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Business Entrepreneur

Make it New!

By Paul Balles



“Success is a journey, not a destination.”
— Ben Sweetland

What do a curry restaurant, a car rental agency, a gourmet delivery service, a heavy equipment supplier, a mall and hotel development, and a vision for an investment bank have in common?

Apart from the fact that all but the last are functioning businesses, they have a common denominator in the creative entrepreneur dedicated to making his businesses new. Faisal Kanoo believes firmly in the importance of innovation.

What has he done that’s so different and creative?

The Gourmet Taxi Service was something that had never been tried before in Bahrain. Faisal and his partners decided that there was a need for a special service that would deliver meals from restaurants to homes, making it possible for customers to phone and order their lunches or dinners delivered at a certain time.

The novel concept worked so well in Bahrain that a branch has been opened in the UAE and, after a year of operations there, is thriving as well.

Continental Auto Rental evolved out of Faisal’s dissatisfaction with local rental car agencies. After opening in November 2004, this business also expanded with a branch in the UAE.

According to Faisal, Continental Auto does things that other agencies don’t offer: “We charge less and offer unmatchable services: deliver the car, replace it immediately if it breaks down and treat our customers well.

What motivated Faisal to get into the car rental business? “I found other rental agencies rude. A light bulb went off; I realized a car rental company with a heart was needed.”

Faisal thought of Curry Country in London in June 2003. “My favourite cuisine is curry,” he says. “Curry Country involved a unique idea for featuring curries from around the world. India, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Burma, Iran, Cambodia and Sri Lanka all have different curries; and Curry Country has them all. We’ve been open for a year every day from 12 noon - 4pm and 7pm - 11pm.”

Since he reads a lot about entrepreneurs, Faisal put together a business plan and came back to Bahrain, after having just read a book about Howard Schultz who started Starbucks. “I thought what he did to coffee, I’d like to do with curry. He had to educate people. I don’t,” he says.

“There’s no competition,” says Faisal, “because we’re a niche restaurant. The restaurant industry in Bahrain is very competitive and lots of fun. I thrive on finding myself a niche and working it. I love greeting people, interacting with them, seeing the expressions on their faces when they appreciate something I’ve created; and love creating something different. I would like to see more unique, clever concepts in the restaurant business.”

Faisal says they’re opening another branch in Juffair with future franchise plans on the cards. “I want to franchise, so we’re opening the second Curry Country in Juffair in August. We’ve been approached for the franchise. We kept the same design and it will be with 12 other food outlets.”

The idea of creating a food and beverage concept in Bahrain and exporting it is novel according to Faisal. “I’m bringing a franchise director who’s qualified and can put something together. We’ve already been approached by a British and a Dutch company, so we know there’s a market.”

As an innovator, Faisal has to think about the restaurant’s menu architecture, the design and all of the details of the operation — all headaches. The franchisee has these things done for him, which makes franchising attractive to both the originator and the franchisee.

Faisal finds entrepreneurship invigorating. “The odds are against you from the minute you have a thought. The market is very competitive in a global environment where you have to use strategy. Even then you can have the best idea and best location and still fail. Luckily, we haven’t yet had any failures.

“We have other projects in the pipeline,” says Faisal. “We’re starting a property development company for a shopping mall and hotel in Amwaj. We have exciting plans for the shopping mall to be opened in two years time, with a new theme that I can’t reveal yet.”

Starting out
What led Faisal into all of these creative business ventures? Thinking of joining Bahrain’s foreign service, he studied that at Georgetown University in Washington D.C; but when he finished, he decided to opt for a business career instead. Is he sorry that he didn’t major in business? Not at all. Apart from anything else, he learned about politics and diplomacy at Georgetown.

Traditional business training often stifles innovation and creativity according to Faisal, who says, “Business graduates often spend a great deal of time analysing everything and never get around to taking the leap into developing new ideas.”

After finishing his degree in 1995, Faisal went to work for Arthur Andersen as an auditor. That was before the recent problems that the company had with Enron. While there, Faisal got to examine many businesses and learned about their operations and approaches.

His year with Arthur Anderson was also a traditional Kanoo family disciplinary exercise for Faisal before joining the Yusuf bin Ahmed Kanoo Company as a member of the family. “It’s Kanoo policy to have family members work outside of the company for a year before joining the family business,” says Faisal. “That’s needed to get discipline and to avoid having non-family members treat you with kid gloves.”

When he finished that year, Faisal joined Kanoo Shipping in Saudi Arabia and worked there for two years. He was then promoted to commercial group manager in Bahrain, a position that he still holds and which involves him in a regular daily work routine from 8am to 3pm.

Someone once said “a successful man continues to look for work after he has found a job.” That certainly fits Faisal. “I was happy working with the family company,” he says, “but there was more that I wanted to do. With two others, we started Gourmet Taxi. After we got that up and running, we started the car rental company. Both are running well.”

How does he manage all of this heavy workload of a regular management job in his family’s company as well as all of the innovative business developments he’s been involved in? “I need more than a 9 to 5 job,” explains Faisal. “Entrepreneurship makes it possible to feel the adrenaline rush of creating something.”

Several notable business successes have stimulated Faisal’s drive to be a successful entrepreneur, including Donald Trump, Richard Branson and perhaps most of all Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Alsaud, the self-made Saudi Arabian businessman who Forbes magazine tagged as the world’s fifth richest person.

Looking forward
What’s on the cards for the future? “My next project: doing things on a grander scale--an investment bank,” says Faisal enthusiastically. “There’s too much emphasis on real estate — we have enough grandiose real estate schemes and development. There are a number of beautiful companies that should be developed”—and thus the importance of a new investment bank.

Faisal is convinced that companies which are under-funded or run badly need an organization like Investcorp to turn them around and to develop entrepreneurship on a grander scale. “There are no regional banks focused on regional investment. There’s also a need for an investment bank with acquisitions, venture capital, a bank involved in creating and growing regional powerhouses.”

How does Faisal manage to keep adding more new business ventures? “I’m proactive rather than reactive. I don’t have enough hours in a day, though I have competent management in the various businesses. I’m involved in everything I do. I don’t micro manage. I get people who are experts and let them go and do their jobs.”

His obsession with new ventures, which he considers a personal weakness, takes over when he has a creative idea and feels that he has to keep after it until in comes to fruition. At those times, he gives up his exercising, which he admits is not good for his physical health; and he foregoes relaxing with films or books, taxing his emotional health.

Faisal and his wife, Sahar Juma, have three boys: Saif, who’s six, Hamad four-and-a-half and their youngest, Khalid who’s two. His greatest lesson in life: “a loss in the family taught me to appreciate one’s family.” He says it’s a Herculean task balancing between businesses and family. He also finds it difficult to find time to relax, but he does it by weight lifting.

As a founding member of Bahrain Young Entrepreneurs last year, he wanted entrepreneurs with the same mindsets to get together to exchange information. He also belongs to the Young President’s Association, which helps with business issues that are different from those employers in large organizations face.

Giving advice about creativity, leading modern poet Ezra Pound wrote, “Make It New.” Faisal Kanoo certainly follows the poet’s prescription for creativity.

Other feature articles:

Diplomatic Talk - Rekindling Fond Memories
Discover Bahrain - Manama Souq
Personality Profile - Media Man
Destination - Kansai Kaleidoscope
Cover Story- New Season, New Hope 

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