It’s in good hands

9 Apr, '06

As part of a regular monthly gathering with business people and entrepreneurs I am involved with, the whole board of the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce & Industry were invited to mingle with us, and more importantly to share with us their plans and outlook in their latest term in office which brought in a number of new faces during the last elections as well as new leadership for that ancient (by Bahraini terms) organisation.

Dr. Essam Fakhro, the chairman of the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce & Industry - 2006To say that I was impressed with Dr. Essam Fakhro, the current chairman of the board would be an under-statement. The gentleman is focused and did not leave any grey areas in describing both the role of the Chamber itself and what he expects from the business community.

For the first time as well he stressed that we, as business people, should not shun politics! This is a major change in stance as traditionally Bahraini business people valued stability and the status-quo more than anything else, and rocking the boat – especially politically – was a big taboo. Dr. Essam stressed that there is no escape from politics, and that everyone should realise that in reality we are all politicians, so we should not be ashamed of stating our intention to support and lobby for those who would fight for our interests in parliament.

He also emphasised that there was no place to mix religion and business even though we, as business people, should recognise that we do not live in a vacuum and that our financial health is intrinsically entwined with the local culture and its idiosyncrasies and a balance must be sought to reach equilibrium.

Sharif Ahmadi, another member of the board explained further that as business people we should choose our “labels” carefully. As the word “liberal” has negative connotations in this community, we should not describe ourselves as such. He suggested that we adopt the terms “businessmen” and “entrepreneurs” which are more acceptable to the public, even though the by definition business people generally are liberal.

I even met with Abdulhakim Al-Shammary who sat next to me but unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to discuss the issue of his stance regarding the Danish boycott with him at the time (due to the various speeches, and dinner afterwards.) I did intercept him in-between and introduced myself to him formally and told him that we needed to talk. Another time perhaps.

Speaking to a friend and a current member of the board during dinner, Dr. Essam apparently stressed to the board that board-members should not speak in the board’s name without approval and should consider the positions they adopt very wisely as they do not only represent themselves but the whole business community in the country as well.

There are quite a number of things the Chamber is considering and will start implementing shortly for the benefit of the business community in general; I’m not sure if I am at liberty to detail what was said specifically, but generally a holding company whose founding shareholders will be Bahraini businessmen, the purpose of which is to incubate and promote projects which can compete effectively with internationals. Other projects are also in the pipeline and he encouraged everyone to use the resources of the Chamber, from utilising their research facilities and as importantly use the shared wealth of experience the members of the board in ascertaining feasibility of projects and help in establishing entrepreneurial enterprises.

To my ears, and those who were present at the meeting, this was pure music! It is high time that we have a Chamber who is focused, realistic and not afraid to pull its members’ weight in getting the political machine to at least recognise its presence, because without these important factors in place the business community will continue to flounder wasting opportunities and eventually go extinct in the face of continuing international competition.

My faith in the Chamber has been re-established not only because of last night’s speeches and discussions, but also from my following of their activities since the new board was inaugurated.

It is plainly clear that the new board, very ably led by Dr. Essam Fakhro, is much more dynamic and in-tune with the business community than it ever has been before, if only for its recognition that this is a new era that requires much more entrepreneurial skills, dynamism and tenacity to get things done, and much more importantly – as was stressed several times by Dr. Essam – without fear of competition regardless of where it comes from.

All this leads me to believe that the Chamber is actually in good hands, and that my trepidations have largely disappeared.

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Comments (12)

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  1. Khalid says:

    This sounds promising. I agree with you Mahmood, there seems to be shift of focus towards what’s actually important and beneficial for the survival of the business community. It is imperative that in the next round of elections that dynamic businessmen win seats and that those retards we have in parliament leave. This will be the real turning point to put Bahrain on the right track.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Dr. Fakhro’s leadership brings a breath of fresh air to the BCCI. With a solid understanding of businesses, an experience running them and a true concern for the local business community, I could not think of anyone more suitable for the job. I do hope that businessmen, following Dr. Fakhro’s advice, get more involved in politics. Especially with our so-called “parliament” holding extraordinary sessions to determine whether to ban Danish products and demand government apologies for actions which they have no control over. This parliament is dominated by religious fanatics who make every effort to force Bahrain to take two steps backwards for every step foward. It is both saddening and pathetic to see this once accepting country be controlled by those trying to impose their religion and ideologies upon others.

    I am a practicing Muslim. Yet, it disgusts me to see any nation held hostage by religious extremists. People should be free to voice their opinions, have and practice their own beliefs.

    That said, I believe Dr. Fakhro has the vision and experience necessary to bring change to the BCCI. Biltawfeeg inshalla.

  3. Johnster says:

    Probably one of the most encouraging posts I have ever read on your site Mahmood!

  4. mahmood says:

    Someone called to voice his objections to at least one point to Dr. Fakhro’s speech and that is the creation of a holding company, stating that the main concern for the BCCI is NOT to compete with local businessmen by creating such holding companies, but rather to ensure that there is a level playing field for the Bahraini businessman, or at least provide him or her with a lever to enable him to effectively compete.

    He stressed the fact that we – as Bahraini businessmen – still are at a huge disadvantage when doing business with our neighbours, however it is extremely easy for them to come here and compete with us directly. That is a fair comment; it is almost virtually impossible to establish a Bahraini company or establishment in Saudi, let alone actually do business there, while a Saudi could easily go to the Investors’ Centre and establish a business and start trading in Bahrain within a day or two of applying.

    I agree that the chamber must work toward levelling the playing field, yet I cannot make up my mind as to the holding company issues because it could be that such a company would be used to pursue a policy of divestiture: for instance in privatisation of government assets and services like power stations, desalinisation plants, petrol stations and the like which require large capital and this holding company might be used to establish such an entity using money from the founding shareholders, then float that section of the company in an IPO where others can benefit from; this would have provided a good and sustainable buffer for these kind of projects in the economy.

    If on the other hand that holding company just trades and continues to trade without the chance to the Bahraini businessman to have shares in it eventually, then that’s a bad thing.

    It was good that others were at the gathering as well who could lend the Bahraini businessmen the required support: Shaikh Mohammed bin Essa Al-Khalifa, the CEO of the Economic Development Board was there and he spoke briefly and expressed his support for us, the businessmen and the Chamber; Othman Sharif, the MP who has been fighting for the businessmen’s interests in parliament, along with just a handful of other parliamentarians was there as was Tariq Al-Zain, the chairman of the Bahrain International Circuit, both of whom unfortunately didn’t speak due to time pressures, but we hope that they will be given the chance the next time we meet.

    So yes, Johnster, this is rather encouraging and I hope that I will be able to discuss more of these things on the site, rather than concentrate on the useless dark political issues which frankly I am fed up with.

  5. saudi Eve says:

    “He also emphasised that there was no place to mix religion and business” Boy don’t we need this kind of talk here in Saudi!

  6. mahmood says:

    Ah, that would be slightly difficult…

  7. jasra jedi says:

    mahmood.. the issues of ‘barriers to entry’ is a serious one … am not sure that barring foriegners from doing business in bahrain is legal under either FTA or WTO regulations .. the fact that the saudis and kuwaitis are doing it to us doesnt mean it is sustainable in the long term ..

    i really beleive in open borders. at the end, the consumer is almost always better off. look at how dubai cultivated such significant gcc investment …

  8. bahraini4eva says:

    I was always optimistic that the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry would move forward and establish itself as a capable organization that represents the Bahraini business community! Under this new leadership, I definitely believe that the BCCI will effectively represent all of the Bahraini businessmen by holding such relevant meetings and asking for as much feedback as it can get.
    Dr.Esam Fakhro is one of the most influential and esteemed businessmen on the island, and there is no doubt in my mind that he will work continuously to support and enhance the Bahraini business community’s status both within the Gulf reigion and throughout the world. Inshallah, as time goes by, we will only hear more of such great news from the BCCI!

  9. mahmood says:

    JJ I understand, protectionism might work in the short term but will be an utter failure in the long term. If Bahraini businesses and businessmen do not adapt to this changing environment, they will simply perish and be replaced with those who could.

    Having said and accepted that, it is incumbent on the government and the BCCI to ensure that we get the same treatment in countries that enjoy bilateral agreements with us as their citizens do in Bahrain.

  10. Not to generalize, but somehow this branch of Fakhro family is quite exceptional mashalla. It runs in the genes I guess. el males wel females 3ala 7adn sawaa2 have managed to stand out in different disciplines.

    If only I could learn the formula of raising great, promising characters so I can apply it on my kids and bring notable beings into this country!

  11. jasra jedi says:

    the thing to question is the following: how much money flows in from saudi arabia or the uae or kuwait into bahrain? who pays for our schools, our housing communities, bu sa’fah? i bet, if we did the numbers, we would find that the flow of gcc money into bahrain’s public sector far outweighs the costs of protectionism…

    having said that, the private sector in bahrain does need to get involved and quickly. i beleive that only in their hands can bahrain have a chance of flourishing and competing regionally. and the biggest asset they have is our labor market, which is infinitely more educated than any of our neighbours.

    we just need the right and appropriate social conditioning and the realization that we aren’t living in the 70’s any more.

    silver girl .. the only way you can bring up your kids to be great promising characters is to not spoil them, teach them not to take anythign for granted, and some hard work .. its the best formula. and keep them away from khadam for as long as you can

  12. Adel says:

    Look back 4 years and imagine bahrain without companies and banks like, GFH,Kuwait Finance House, Tameer, Ahli United Bank, and others. That translates to no Financial Harbour, no Durrat Al Bahrain, no Al Areen Park, no Adhari Park,no realestate and banking boom, and no new high paying jobs in these sectors. By the way these a are few I only mentioned the well known ones and more are coming to Bahrain.

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