A collaborative research project between New York University Abu Dhabi and Tharawat Family Business Forum

Interview

Nerves of Steel

As Deputy Chairman of the Automotive & Machinery Trading Center, Ahmed Bazara has a unique perspective on the impact of COVID-19.

Interview with Ahmed Bazara

As Deputy Chairman of the Automotive & Machinery Trading Center, Ahmed Bazara has a unique perspective on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. Informed both by his intimate knowledge of the Yemeni economic landscape as well as the breadth of his company’s international operations, Ahmed Bazara sees how the pandemic is affecting regional family businesses across the GCC, Middle East and Asia in very different ways. Although these challenges may vary significantly in severity from region to region, Bazara believes there is a consistent approach that business leaders can take to cushion the blow. He also believes that family business leaders themselves play a key role in securing the path to recovery.

We spoke with Ahmed Bazara about the complex challenges Yemeni family businesses face, and how these challenges can be transformed into opportunities there, across the Middle East and around the globe.

Q: How have family businesses in your region been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

The effects differ for each country and each company greatly. Our operations span several countries in the region and beyond, from the UAE to the Far East, but what we’re seeing in Yemen is a little bit different from what’s taking place elsewhere. Our operations in the UAE and the Far East are facing similar challenges, but Yemen’s ability to navigate the crisis is being exacerbated by its war. The circumstances in Yemen were already poor even before the war. The Yemeni economy has shrunk to unprecedented levels. There has been an almost total collapse of government services and security mechanisms. The various regions of the country have also been impacted differently. COVID-19 has made the situation worse for everyone, but the southern parts of the country have been hit particularly hard.

Yemeni livelihoods and society have been seriously affected, which is reflected in both the economic performance of the region and the wellbeing of the people.

Despite the dire seriousness of the situation, we are still managing. We have had to revise our plans and adjust our sales forecasts for our teams, but we are surviving, and perhaps even better compared to many others. I believe that even now, as demanding as these circumstances may be, there are new ideas and new opportunities to explore. We are trying to exploit this potential as much as possible while remaining true to our corporate strategy, values, conduct and vision.

Q: During a crisis, how do you organise the management of day-to-day operations while still ensuring adherence to a long-term plan?

That our operations always have in place short and medium-term plans is a priority. Then, it becomes a matter of making adjustments based on micro and macroenvironmental factors. Feedback from our partners – people with a truly global perspective of how markets and other mechanisms are reacting – is a key resource that informs our decisions.

We make these decisions continuously, adjusting as the situation dictates.

We also believe in our market with its internal drivers that keep the economy moving. It’s for that reason that we’re making investments and expanding in Yemen, even during this uncertain period, as part of a strategy for the future. As for operations that have been brought to a standstill by COVID-19, we are committed to restarting them, and continuously reviewing plans so that we can act when the position is favourable. So, to answer your question, it’s a mix of short, medium and long-term planning with room for continuous adjustment.

Q: Do you believe family businesses will have a special role to play in the crisis?

Absolutely – family businesses account for the largest piece of the economy in our region. In Yemen, you can comfortably say 80 to 90 per cent of the companies are family-owned. They will continue to be a leading force – the locomotive that pulls recovery along with their resiliency and long-termism.

They wield considerable economic power and financial heft, and I think they will be the first to initiate the momentum that brings about recovery.

Q: What would you say to other family business leaders around the world who are struggling right now?

The most important thing they can do is take care of themselves, the family business and all the people involved in it. This is also a good opportunity to look back to see what can be improved upon – maybe even implementing the plans that time constraints didn’t permit before this low cycle. At the same time, they should also be looking forward, developing new plans, products, designs and campaigns so they are ready as soon as the situation normalises. This also means securing the necessary resources to launch those initiatives when the time is advantageous.

Despite the immensity of the challenges brought about by COVID-19, the perspective that this crisis has given us is also an opportunity for rethinking processes, both internally and externally. I’m sure that in every industry and every sector, there are important things to be learned.

About our Guest

Ahmed A Bazara

Ahmed A Bazara is the Vice Chairman of Automotive & Machinery Trading Center (Bazara Group of Companies), as well as Chairman of Shamil Bank of Yemen & Bahrain.

Bazara oversees the Group operations & investments from his position as Vice Chairman, in addition to different positions in a number of organisations in which the Group is investing, namely; automobile, banking, insurance, fisheries, manufacturing, education & health. He is also the founder and Chairman of Arab Iron & Steel Corporation (AISCO), the first

steel manufacturing plant in Yemen, located in Aden Free Zone. Ahmed led the team who found Yemeni Businessmen Club and holds a seat in the board of directors of Sana’a Chamber of Commerce for the last 10 years. He is also a founding member and the secretary-general of the National Cancer Control Foundation.

In addition, Mr Bazara is the Chairman and founder of Soul for Development, an NGO mainly concerned with women & children in the field of education, health and social development. In 2013, Ahmed participated in the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) in Yemen representing the private sector and he was chairing the Sustainable Development Working Group. Mr Bazara holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from University of Nebraska Omaha, and a Master of Business Administration from University of Liverpool, UK, and has attended numerous courses in management & business administration.