Mr Ahmed Nazeer, founder and Director of Crown Company, is a prominent businessman, entrepreneur, and philanthropist who has served both the Government and private sectors in various capacities throughout his illustrious career. From managing a small shop in Male’ to eventually founding his own company that has become one of the most well-known success stories in the country, Mr Nazeer is respected for his extensive knowledge and experience in finance, administration and logistics.
You are one of the most well-known and successful businessmen in the country. Tell us a bit about your childhood and what inspired you to seek out a career in the tourism industry.
What I remember most about my young days is that it was a difficult time for the country and its people. I was born in Baa atoll Eydhafushi in 1949. I was lucky in the sense that my parents were a bit well off compared to other families from my island and I was able to come to Male’ to study. I started in Ameer Ahmed School, and later on I was able to join Majeedhiyya School. As I was a bit older than the other kids, I was placed in a special class, along with some other kids closer to my age. These special classes were separate from the normal Grade classes. This was during President Nasir’s reign and they had just started hiring teachers from Sri Lanka to teach at the school. Those teachers, very colorful and memorable characters every one of them, left a lasting impression on me and I think they inspired me to learn and improve myself.
When I first arrived in Male’, electricity was just being introduced and wasn’t available to all the houses in Male’. It took several more years before a reliable power grid was established in the island. I remember when we got a new generator for the powerhouse. It took approximately two to three weeks to move the generator from Customs to the powerhouse. This was the situation back then. Growing up in such challenging times, we really valued education. All of my classmates focused on their studies as we all believed our education to be crucial to our success.
I did my O’ Level exams in four subjects, excluding English. However, due to my excellent results, the Government offered me a scholarship to go study in New Zealand. I jumped at this opportunity. Air travel was not as developed then as it is now, hence we had to take the sea route to Colombo and start the actual journey to New Zealand from there. Five flights later, we reached Wellington. I studied at Victoria University for three years and then started my training to become a teacher. Even though I went to get my training as a teacher, I did not want to become a teacher at that point, and therefore I came back.
President Nasir wasn’t pleased with me due to this, and decided that a fitting punishment for betraying the trust and investment he had made on me would be six months of house arrest. After spending six months serving the sentence at home, I was offered a job at the government office which is now known as the Land Registration Unit. It was called something similar back then; I do not remember the exact name. I worked there for two years and was promoted to Senior Official of the Fisheries Corporation. Around 1983, the Fisheries Corporation was brought under State Trading Organization and they transferred me to the President’s Office. I resigned from my post shortly thereafter.
It was then that I, along with some of my close colleagues, founded Crown Company and we started an import and export business under the company name. Not long after that, we decided to bid on a project to develop Veligandu Island in North Ari Atoll as a resort property. We won the bid and started development of the resort in 1983. Veligandu Island Resort was opened with 35 rooms on December 1984. We closed the resort for renovation after a year and then re-opened with 75-80 rooms. This was my initiation to the tourism sector and I have been working in this industry since.
You mentioned that you were operating an import and export business at first after creating your own company. What prompted you to change the direction towards the tourism industry?
We did not want to pursue a career in the trading business as we did not see much of a future in it compared to tourism. The tourism industry had just been introduced to Maldives and the Government was investing heavily in developing resorts. We saw that as a greater opportunity and hence decided to pursue Veligandu. We did face many difficulties as the transport system was very poor and for this reason, Alif Atoll was not a popular destination at the time. Our luck changed by the time we opened Rangali Island Resort; The introduction of helicopter services had made access to the more distant atolls easier and faster. We came to an arrangement with Seagull Airways to provide transport services for the guests visiting to Rangali. That was a major contributing factor in making the resort such a huge success. I think it was the challenge that drove us into the tourism sector, and it did indeed give me some of the biggest challenges I have had to come across in my professional career.
Aside from those two resorts, what are the other major projects Crown Company is involved in currently?
We formed Crown Company in 1983 with four partners. I met Saleem during my University days in New Zealand. I met Afeef through Saleem, during one of the holidays. Ghanee and I had served together in the Government. Each partner has a 25 percent equal share in the company. We invested in Tree Top Hospital with Crown Company, Kasa Maldives, Kuredu Holdings and Champa Brothers, all four companies holding 25 percent share in the investment. We did this because we wanted to expand our business and to diversify our investments outside of the tourism industry. The project is more of a CSR project rather than a commercial one and we do not expect to make a profit on the venture any time soon.
We also bought 50 percent share in Hideaway Beach Resort & Spa. The resort is still struggling to increase its revenue though. I suppose it’s because the resort is located very far from Male’. Transport still remains to be an issue in the industry. Our sister company, Crown Tours is a travel agency. In addition to the four partners of Crown Company, Ali Ahmed is also an equal partner of Crown Tours.
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome, or the biggest challenge you faced in your professional career?
The biggest challenge was in procuring the funds need to bid for Veligandu. We did not have any background in the tourism industry back then. We borrowed US$ 500,000 in total from SBI Bank. They were kind enough to lend us the money under a resort mortgage agreement. That still wasn’t enough funds and we had to invest more money in the resort. We ended up borrowing money from many individuals. We were very confident that we would succeed and would be able to recover all the money we had borrowed. I would like to note that we could not have gotten here had it not been for the support and assistance from a lot of friends and family.
What do you consider as your biggest achievement?
I have always aimed to succeed in whatever I do. For us to open up a resort and successfully operate it, that in itself is a big achievement in my view. It is no small feat to find funds to develop and open a resort, especially with no prior background or knowledge in the industry.
Where do you see yourself in the near future?
I would like to see the country progressing like it is today, where everyone can have healthy and prosperous lives. As a businessman, I think we all work towards the development of the community and the country. As for myself, I am close to retirement now. It gives me immense joy and satisfaction to realize that I have achieved what I have set out to do throughout my life. Whilst I am not actively engaged in the company matters, I am on the Board of many associations such as MATI and MACL. I am hoping to be able to contribute to the industry even further in the future.
What is your advice for emerging businessmen and young entrepreneurs?
My advice to them is to strive hard to achieve whatever goals they have set out in life. You must have a goal. You must have a dream. More importantly, you must work hard to achieve those dreams and goals. If you work hard enough, you can achieve it. I do not consider myself as an exceptional person. I come across many people who are far more brilliant than I was at that age, and I do not see any reason why they should not be able to achieve what they set out for in life.