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Visitors interested in ancient Bahraini architecture should visit Muharraq and experience how wind-towers provided cooling in the days before air conditioning.
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Habib helping build a bright future
By Kirsten Stocker   »   It is refreshing to see that, underneath the eloquence, elegance and experience honed by years of business and personal success, Jawad Habib has retained a fair bit of the farm boy who was born in the simple market village of Belad Al Kadeem on December 8, 1942.
The core values taught to him by his father continue to serve as the mainstays of Jawad’s business ethics to this day. He has a genuine faith in people – whether they are his own employees, the youth of today, future generations of Bahrainis or his contemporaries in business – that is all too rare in this world.

“Although we were very poor, my father was a natural leader and I learned a lot from sitting in his majlis every night,” says Habib. “My father gave me the desire to be a leader in my family and he helped me to learn that determination, loyalty, sincerity and focus are all factors in success. He also taught me that it’s important to be helpful to the needy and to appreciate the simple things in life.”

Indeed, life was hard but good and – apart from the financial strain of trying to make a living from a small farm – Habib, his parents and his three sisters and three brothers were happy. “Our village – which was the capital of Bahrain back in the 17th and 18th centuries – was in a beautiful setting. Back in those days, Kasari Pool was fed by a stream that was surrounded by lush vegetation and big trees. It was a popular spot for cooling down in the shade and even Sir Charles Belgrave (advisor to former Ruler Shaikh Hamad bin Isa bin Ali Al Khalifa) came to our village every afternoon to sit and relax. He had a little hut with palm branches used as a roof. I used to practice my English with him,” says Habib.

However, much as his father was able to teach him, he couldn’t afford to send him to secondary school. Family finances dictated that Habib leave school at age 14 and start a paid apprenticeship at Bahrain Petroleum (Bapco). “Bapco thought I was 15,” says Habib, with a smile. “I was very fortunate to get the job as it meant I could continue my education and help defray costs at home.”

The apprenticeship involved a four-year course over which he had to work one week and study the next. Habib, who had always been a good student, soon earned enough O-levels to join a group of 12 apprentices being sent to London to study for the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants qualification.

“Bapco sent 12 of us on the course, never expecting more than two of us to qualify,” says Habib. “Every one of the 12 passed and that Bapco ‘class’ has produced some extraordinary results: among those 12 are the current Minister of State, the current Minister of Finance, an MP, and the Chairman of BBK.” And, of course, Jawad Habib.

Back in those days, however, they were an ordinary group of kids who’d earned and been given the chance of a lifetime. “I can’t begin to tell you how astounding it was to find myself in London. I was a simple village boy from Bahrain who suddenly found himself in the most sophisticated city in the world at that time,” says Habib, the awe of the experience still in his voice more than 40 years later. “Landing at Heathrow, the hustle and bustle of the city, the freedom to move around as an anonymous person, the opportunities to meet people from so many different places and experience so much world culture in one city…these are all things that I still remember as if it were yesterday.”

During his childhood and youth, Habib had travelled throughout the Middle East, visiting Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Palestine, but none of this had prepared him for life in London. “I think we all felt a sense of utter disbelief and amazement that we were actually there – thank goodness there were 12 of us together to share the experience.”

When all 12 returned to Bahrain as qualified CIMA degree holders, Bapco faced a dilemma: the company did not need 12 accountants, so Habib and most of his colleagues were released from their apprenticeships and given the opportunity to search for work elsewhere.

Habib joined accounting firm Arthur Andersen in 1971 and after a short time Ali bin Yousef Fakhro persuaded him to go to Kuwait to meet with Dirar Al Ghanim who was setting up a pan-Arab accounting firm. Al Ghanim liked what he saw and Habib’s career took off.

“Instantly, my salary more than doubled and I became a partner in the business. I learned so much during those seven years.”

During this period, Habib also married and had two of his five children, Basil and Lamis. “My wife was from Manama and was not keen to marry a boy from the sticks,” smiles Habib. “I persisted, though, and she eventually gave in!”

Then, in 1979, Al Ghanim left the business and Habib decided that the time had come to set up on his own. On January 1, 1980, Jawad Habib and Company was opened. “At that stage, it was just me and a part-time secretary,” explains Habib. “We shared an office in Manama Centre with a lawyer for three months before moving to bigger premises and six months after that we moved to Yateem Centre and I had 35 people working for the company.”

Habib puts his success down to his experience and hard work together with the kindness and support of others. “I had eight years of exposure to the market, thanks to the opportunities which Dirar Al Ghanim gave me.”

“I was also lucky to have had support from unexpected quarters,” says Habib. “One day – soon after starting my company – I was walking in the street in Manama and bumped into (well-known businessman, now deceased) Abdulrahman Almoayed. He greeted me warmly and told me that he’d heard I was in business and had asked his children to give me their full support. That was truly one of the glorious moments of my life.”

There were others as well, like the Bahrain International Bank (BIB) flotation, which was managed by Jawad Habib with outstanding success. “We were offering $80 million worth of subscriptions; it was over-subscribed by some 1,600 times,” says Habib, with a mixture of pride and incredulity in his voice.

The formation of Al Wasat – Bahrain’s first independent daily newspaper – with its historic license and mixed Board of Directors representing the full range of Bahrain’s parties and interest groups all working together to produce a credible and highly respected paper was another high point in Habib’s career. Jawad Habib & Co formulated the business plan, applied for the license, chose investors, raised the capital needed and supervised the election of the Board of Directors. The paper is now one of the country’s big success stories.

In the 25 years since Habib founded his company, he and his colleagues have built an unrivalled knowledge of the legal and commercial environment in Bahrain, helping the company grow from strength to strength. The group now employs around 100 people.

“Over the years, we have kept pace with international trends by ensuring that senior staff get experience in the world’s top accounting firms. We are now recognised in the business community for our comprehensive world-class business solutions and our expertise in our own Bahrain market,” says Habib.

In addition, the company is now a member firm of BDO International, the fifth largest multinational accounting and consulting organisation. “All of this enables us to best serve those companies closest to our hearts – our Bahraini clients,” says Habib.

Despite a hectic work schedule and a lengthy list of business accomplishments, Habib and his wife, Anisa Abu Idris have raised a happy, healthy and successful family. During the early and mid 80s, Basil and Lamis were joined by Huda, Ali and Habib. “The girls are both qualified medical scientists,” says Habib with unmasked fatherly pride. “I would have very much liked to have my daughters in business with me, but their interests took them into medicine and I’m very proud of what they have achieved.”

Basil, the eldest, completed his degree and joined Jawad Habib & Co and he and his wife have delighted both of his parents by producing a granddaughter, Zainab, who is now three. Ali and Habib are both studying Business and Accounting in London and plan to join the ‘family firm’ when they graduate.

“Every busy parent looks back and wishes they’d had more time to spend with their children,” says Habib. “I am lucky to have excellent relationships with all of my children and now I make the time to see my little granddaughter every evening.”

Habib, his wife and their children all love travelling and they enjoyed a home in the South of France for many years. “Cannes is still a favourite holiday destination for all of us,” says Habib. “But it’s always good to come back to Bahrain and I’m thrilled to see my children settling down here.”

Habib is very optimistic about the future of his country. “There is more room for success in the future than there has ever been before – Bahrain is just taking off and the optimism, determination and loyalty of the next generation will combine with the tolerance, openness and vision of this kingdom’s people to accomplish great things.”

“No one can justify saying that Bahrainis don’t like to work hard. It was Bahrainis who built the tap line connecting the Eastern Province to the Red Sea in the late 30s and early 40s,” says Habib with conviction.

“We’ve already achieved so much: Bahrain is the financial capital of the Middle East; we’re building a new financial harbour that is going to encourage even more investment; we can boast a host of successful, world-leading companies and we’re home to the world’s best Grand Prix circuit.

“This country is full of people willing to work hard and we, as a society, have to make sure that we educate them and provide job prospects. If we can do these two things, then the sky’s the limit for what can be achieved here in our island kingdom: the future is very bright.”

For his part, Habib will continue to work hard, enjoy his family, travel with his wife, serve on almost countless boards and committees and contribute – in all these ways – to Bahrain’s rich tapestry of life.


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