Interview with Amer Khansaheb of Khansaheb Investments
To watch a business evolve over the years can be a most exciting experience. To watch a business evolve over generations is nothing short of inspirational. A wonderful source of such inspiration is the Khansaheb family business of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, a company that has built its legacy over four generations.
Founded in 1935, Khansaheb currently stands as the longest serving contractor in the UAE. As such, Khansaheb has had a significant role in growing the country’s world-renowned infrastructure throughout the years. It built the first causeway that connected Abu Dhabi to the mainland, prior to which the island could only be accessed at low tide. Take a look around modern-day Dubai and there is an excellent chance that one will spot an airport, roadway, or building that was constructed by the Khansaheb family.
Today, with the additional leadership of fourth generation family member Amer Khansaheb, Managing Director at Khansaheb Investments, the company has come a long way from its origins as strictly a construction company. The company now has several divisions including, investments, property management, and even a lifestyle division. This growth process was not sudden or easy but it has positioned Khansaheb as one of the strongest multi-generational family businesses in the region.
Tharawat Magazine recently sat down with Amer Khansaheb to discuss this journey and what the future has in store.
The Khansaheb family business is now in its fourth generation of leadership and covers many different sectors. I’m guessing this is markedly different from how the company started out. Can you tell us a little about its origin story?
We’ve been here for a very long time. The business started in 1935 as my grandfather’s uncle began a trading company, transporting food, garments and other goods between India and the UAE. We also provided food support and maintenance to oil companies working in the desert. And then maintenance turned into basic construction and that turned into a big contracting operation. It was my grandfather, Hussain Abdulrahman Khansaheb in the 1950s who grew the company under more of a specialisation in construction.
And then it was passed on to your father. What was the most important legacy from his generation of leadership?
When my father came in he focused mostly on diversifying and that’s when we started to bring in different divisions. I’d say the legacy he left is taking the construction business to where it is today with its reputation of a world-class business. If you look at the top construction businesses in the UAE, they are mostly foreign and Khansaheb stands out amongst them as a local company, which I think is significant. It means something to have a local company standing up there with those international businesses.
What were some of the more significant projects Khansaheb had a hand in during those years?
We built the first road from Sharjah to Ras Al Khaima, Creek Road, Sharjah airport, and we built the first road from Dubai to Al Khawaneej so there were a lot of infrastructure projects we were involved in that were critical to the UAE. We built a lot of landmarks in Dubai – we built the Mall of the Emirates, the Wafi Mall, the Bab El Shams Hotel, and we built the City Tower on Sheikh Zayed Road, which at the time was one of the tallest buildings.
When you were growing up, was it a foregone conclusion that you would eventually get involved with the family business?
When I was studying engineering at University I knew that I was going to work for the company, I’ve just always known it. So when I graduated university as a civil engineer in 2005, I worked at for Khansaheb Engineering as a site engineer for a year and three months.
What was it like working at a company in which you are a member of the family that owns it?
For me, it was a long wait before it started getting rewarding. I started in 2005 and I liked my work when I was a site engineer but working for the family business was a not easy at first. You’re starting a new career out of university and you’re expecting coaching, feedback, maybe even a performance appraisal but it’s difficult to get that when your father is the boss. There needs to be a management structure in place, there needs to be a direct manager involved, there needs to be division managers involved but all of this involvement was not there. That was not an ideal situation for me and that’s why I left. When I came back it, I had more experience and I came back a step up. I was at mid-level where I had initiatives I could implement myself, very limited at first, but it was something. It only really became rewarding in 2014 when I received the authority to start new projects and new initiatives. So it was a long wait from 2005 to 2014 but this is just a fact in a family business – you have to wait, be persistent, demand what you want and, at some point, hopefully you’ll get it.