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Mishal Kanoo: Richer than his riches

When people of most social disciplines and political faiths seek the comfortable and the accepted, a man of controversy is looked upon as a disturbing influence and originality is taken as a mark of rebellion. Just as no snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible for the havoc it wroughts, most men live on and lend to the momentum of waste. At times, one can say (with a minor modification of the scriptural parable) that the “bland leads the bland.” Fortunately there are exceptions!

It would be appropriate to call Mr. Mishal Hamed Kanoo an exception, rather than type cast him as a controversy, a radical, a philosophical thinker or a path breaker. What he feels and thinks is sheer logic - the only difference is that he genuinely tries to make a difference by igniting the crux of all action - "the thought".

Mr. Mishal Hamed Kanoo as Deputy Chairman UAE and Oman of the Kanoo Group Of Companies (one of the largest independent family - owned group of companies in the Gulf) is perhaps intellectually richer than his material wealth. Tough job, considering that he is just 32, his position and his inheritance. He has drafted his own personal philosophy. He uses his belief in religion to better himself. He would never like to be in a situation where he has to play God.

He believes that fate is a band and not a line, that you have the flexibility within that band to shape your lives. Yet he feels that if you are destined for something, it will come to you - that opportunity certainly knocks more than once. His collection of exclusive pens and paintings are worth a fortune, but he feels that you are what you do and not what you own.

He candidly admits that though on the outside it would seem that he is lucky to have so much, he feels a great pressure when taking decisions that affect his organisation. He feels responsible for the lives of all his employees and their families. He is a blend of cultures - of the east and west, liberated yet conservative with firm roots. No wonder he is labelled as controversial, it's the safest thing to do and easier than agreeing or disagreeing.

Listening to him speak on a range of topics, it was obvious that his thoughts raced faster than his speech. One gets the distinct feeling that here was a man who was “Aware”. Something that slips by many for an entire lifetime.

Glimpses of his thoughts
His memories of childhood
“I had a sheltered childhood. When I was about 8 years old, I used to be fascinated with watching the news. Perhaps it was my way of rebelling against the bedtime dictated for me. I did not understand much then, but it made me realise that there's a whole world out there that I did not know about. It gave me ideas and led to the expansion of my mind.”

Lessons from his parents that shaped his thinking
“I started taking an interest in the family business when I was around 17. It is an age when you are young and stupid, I was no exception. I felt I could just step into the business. I remember my father telling me that I was no different than anybody else. I had to prove myself or be in the sidelines. It made me sit up and realise that what differentiates people is the way they think and the ability to think and do rather than just do.

“At around the same time, my mother taught me something that I will never forget. I'd lost my temper at a houseboy who'd done something wrong. She'd then said, “If he had the education, do you think he would be here doing what he is doing. Do you think he likes it?' It made me consider that your position in life is no different from that of any other person, other than the fact that YOU ARE because of what you do and what you can do and that I should never judge. I realised that I was privileged to have an education and opportunity, which a lot of people don't.

On his higher education and what he learnt apart from books
“I wanted to be an architect, but felt I did not have the talent. The next choice was computer science. But I fell out with the dean of the college. I was in my friend's room once when my eyes fell on a line in his book. It said, “No two economists can agree on one thing.' I felt it suited me fine and pursued it for my graduation.

“From a Bachelors in Arts and Economics at the University of St. Thomas, Houston, Texas, I went on to doing my MBA in Finance at the same university.

“Being in the West taught me reliance on myself. From being absolutely pampered here, I found myself doing things I had never done before.”

His preferred style of working
“I believe that successful companies have benevolent dictators as leaders. I feel the blend of style of the East and the West is ideal. You have to get your colleagues to buy into an idea, but at one point of time, you need to tell them to get on with it.

“I leave marketing decision to the departments that handle it. Yes, I do give ideas, but depend on them to study feasibility. I allow them to come up to me and tell me if I am wrong.”

On WTO and the global issues
“The businesses in our region have been protected for too long. Our laws are directed to the benefit of personalities and not the economy. Our mind set is narrow. Yes, an Industry can be protected, but not the individual company. We must allow Multinationals to come in and in the process learn ourselves how to get the job done. On the other hand Multinationals should compete on fair grounds. They should come in not as a tax write off, but run the company as a local one after the initial period.

“I feel we are not prepared as of now to open up the market fully. It should be done gently and gradually. We need to have world-class competition.”

On nationalisation
“I feel that the worst thing would be to make it a law. Instead of forcing nationals to think, it would give them the feeling of being protected. It will not provoke any creativity. Only competition will make us pull up our socks.”

On the lack of Think-Tanks in the region
“What is missing in this region is Think-Tanks in the field of research, marketing, politics, economics - anything. It's almost like we do not want to have them. It's a sort of taboo. Perhaps the need was never felt. But we need them if we are to progress.”

What agitates him
“I abhor injustice. It rubs me the wrong way. It drives me crazy. If I can do something to help set it right, I will go out of my way to do it. If I cannot do it, it bothers me. From seeing a lady carrying a child in the arms and being seated in the front seat using the child literally as an airbag in case of an accident to the larger issues in Palestine, Kashmir, Afghanistan, it all bothers me.”

What saddens him
“Watching the less unfortunate hurts me. Every single day, I wish I could do some-thing. My religion reminds me that charity begins at home, so I do things to enlighten the lives around me. And then in my own way, with the power of speech and pen, I circulate thoughts. They may be a small ripple no doubt, but it will definitely be felt.”

His beliefs on Philanthrophy
“I believe in philanthropy but not in throwing it away to the wrong cause. I feel that giving a person a job will give him and his family a sense of pride. According to me, Greed is the best form of charity. If I am greedy enough to create business, I create employment to my primary employees and the circle goes on. This is a form of charity. Loans beyond what one can payoff is a form of slavery. I feel that as per our religion, if one has to make amends for a loan unpaid we are asked to free a slave, feed ten people or fast three days. We usually do the third, why do we not consider freeing one of these kinds of indebted slaves instead?”

On Marriage and Love
“Marriage stabilises men. I got married when I was 27. It was a love marriage that ended in a divorce. We drifted apart. Sometimes in a marriage you do everything right but it all goes wrong. I feel what is most important in a marriage, more than physical attraction is mental stimulation. What do I look for in my wife? Beauty and money may fade, love may come and go. I am looking for a friend who I can joke and laugh with, someone who is of course visually exciting and most important, someone who is mentally stimulating enough to make me want to live the rest of my life with her.”

On money and his love of finance
“Anyone who sees me on the outside would say that I am infatuated with money. I make an issue out of it because I like to play on humour and satire. But in reality, money for me is only a vehicle to better people's lives. If not, you are an absolute waste of space. I love finance as it is unlike any other science. Money knows no philosophy or political directions. It is a pure vehicle; it does not care who you are.”

The best Investment
"Oneself. To invest in time and continue to learn whatever your age may be.”

His activities outside of work
“I used to be a columnist with the corporate finance magazine, Moneyworks. I also contribute articles to I read a lot.

His Haven- “My home, it is special to me.”

Lighter Moments - on India
“I have visited India; It's a great country except for its beauraucracy and its lack of infrastructure.”

Indian Food?
“My favourite - the Dosa”

Indian Movies?
“The last I saw and remember is Fiza and Zubeida, The songs of 1942 A Love Story and Zubeida are soul stirring. I don't understand Hindi, but thanks to the Subtitles and the exceptional acting, I understand the story.”

Indian Music?
“I hate Bhangra, I Love Ghazals and Nussrat Fateh Ali is my favourite.”

Favourite Indian Actress?
“You really want to know? Sushmita Sen and Pooja Bhatt. I think Karisma Kapoor is also a very sensitive actress.”

Manjula Menon Shelke


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