A passion for mobility and digitization are core to Hassan Jameel’s leadership style
If the wind blows, ride it. This is the Arabic proverb behind the story of Abdul Latif Jameel (ALJ), a family-owned, globally diversified business. The proverb means that we should make the most of opportunities whenever and wherever they arise, and let these opportunities drive our futures, even if we’re uncertain of where they will take us.
That said, in today’s complicated and diverse global economy, applying this proverb isn’t always straightforward. It’s difficult to know when the winds are beginning to change and in which direction we should chase them. The entrepreneurs who are building organizations need to determine how they will take informed risks, how they will direct their long-term strategies, and how they will future-proof their companies with digitization methods. In this case, steering the winds is usually more effective than riding the winds by chance.
As ALJ’s Deputy President and Vice Chairman, Hassan Jameel steers the winds of ALJ’s business opportunities alongside his family, ensuring the company continues to thrive on a global scale.
Mobility and digitization are at the core of his mission “to disrupt rather than be disrupted” and to keep pace with some of the world’s fastest-evolving sectors.
Here, we’ll explore Jameel’s insights into how ALJ decides which opportunities and industries to pursue, the characteristics ALJ looks for in its partners, the positive social change that the company drives, and its roots in Saudi Arabia.
Steering the Winds of Opportunity
ALJ has strategically leveraged opportunities for over 75 years, growing from a small gas station into a respected globally diversified operator and investor. Today, the company is humbled by its strong presence across 30 countries, covering a multitude of sectors, from engineering and real estate to consumer products. Its long-term strategy is to use technology to disrupt its core sectors – Mobility, Energy, Healthcare and Finance – which will prepare the business for future market change.
As part of this company-wide mission, Jameel has employed various digitization strategies to enhance ALJ’s data collection and improve its communications and operations.
Deciding Which Opportunities to Pursue
Almost a decade ago, the Jameel Family decided to explore auto manufacturing opportunities, becoming the major, early-stage investor in US electric vehicle automaker Rivian. ALJ’s background in automobiles meant that the move into the electric vehicle arena was a natural progression for the family, presenting opportunities to develop a presence in the U.S. which is known for its huge automotive, SUV, and pickup market.
In particular, ALJ wanted to become disruptors in mobility, a space that is heavily saturated and full of questions about what the future holds. Jameel explains that business opportunities “are vast anywhere you go” and that opportunities in the mobility industry, which covers businesses that support domestic relocations and international assignments, are ideal for ALJ. This is not only because markets within this space often lend themselves to geographic diversification, but also because these markets are full of opportunities for societal benefit.
Deciding Which Industries to Enter
Jameel explains that when deciding which industries to enter, it’s important to consider how that industry could look in 20 years and measure the risks associated with that industry. ALJ decided that risks were lower in the industries they had experience in and works with companies in tranches until they’ve gained each other’s trust. This calculated, methodical approach minimizes risks and builds strong partnerships.
Across ALJ and the family’s activities, there is a unique policy of forming dynamic partnerships with the entities that they invest in, such as leading supplier of renewable energy solutions, Fotowatio Renewable Ventures (FRV), and Rivian, who have strategically positioned themselves for long-term success.
Jameel explains that ALJ and the family work closely with their partners, providing both with a mutual, in-depth understanding of processes and operations. For example, Jameel spent a significant amount of time in Detroit working with Rivian’s CEO, developing a collaborative strategy.
Jameel compares ALJ to a dynamic and fast-paced startup, reflecting on his father’s entrepreneurial style and openness to the next generation of his family learning from their mistakes, while continuing to employ new approaches to digitization. Rather than thinking of their mistakes in a negative light, Jameel considers mistakes an essential product of the chances that leaders must take. He keeps a framed copy of a newspaper interview in which his grandfather described failure as his “friend” on his office wall.
Long-Term Philanthropic Impact
ALJ and the Jameel Family have the long term in mind not only for their strategic partnerships and investments but for their philanthropic endeavors too. Jameel admires the support that his grandfather led for local communities and the ongoing efforts that the family has made to give back to society ever since. When Jameel’s father became part of ALJ, the family launched Community Jameel, which oversees a plethora of philanthropic efforts, each held to clear metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs). Jameel and his brother Fady make up the third generation of the family to lead ALJ and their philanthropic activities, with giving back to the community remaining a key pillar of the company to this day.
For example, the Jameel Family launched Bab Rizq Jameel (BRJ) to create jobs through microfinance or training in the Middle East and North Africa. In 2021, BRJ contributed towards the creation of over 15,000 jobs in Saudi Arabia and has also created 1000s of jobs through its generous microfinancing schemes over the years, providing needed capital to both small and medium enterprises.
Some of Community Jameel’s philanthropic undertakings stem from its partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). For example, Community Jameel has gifted various labs to the university, which researchers from around the world use to examine critical issues surrounding poverty. So far, Community Jameel has driven positive change in 80 countries, benefitting hundreds of millions of people. In particular, in 2005, it endowed the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), and, in 2019, this lab’s co-founders (Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee) won the 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics. Duflo is the second woman and youngest person to win this prize.
J-PAL has also set up a research team to address the malaria challenge in sub-Saharan Africa, where over 90% of global malaria deaths occur. The research team conducted randomized evaluations to come up with the most effective way to reduce malaria deaths. J-PAL demonstrated the economic and social value of its selected approach, laying the foundations for communities to gain access to life-saving products for free.
Defining a Company’s Purpose
Jameel emphasizes that the bottom line cannot form a company’s entire purpose and that its owners, managers, and employees need to be passionate about the company’s mission. Therefore, the purpose cannot focus purely on profits. The company needs a compelling mission that gives staff the drive to go to work each day. In ALJ’s case, the family values its philanthropic efforts as much as its bottom line.
How Saudi Arabia Influences ALJ
While ALJ has grown into a globally diversified business, it prides itself on its Saudi roots. The company’s extensive family history and Saudi culture inform all ALJ’s operations and ambitions, and Saudi Arabia has always been the company’s largest geographic market. Jameel emphasizes that ALJ will continue to dedicate itself to being a positive contributor to Saudi Arabia’s story.
About Hassan Jameel
Hassan Jameel is Deputy President and Vice Chairman of Abdul Latif Jameel, a globally diversified family-owned business founded in Saudi Arabia in 1945 by the late Abdul Latif Jameel. He heads the company’s domestic division from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, overseeing their automotive, real estate, land and machinery operations. He also oversees the company’s digitization processes, revolutionizing how the business interacts with its partners and guests.
Furthermore, Jameel is Vice Chairman of Community Jameel. An independent, global organization, Community Jameel was established in 2003 to continue the Jameel Family’s tradition of philanthropy, using science to help communities thrive in a rapidly changing world.
Jameel is a founding member of the Family Business Council – Gulf, which supports the growth and development of businesses in the Middle East and North Africa. He also holds memberships on the Dean’s Advisory Council at the MIT School of Engineering and on the University of Tokyo’s UTokyo Global Advisory Board.
Jameel holds a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) from the London Business School and a Bachelor of Arts in International Economics from Sophia University in Tokyo.