'Life is my university'

By Paul Cleaver » Even as a youngster, it was apparent that Abdul Rahman Morshed was a born leader. He was always captain of the team when he played soccer with his friends on the hot dusty fields near his home in Muharraq. Off the field, he was leader of the pack. At university, he was elected head of the Bahraini Students Union, and later in life, many other honours would follow including being named Rotary Club president.

For all that, the early prospects for success didn't appear all that promising for Morshed. He was one of ten children born into a poor family. His father was a simple pearl diver who for all his sacrifice and encouragement was unable to afford more than a basic schooling for young Abdul Rahman.

Abdul Rahman Morshed
To have risen from those humble beginnings to become general manager of the National Hotels Company, owners of the five-star Diplomat Radisson SAS, speaks volumes for Morshed's conviction in his own ability and his determination to get to the top. The Diplomat is one of the premier five-star hotels in Bahrain and home to arguably the most popular Friday brunch on the island.

Morshed says he never doubted he would one day make a mark for himself. "Even when I was young I always felt that I would be in charge," he recalls.

As his family was poor there was no question of a college education for Abdul Rahman, even though both his parents encouraged him and wanted all their children to reach their full potential. After finishing school he joined the Ministry of Education as a teacher. Although he was happy teaching he knew he could do better. In his quest for higher education he was fortunate in eventually obtaining a scholarship to the University of Damascus in Syria where he studied English.

Upon his graduation in 1975 he returned to Bahrain and joined ship repair giants ASRY as a trainee manager. After a few years his potential was noticed and he was sent to England for managerial training.

In early 1979 a friend at the Bahrain Club asked him to consider joining Diplomat Hotel as acting manager. At that time the hotel was in crisis: It was only half finished, funding had dried up, the company was on the verge of liquidation, and the situation looked hopeless. Most people would have kept a safe job with an established company rather than take a gamble with a shell of a hotel and a company that nobody wanted to lend money to.

This was to be the watershed in Morshed's life. Looking back now from the safety of the other bank, he says that crossing this Rubicon was one of the most important moves he has ever made. Then as now, Ahmed Zayani was the chairman of the owning company, and he was to play a pivotal role in the life of the young Abdul Rahman. "He guided me on how to do business and how to deal with people in business," says Morshed.

They both envisioned a tremendous future for the hotel but were aware that the core problem was a lack of financing. Morshed worked day and night with his colleagues to reschedule the loans. Slowly the skeleton became a hotel. At the time the management company was Trust House Forte, and this relationship continued until last year. Throughout the 1980s the management team in Bahrain worked hard to build up the hotel until in the early 1990s they actually started paying dividends. Since August 2000 the hotel has been managed by the Radisson SAS group.

The leadership qualities that Morshed revealed as a youngster obviously played a major part in the Diplomat's change of fortunes, and the years have if anything only strengthened his skills. Year after year he is elected head of the association of five-star hotels in Bahrain.

Talking about the association, Morshed says: "Yes, we are competitors ... nevertheless, we have many matters of common interest." These areas include the five-star hotels' rate agreement which has protected the local hotel market and has been endorsed by the government; the Bahrain Summer Bonanza, which helped the hotels keep their occupancy numbers up; and other matters of common concern with the government. Morshed explains that it is easier for the government to deal with a single hoteliers' executive committee than all the individual hotels.

Although Morshed values formal education, experience has shown him that life is the best education. He feels there is no substitute for a man rolling up his sleeves and getting on with the job in hand. As he says: "Life is my university. I believe that a man gets his real education in life."

For the future Morshed looks forward to the next stage of the expansion of the Diplomat Hotel: another tower with furnished apartments; and he is also interested in the diversification of the company.

He is certainly very optimistic about the future of Bahrain. He says he is proud of what Bahrain has achieved in the past, but the future holds enormous potential.

When asked about Bahrainisation - the process of replacing foreign workers with native Bahrainis - he said that it is important to get a balance. One must acknowledge what the expatriate workforce has accomplished over the years because "without them we would not have been able to reach the point we have attained now"; but at the same time, "we must ensure that in the future we have a more secure society for our undergraduates who are looking for jobs."

He strongly feels that it is a "national responsibility to hire Bahrainis," besides making economic sense. The National Hotels Company has 48 per cent Bahraini employees; one of the highest rates in the country.

When asked how he manages to balance his personal and very busy business life he had to admit that over the years his family has sometimes had to take second place. However, he makes a point of always having lunch with his family at weekends. He has five children aged between 8 and 18 and is proud that his eldest son is now old enough to play him at squash, one of Morshed's passions in life. In what little other free time he has, he enjoys swimming and reading.

So what is his formula for success and what would he advise a young Bahraini who consulted him? Morshed says: "Hard work, patience, and tolerance are the keys to success." Tolerance is particularly important, he says, when working with people from other countries who do not share one's views on life and religion. Patience is necessary because the fruits of hard work are not immediately obvious and can take many years to mature. He shares the view of Adel Bestavros who said that "Patience with others is Love, Patience with self is Hope, Patience with God is Faith."

Published in the Visitor's Complete Guide to Bahrain 2002