The Chairman of MJ Building Materials Trading, Modar Al Mekdad speaks exclusively to Asian Lite about his professional journey and provides wise counsel to the aspiring young entrepreneurs in the region … reports Asian Lite News

Tell us about your journey as the Chairman of MJ Building Materials.

I started my career in the early 90s in the aluminium Industry. I worked as a maintenance and production engineer in an extrusion company in Syria for four years before moving to Saudi Arabia, where I joined Talco Extrusion. Then in 1998 I moved to Dubai to work for Gulf Extrusions Company LLC as an Engineering Manager for six years, then General Manager for four years, then CEO for eight years until June 2016.

It was around this period when I decided to start my own business; hence, MJ Building Materials was born. It was a challenging journey for me and my team. Our focus was to build a ‘green’ business, leveraging on the industry skills and knowledge I have gained throughout the last three decades of providing special solutions for buildings similar to what we provided for Bulgari Hotel and Mashreq Bank Tower.

What were the main challenges that you have faced and how were you able to overcome it?

Just like any other businesses at the beginning of their operations, we encountered several fundamental challenges. First was how to establish our presence in a highly competitive business environment in Dubai, where several international brands have been operating for many years. We had to offer something special to the market to differentiate ourselves from others. As well as operational and market challenges such as demand/supply volatility. Since we were targeting niche projects and niche customers, we were well-positioned to overcome those challenges.

Tell us more about the awards and accolades that you have received so far.

Over the last three decades, I have received several awards by Gulf Aluminium Council and the US-based Aluminium Extruders Council even when I was still working with my previous employers. Mostly, they were awards recognizing our sustainability efforts. Particularly, my colleagues and I in my former company were recognized for developing green aluminium, a process that allowed us to reduce the carbon footprint by more than 50 per cent by recycling the post-consumer recycled aluminium . Also, using environment-friendly processes, we recycled all liquid, solid, and gaseous wastes. So, we built zero-waste recycling units for all our liquid and solid wastes. For gaseous waste, we built scrapers where we filtered and cleaned the air before it was emitted.

What is your greatest achievement in life?

On a personal level, my greatest achievements in life are my two wonderful children. A boy and a girl. They are now working with me in our family business.

On the professional front, I am proud to say that I have established a good reputation in the market as an aluminium expert. I would love to transfer and share my knowledge with the new generation so that they can continue our legacy and help bring the industry to the next level.

Are you inspired by anyone in particular?

I consider my later mother as my inspiration and a role model. She inspired and motivated me to grow and reach for my dreams. She died last year but she would always live in my heart.

What is your view on the business atmosphere in the UAE?

I have been living in this wonderful country for almost 22 years now. I believe this is the best country in the region to build your business thanks to its business-friendly environment and strong government support. The UAE is well-positioned to establish itself as a business hub for the entire Middle East region. It has a vibrant economy and strong services sector, with robust efforts to diversify its economy to reduce its dependence on oil. The establishment of free zones has been an important feature of this diversification policy.

Tell us your views on India-UAE relationship.

The vibrant relationship between Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and H.H. Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and the entire UAE government is a reflection of a solid, long-term relationship between the two countries. Currently, the UAE hosts 40 percent of Indian expatriates, who continue to contribute to the UAE’s development.

The UAE considers India as an important partner. The recent visit of H.H. Sheik Mohammed to India and Prime Minister Modi to the UAE demonstrates the strong relationships between the two nations. Their ties are now moving to the higher level. This is good news for their respective economies and citizens.

I am confident that the mutually beneficial India-UAE relations will continue to grow stronger. Sincere friendship and active cooperation between two nations can lead to long-lasting peace, progress, and prosperity, and the UAE-India ties offer an exemplary example.

Where do you see the UAE by 2025?

It is very clear that the UAE is heading towards excellence and being number one in everything. Also, recently we saw the first UAE astronaut flying to space, a vision and dream of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. This dream has turned into a reality. With confidence, a clear vision, and strong government support, the country is continuously and steadily moving towards great progress and prosperity.

Are there any plans for Expo 2020?

The UAE’s aluminium industry is growing and it is expected to accelerate alongside increased construction activities ahead of Expo 2020 Dubai. We are already working on some infrastructure projects related to the Expo. We are confident that the entire industrial community will benefit from the upcoming international event. The Dubai Government has introduced new initiatives to support companies, ensure business continuity, raise competitiveness, and ensure quality and creative services.

Tell us about your family and educational background.

I earned my Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Damascus University. I also have a Master’s degree in Industrial Engineering from Holland and an Executive Master of Business Administration from Hult International Business School.

My wife and I have been married for almost three decades now. I have two kids, Ghiath (29) and Sidra (23). Ghiath obtained his bachelor’s degree in International Business from Richmond University in the UK. He now works at the aluminium extrusion die factory that we own. Sidra, on the other hand, recently graduated from American University of Sharjah, where she studied International Business. She currently works for Hueck Middle east.

What is your advice to the young entrepreneurs in the region?

I have so much confidence in today’s young generation. The young people are smarter, more active, and more productive compared to the previous generation thanks to technological advancements and easy access to information. Yes, we are digitalizing everything, but they should also not forget there are certain soft skills that they have to build. These include communication skills, punctuality, discipline, and commitments. This can only be learned by having hands-on professional experience.
You need the ability to plan ahead. Successful businesses require more than an innovative product; they also require a competent team to manage finances, operations, manufacturing, marketing, and all the other things that go into the production and sale of a product. Take the time to improve your business IQ and look for like-minded individuals who can join your team and make up for your deficiencies. Use your overarching goals to set realistic milestones for the growth and development of your company.

Find a mentor: Mentors have taken this path before and can share their knowledge and experience to help you move forward and make smarter business decisions. Use alumni networks, conferences, and other resources to form these valuable connections.