Off hours: How Cravia CEO gets his kicks in Dubai

Walid Hajj, the chief executive of Cravia, would have liked to have been a professional football player in another life. He believes the game’s abilities are similar to those needed for running a business.

Walid Hajj is the CEO of Cravia. Walid and the Cravia team brought The Steak Bar outlet in JBR in Dubai. Ravindranath K / The National
Powered by automated translation

Walid Hajj is the chief executive of Cravia, a food and beverage company he established in 2000. The 46-year-old, from Saudi Arabia with Palestinian origins, moved to Dubai in 2004 after four years spent commuting between his UAE business and his home in Saudu. Mr Hajj started out in the F&B industry at his father’s food import and distribution company. He broadened his marketing skills at Procter & Gamble before establishing Cravia. The brand’s first milestone was acquiring the UAE franchise development rights for Cinnabon & Seattle’s Best Coffee. This was followed by the introduction of Zaatar w Zeit to the UAE in 2005 and launching the company’s first signature brand, The Steak Bar, in 2013. Mr Hajj has two daughters aged 14 and 12 and an eight-year-old son.

What are your favourite things to do on the weekend?

The weekend is a perfect time to unwind and spend quality time with my wife and kids. As the kids get older, I find it even more important to cherish every moment with them. The thought of them going away to college haunts me and I try to take advantage of every minute while they are still around us. A typical weekend usually involves spending the day on the beach (weather permitting). I also make it a point to watch at least one to two football matches on TV every weekend with my children. We are all football fanatics and watching a game of football is a great bonding experience. I also coach my son’s football team and we play every Saturday – a great experience for us.

What do you consider to be your favourite hobby?

Football comes to mind first. I haven’t played a proper game for over 10 years due to knee injuries, but I compensate by watching massive amounts on TV. I also enjoy watching big games live at least once a year. My son and I just came back from watching El Clásico in Barcelona; we were ecstatic watching our team (Barca) win that battle.

What can’t you live without?

I guess I cannot live without technology. I am a tech freak. As much as I make it a point to “disconnect” around the family, technology is at the core of my day – every day. My laptop, my phone, my Cloud, my home automation, FaceTime, etc. All these make my life so much easier and in fact allow me to spend more time with my family and less at the office.

What do you consider the secret to your success?

I am not sure I have reached all my goals yet, but if I reflect back on what got me where I am today, I would say two things were essential: one, taking risks and never fearing failure, even after failure itself; without taking risks you are assured stagnation and going nowhere. Two: having the right people around me professionally (Cravia team and staff) and personally (family, friends, kids). I think these two have been the main pillars to our story so far, in addition to the softer things like making sure my parents are always praying for me.

What advice would you offer others starting out in your business?

I always advise my kids to take chances and believe in themselves. A comfort zone is one’s worst enemy, and this applies not only at work and new businesses but even in everyone’s personal life. You read this in books and quotes, but there is truly nothing more important in life than breaking out of what feels comfortable. It is extremely rewarding at the end too. So, take risks, explore new horizons, think of the upside much more than the downside.

How do you achieve a work-life balance?

It is all about working smart, and not necessarily hard. I established the business so it can serve me and my family, and not the other way around. That always keeps my priorities straight. I do travel a lot and while in Dubai I do not spend too much time in the office, and continue my work at my home office, around my kids and family. I also make sure that three to four times a week the first couple of hours of the day are for me to be in the gym and clear my mind.

How do you relax after the working day?

Being at home and around my wife and kids reminds me that no work stress is significant enough to matter and automatically relaxes me. So I make sure I am always at home after work and before everyone goes to bed.

If you weren’t running your business, what else would you be doing?

I would like to have been a professional football player. Not sure what club, but I love the game and find the spirit of competition, preparation and stamina very similar to starting and running your own business.

Follow The National's Business section on Twitter