Hussain Al Qadhi ACCA has been on a journey. From kitchen cleaner and hotel busboy to police officer, Big Four manager and now group financial controller at Cool Inc, one of a new generation of Saudi Arabian start-ups, Al Qadhi is living proof that, as he puts it, ‘You should never stay in your comfort zone.’
Cool Inc is a young company that aims to play a key role in Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 blueprint for economic diversification by developing luxury leisure, hospitality and tourism activities in the country.
‘Growth will happen rapidly and everything will need to be structured just right’
Put to the test
‘The company is moving fast and this is a huge opportunity,’ Al Qadhi says. ‘I’m going to stretch myself in this environment because growth will happen rapidly and everything will need to be structured just right.’
While he is currently focused on refining the finance function at Cool Inc, Al Qadhi adds that the role is also an opportunity to enter into a higher level business conversation where his knowledge will be put to the test on topics such as M&A, financing, investing and, potentially, IPOs.
‘I never feel embarrassed to say “I don’t know” or “Can you explain more?” he says.
He clearly practises what he preaches. After leaving high school in Manama, Bahrain, Al Qadhi initially worked as a cleaner and busboy in a hotel. When he moved to a car rental company and was quickly promoted to branch manager, he realised that if he wanted to progress, he would need additional skills, so he studied for the Association of Accounting Technicians qualification.
‘A move to EY meant I could focus on one job instead of two or three’
Soon after, he was accepted into Bahrain’s police force, working as a tutor in accounting and an airport driver alongside. Some nights he would snatch just a few hours’ sleep in his car before starting his next shift.
‘It sounds like a nightmare,’ he concedes, ‘but I had goals – to support my family, provide for my parents. I was in my 20s, a time where you have huge amounts of energy.’
Group financial controller, Cool Inc, Riyadh
Group finance transformation manager, AlJabr Holding Co
Group financial controller, AlJabr Holding Co
Manager, financial accounting advisory, EY, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia
Finance manager, Top Star International Factory, Bahrain
Senior accountant, Al Faham Construction, Bahrain
In 2012 Al Qadhi decided that he wanted more out of his working life and began studying for the ACCA Qualification. He gave up his work as a driver and entered the EY Academy in Bahrain, taking on more tutoring at the Bahrain Institute of Banking and Finance and a local business academy to fund his studies. He set himself the goal of qualifying with ACCA in two and a half years and to work for the Big Four firm. By 2015 EY had hired him.
‘It was really tough because my parents and family couldn’t understand why I was leaving law enforcement. We have this belief in Bahrain that it’s a secure job, but I knew that I had the potential to achieve more – and a move to EY meant I could focus on one job instead of two or three.’
Al Qadhi was with EY for four years, during which time he moved across the Arabian Gulf with his family to work for the firm in Saudi Arabia, where he helped clients with finance transformation projects.
‘I tell my students: never give yourself the excuse not to do something’
It was there that he was recruited by Saudi conglomerate AlJabr as group financial controller, then as group finance transformation manager, working from a base in the eastern city of Dammam across 18 companies involved in everything from automotive retail to soft drinks and distributing high-end electronics.
Al Qadhi admits that transferring from a Big Four practice to the corporate arena was an ‘abrupt awakening’ that forced him to adjust his soft skills to be more direct and assertive. At AlJabr, he led a transformation project introducing a new cloud-based system for both finance and operational processes across six companies simultaneously.
That said, Al Qadhi has got to where he is by putting in the hours on his studies and he credits ACCA with helping him get there. ‘ACCA enabled me to get my dream job,’ he says. ‘Whenever you say “I have ACCA”, everybody respects it. It is a door opener.’
Then there is his self-belief and astonishing work ethic, likely learnt from his father, Redha, who held up to three jobs at a time to support the family.
‘When I was young there was no one to show the way or give me guidance’
Psychology has played a significant role in Al Qadhi’s career and his downtime is spent reading books on the subject. His current go-to volume is Dean Burnett’s The Idiot Brain.
‘I always set goals,’ he says. ‘When I want to be a manager, I will imagine myself acting like a manager, dressing like a manager, taking decisions like a manager.
‘I tell my students: never give yourself the excuse not to do something.’
And while Cool Inc may be dominating much of his time, inspiring students and others in business remains a passion. ‘For me, teaching and mentoring is one way to give something back. When I was young there was no one to show the way or give me guidance. And because of what I have been through, I can offer an example of success. This is very important to me.’
A young holding company that describes itself as the country’s ‘lifestyle curator’, Cool Inc is a luxury hospitality and leisure group.
Its ambitious plans include partnering with award-winning restaurants to bring destination dining to Saudi Arabia. Among its other initiatives are private members’ clubs, bespoke travel, luxury stays (in lush treetop suites and tented camps) and premium adventure experiences (everything from scuba diving and paragliding to rock climbing and skateboarding across the kingdom’s four key landscapes of mountain, water, desert and city).