing as they were sold. Eventually I had one remaining," Mr Al Fahim says. "And I still miss that yellow Ferrari."