Abdul Malik Al-Jaber, CEO
Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 07.12.2007:
Every morning Dr. Abdul Malik Al-Jaber wakes up to 60 e-mails, although he never goes to bed without clearing his inbox. Success ignores time difference, so it seems. As the vice-chairman and CEO of the Paltel Group, Al-Jaber has four different companies under his direct responsibility and more than 2,500 employees to care about on a constant basis, in addition to his participation in several regional and international initiatives such as Young Arab Leaders, the World Economic Forum, or the Young Presidents’ Organization. A job like that does not allow much sleep, especially not in Palestine.
Before the hectic daily routine of phone calls, field visits, meetings, and never-ending problems to solve, there is one hour that Al-Jaber reserves to himself and his family. The time for Maya, his youngest daughter, is at 5:30 a.m. At the age of six and a half, she is an early bird, just like her father. Maya usually starts her day by jumping in her parents’ bed and talking to her dad. This is when Al-Jaber knows that they need to wake up Ayah (eldest daughter, age nine) and feed Kimo (the girls’ bird), clean his cage, and play for a few minutes. Then, before his wife Rania gets up, Al-Jaber spends a quiet half hour reading morning newspapers and replying to his e-mails, which perhaps takes a little more time and concentration for him than the average ICT tycoon as he never learnt how to type properly. No matter what the length of the document or letter, he stubbornly types with only one finger. Mornings are also a privileged time for coffee with Rania, which they take turns to prepare, then breakfast; the kids go to school, and family time unfortunately comes to an end for the rest of the day – Al-Jaber has to head to the office.
Al-Jaber’s success story embodies many other tales of a life in between the homeland and exile, a quest for a better life and a brilliant career and concern for building a stronger Palestine. Having spent years in Montreal and Toronto, he returned to Palestine in 1993 with a PhD in aeronautical engineering – which he now admits is completely irrelevant to work in his country – and a Canadian passport in his pocket. He immediately joined the Peace Negotiations as part of the Palestinian Technical Committees headed by the late Faisal Husseini, after which he established the Palestinian Energy Research Center, the first of its kind, with the aim to provide strategic plans for the energy sector in Palestine. In 2000, he moved to the private sector and eventually joined the Paltel Group in 2003, which he not only revolutionized by pioneering the first Corporate Social Responsibility Fund in Palestine and starting private-sector-led development initiatives, but also increased its profits from US$ 15 million in 2003 to US$ 100 million in 2005. Many still wonder how.
His recipe for success? Field visits to companies that fall under his direct responsibility, he says. Al-Jaber admits to very often driving around Ramallah and deciding on the spur of the moment where to make unannounced, unscheduled visits to Paltel Group’s various sales points and technical offices in the country. Driven by an impulse, he hits the road while listening to the Joubran brothers. The element of surprise has proven to be the best way to improve the performance of his employees and, more important, to establish a personal contact with them, for Al-Jaber does not like the idea of barriers. Instead, he prefers face-to-face contact to hear about the company’s problems and issues from all sorts of employees.
Back in Ramallah, he gets in touch with his assistant, on whom he relies almost entirely for keeping his everyday agenda despite having a mobile phone and a BlackBerry. She tells him when and where to go for meetings, as sometimes he is too caught up in solving unpredicted problems that result from Israeli restrictive measures. Employees are being delayed, services are being disrupted, and equipment is often confiscated. Al-Jaber is then forced to use his personal leverage to call relevant officials to fix these issues. Although he has become successful and can be seen today in the presence of the most powerful people not only in Palestine but also in the Middle East, he has always been loyal to his roots and his cultural heritage, for life has not always been that easy.
Before these days of success and leverage, there was a simpler time, which he spent growing up in Ya’bad, a village close to Jenin. Money was not abundant, but education always mattered. Al-Jaber’s mother had to sell her jewellery in order to send her son to university in Canada. Today, he wants to pay back his debt and empower other young Palestinians by giving them the same opportunity that his family once provided to him. When he gathers with his friends and various officials at the end of a busy day in Al-Bardouni Restaurant to smoke shisha and talk about business and politics, he always thinks about creative ways to involve the private sector in education initiatives and support for impoverished students. Knowing from his own experience that there is nothing more enriching in a young person’s life than inspiration and guidance, he promotes projects that aim to create role models within Palestinian society. If asked to give a speech at a regional conference or event, this is always the message that he tries to convey.
When asked about regrets, he answers promptly: not being able to spend more time with his daughters or even help them with their homework. Not that they need it, but it makes him proud when he hears that they talk about their dad to friends at school. He also has another regret, which he reveals after a second of hesitation: not being able to play the oud … So far he has only managed to take one class, certainly not due to a lack of commitment, but rather a chronic lack of time.
Compiled by Magda Mughrabi
This Week in Palestine