Interview with Mutassem Daaboul, CEO, SAMA

In September 2005 Mutassem Daaboul joined his father’s business, the Syrian Daaboul Industrial Group, and was soon thrown into the deep end. By April 2006, Daaboul was appointed the General Manager of General Aluminium, one of the holding’s businesses in Syria and Qatar. In 2007, the company was rebranded as SAMA, and in 2011 Daaboul was appointed its CEO.

Today he continues apace as an integral part of the family business’ board alongside his brothers and father. In a company where entrepreneurial thinking is a familial tradition, SAMA’s CEO has grown heavily invested in trying to restructure the family’s business governance model which aims to implement a culture which anticipates what lies ahead for the business. Tharawat magazine speaks to Mutassem Daaboul about the inner workings of a highly entrepreneurial family business.

How important a role does entrepreneurship play within a family business?

It depends on the family and its culture. In our family, we have been raised in a way that made competitiveness our second nature. Each one of us knew that we were competing with each other for success and distinction not only within the family, but also with the rest of the world. Striving for recognition resulted in a very strong entrepreneurial spirit in our family business. In retrospect, I understand that my father designed the business in a way, which would not involve us in its core activities. He wanted us to begin something in our own right; he handed over a business unit to each of us.

He believed in my brothers and me and wanted us to have the opportunity to experiment. I was lucky because he gave me a small operation with a presence in another country. In hindsight, I know I was naïve to accept his offer! I joined on the emotional premise that I did not want to let my father down. In the meantime, there have been a lot of obstacles and a lot of accomplishments: I took over in 2006 when the turnover of the company was a mere $600,000. In 2010, I closed at around $8 million. Had it not been for the situation in Syria we would have expected this growth to go on over the coming years, since we have continued to grow in Qatar, Lebanon, and Algeria. This year we expect to close at a new record of sales.

Should young family business members be confronted with entrepreneurial opportunities?

I think it’s good for the young generation to confront it, but it should be in a planned way. If families want their next generation to be entrepreneurial then the setting should be clear-cut: Define capital and investment upfront, state objectives with a clear vision of the business. In my case it wasn’t planned at all. It was completely spontaneous. It was a very difficult experience and has, therefore, not been as positive as it could have been. I do realise how much I have learned, but I would not recommend this exact same strategy for the third generation.