Fahim Al Qasimi - Juggling corporate governance with new businesses
Now more than ever, corporate governance and good business practices are very important. We talked to Fahim al Qasimi, a governance advisor empowering boards of directors to set a mandate for their companies and create long term value. He is an advocate for effective governance in startups, corporates and the public sector.
We discussed his various roles and his passion for corporate governance. He is now conducting a study with the Pearl Initiative that seeks to delve into the present outlook of corporate governance implementation in micro, small, and medium-sized businesses across the Gulf Region.
What do you consider one of your key roles in the business/government world?
I am not sure I know what my key “role” in business and government is yet. I am 34 years old and feel like I have a lot to learn. The UAE is a young country, and with that, there are opportunities for young executives in the public and private sector to experiment, push boundaries and learn from these experiences.
My passion is governance, in both the public and private sector. I am fascinated by the interplay of stakeholders and how information sharing, reporting and decision- making is practiced in firms and government alike. If you were to ask me where I focus most of my energy, it is expanding on the 12 years I have worked in that space.
You have a finger in a lot of pies - both at the government level and at a business level, how do you multi-task and manage your various roles?
I get this question a lot. Yes, on the surface it looks like I have a lot going on and juggle a number of companies that I have invested in, founded and advise. My most important role though, is being a good father to my children; so I prioritise being at home in the early evening to spend time with them every day.
Here are three things that help:
1. I work with amazing people. I learn so much from the founders and CEOs of the companies that I work with. They really do the hard work and I am there to support as an advisor, chairman of the board or director.
2. I spend as much time on organisation as I do working. I have six email inboxes and have a specific methodology to manage email, filing, etc, for each company, client or investment.
3. I am not on social media. I do like twitter, but I found that social media was taking time away from responding to email, making phone calls or the most important thing, spending time with my kids.
There are several topics that are dear to your heart, corporate governance is one of them. What advice would you give a startup, an SME or are they both the same
Governance is misunderstood. It’s a word that exudes a sense of grandeur, complexity and something reserved for large multinationals. It is not. Governance is simply the culture and rules around information sharing, decision making and strategic initiatives of a firm. That affects us all and all companies, no matter size or industry, should think proactively about it.
What steps should businesses take to make sure their corporate governance is in line with global practices? And if they were not set before, what steps can they take to put these in place?
Global practices aren't always the right thing to follow. It really depends on a variety of factors on how you should implement good governance. It is important to focus on the goals of good governance: increasing trust, mitigating risk and creating value.
The best way to get there is with the help of a firm like ours, or at least to begin identifying gaps in your organisation by downloading the resources at the Pearl Initiative. We use a framework to help identify these gaps and are conducting the first research project with the Pearl Initiative to assess corporate governance in SMEs across MENA. They can take the survey and contribute to the study.
Much has been discussed about gender equality - why is this important and how would you advice smaller business to tackle this?
Gender equality is a big topic of debate in board rooms today. At AQ&P, we work on this issue with companies, but the tone needs to start from the top. At the board level, we would define this as a strategic mandate of “Diversity and Inclusion”. The board needs to drive a culture of diversity and inclusion (however the shareholders and board interpret it) through the entire organisation.
Raising the issue, quotas and new policies are important, but it is a company’s core values and culture that are at the core of this issue. The quicker a small business appreciates this and defines its values on the issue, the easier it is to address in the long run.
Seafood Souq is one of your more recent projects - what can you tell us about it? You posted about its supply chain - can you elaborate?
Seafood Souq is a digital marketplace for business buyers to procure direct from source Seafood, with 100% traceability in the UAE. As an online, open and transparent marketplace, we are tackling a number of challenges.
Seafood Souq offers, choice, value, transparency, ease of purchase and what I am most excited about, traceability. With a lot of seafood fraud (a lot of fish you eat is not what you think), ‘SFS Trace’ is our stamp of approval for 100% traceability. We want to encourage traceability throughout the entire supply chain and hope that chefs, restaurant owners etc. will make this information available to the end consumer too, so they can make healthy, sustainable choices when ordering Seafood dishes.
I could go on forever about it, so go to seafoodsouq.com to find out more.
There are several events and communications initiatives you are part of as one of the board on THC. Is this to bridge gaps between public & private sectors?
We have such an entrepreneurial environment in the UAE, in both government and the private sector. THC is a company that we founded to bridge the gap between the two. It is a hybrid consultancy that combines communication with public policy/affairs advisory. Many multinationals have worked with us to better understand the region, identify public sector priorities and define how they can engage with the strategic priorities of the country. It is a fascinating space that will only becoming more important as the region grows.