WRITER: Kevin Hackett IMAGES: courtesy of Cartier
An athlete, adventurer and entrepreneur, Yousuf Al Hashimi is a man of wisdom and experience well beyond his 27 years. On a mission to get the Middle East active, he is hoping that as his business expands in the region, its collective waistline will shrink.
A polar opposite of our region’s young and entitled stereotype , the Dubai-based Emirati, Yousuf Al Hashimi is instantly charming and disarming. He’s well-spoken, highly educated and full of enthusiasm for helping others and for life in general.
He’s the co-founder and owner of Ahdaaf Sports Club, which is in the unusual locale of Al Quoz, a sprawling, haphazard industrial district that while existing just a short distance from the city’s glamorous and throbbing new areas, couldn’t be more different.
“This used to be a bag manufacturing factory,” he says while directing our gaze to the indoor football pitches overlooked by his office. Outside, the temperature is incendiary – a merciless, scorching wind is whipping up dust and sand but inside this building, it’s the complete opposite: an air-conditioned oasis of calm for those inclined toward ball games, where you can get a different kind of sweat on.
“We started out with two fields,” he continues, “and now we have six. It took time to get the approvals to set up here because it was such an unusual concept – having a sports facility in the heart of an industrial area – but once we got the ball rolling – pun intended – it didn’t take long. And we eventually opened our doors in January 2009.”
‘Ahdaaf’ literally translates from Arabic into English as ‘goals’ or ‘objectives’ which, when you spend time talking with Al Hashimi, could mean any number of things, quite different from those scored by club members on the numerous FIFA-standard artificial pitches. Goals are what this man continually sets to achieve.
Doing very well at academia, he went to school in Dubai before heading west to Montreal where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science. And it was in Canada that the idea started to come together to start a business back home.
“Once I graduated, I had a plan with three other partners of mine [one of whom is his brother] for a multi-purpose sports facility,” he explains, “We all come from very athletic backgrounds and are very much into sports. When we were in Canada, we used indoor facilities because of the cold. We all agreed that we should have the same sort of thing in Dubai because of the heat.”
When he got back to the UAE from Canada in December 2007, Dubai was still booming – an exciting time for any graduate fresh out of university to set up a new business. “I had a month or so off and then it was straight down to work. We got the necessary approvals and started to set up the business, which took about a year,” he recalls.
Soon after Ahdaaf opened, Al Hashimi received a call from the office of HRH Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai, which resulted in him joining a department that focused on international affairs for the palace, putting his studies in political science to good use. “I took the job, we set up the department and I ended up working a 70/30 split between there and here. I would come here at night after work.”
“I worked at the palace for three years. It was fantastic, I was moving up through the ranks and really enjoying it. The company [Ahdaaf] was growing at the same time and the three other partners who had been quite involved at the start-up stage had begun to take lesser roles. The company started to plateau, this was around two years ago, so I said to the guys, ‘Look, someone has to take the leap of faith, leave their job and get into this full-time’. I was the one who came up with the idea so they all looked at me,” he laughs. “I was single, the others all had family commitments, so I just went ahead and within seven months, it had grown tremendously.”
Al Hashimi’s determination paid off and the trophy cabinet soon started to creak with the weight of all the awards being received. Ahdaaf was awarded ‘Best Small Business’ by the Mohammed Bin Rashid Establishment and Al Hashimi was individually named ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ in 2012. Then in 2013, Ahdaaf also won the ‘Best Emirati Project’ award from the Khalifa Fund.
Ahdaaf has now expanded throughout the UAE and there are plans afoot to take it throughout the GCC with Saudi Arabia, he says, being the next natural step. The company has experienced rapid yet manageable growth, to such an extent that another of the original partners has devoted himself to the business full-time. Basketball, volleyball, cricket and badminton can all now be enjoyed all year round thanks to this burgeoning business.
In fact, such is the respect he has garnered, luxury brands are now getting Al Hashimi on side. Cartier and Land Rover are just two companies that have noticed he’s a healthy role model for young, up and coming Emiratis and have started to involve him in their own marketing strategies – you can see where they’re coming from.
Along with all the cut and thrust of running a fledgling business however, this man does find just enough time to indulge in his own personal hobby. Having grown up by the blue waters of the Arabian Gulf, the sea has always been a fascination of his and Al Hashimi has been fortunate enough to indulge this by regularly diving all over the world.
“I started scuba diving when I was 15, I think,” he says, “and started going on arranged diving activities which took me to some very exotic locations. Once we stayed on an oil rig in Borneo, a Japanese fishing boat, in Iceland and a few other strange places.”
“A few years ago, I started swimming with Sperm Whales and with Humpbacks in Tonga, seeing the polar bears in Greenland. When I was growing up, National Geographic was my bedtime reading and the king of animals was always the Blue Whale. By chance, my brother got in contact with someone who was able to organise a diving experience with them, so we went to Sri Lanka, got the permission from the tourist board and went and did it.”
The gargantuan Blue Whale is a shy creature so Al Hashimi had to free dive without his scuba gear, in order not to scare the whales away. “One day we really got lucky and saw and swam with 15 or 16 of these whales, it was indescribable.”
Whether his goals are personal or business-related, Yousuf Al Hashimi aims, shoots and tends to score big but we can’t help getting the feeling this inspirational young man is only just getting into his stride.