Born in Addu City Feydhoo, Mr. Abdulla Ali is soft-spoken and mild-mannered, but is still considered among the most industrious businessmen in the Maldives.
As one of the pioneers of the tourism industry, he has developed many properties under his direct supervision and has an impressive portfolio of having worked in a wide array of industries such as tourism, trading, textiles, and exporting.
He began his career as a humble storeowner in Male’ and has worked his way up, acquiring multiple resorts and land plots in Male’, to become the industry legend that he is now. He has asserted that the secret of his success is that he prioritizes his career and company over anything else.
This year, Gold 100 honored Mr. Abdulla Ali with the Gold 100 Lifetime Achievement Award for the invaluable service to the industry and the country.
How did you get started in the industry?
My business began in a very humble manner when I was a young boy. As Addu was rich in coconuts, I requested some of my friends to bring four coconuts each so we could make smoked coconuts and export them to Sri Lanka. Later, I got a job at Seenu Gan. I remember having to walk in neck deep waters between Gan and Feydhoo as there were no vessels available to travel between the two islands. While working with the British in Gan, I started my business once more. Whenever my colleagues went on vacations to countries such as Malaysia or Singapore, I gave them money and requested them to bring something of my choice so I could sell it in Male’ and earn capital for the business in the island.
After experiencing moderate success in our business, I convinced my colleagues to spend our salaries collectively and buy fabrics in Singapore so that we could sell them in Male’. This was how I entered into the textile industry. After moving to Male’ I bought a shop so that we would have a physical location to sell our fabrics. Due to the laws in Sri Lanka, it was forbidden for Sri Lankans to import any goods to Maldives so many Sri Lankans bought the fabrics from my shop. Due to the high demand, I would sell off my stock in weeks every time.
After importing multiple large shipments, State Bank of India suggested that I work towards bringing US dollars in to the country. They suggested I start either in the fisheries or hospitality industry. I pondered on this since I was unfamiliar with anything related to fisheries and decided to work in the hospitality industry, since I had done similar work in Gan in the past.
That was the decision that changed my life. We began working on Eriyadhoo and I started by visiting the island and clearing the overgrown vegetation. Our resort opened with a capacity of 40 beds and we were the 40th resort to open in the Maldives. We also received an appreciation award from the then government for our remarkable services. At the time, fresh water was scarce. So we established a desalination plant in Eriyadhoo and distributed the water free of charge. After Eriyadhoo, we acquired more properties and that is how I got started in the tourism and hospitality industry in Maldives.
Tell us about some of the notable challenges you’ve faced and overcome.
I think the biggest challenge for me was the struggle I had to go through when trying to purchase a house in Male’. Even though I was able to buy the house in under 24 hours, it took two to three months before the house was officially registered under my name. In addition to the time taken to get the house registered under my name, I was very aware that I had overpaid by about MVR 800,000. I don’t want to go into all the details here but I think that struggle, from the moment I paid for it, to the time it was officially registered under my name – that was the biggest struggle for me.
What do you consider your most unforgettable successes?
When you have such a long career as I have had, there are bound to be many successes. However, one of my most unforgettable moments would be the day I put in a bid for resorts and ended up winning the bid with a rate that I myself had suggested.
Another unforgettable important moment was when I was able to purchase the house in Male’. At the time, individuals from islands other than Male’ could not make buy land in Male’ and I felt extremely euphoric to be the first person to do so and break through the barrier. I am proud to say that afterwards, many others from other islands who had previously been unable to buy land in Male’ were able to do so.
What do you think you do different from your competitors that made you a success?
I think one of the most uncompromising decisions I made was to never go to a competitor’s store to buy the products I need. If there is something I need, I will ensure it is available to buy in my shops. Also, I never base decisions on what brands or goods my shops will stock based on what others are selling at their shops. I worked hard to ensure that our products sold fast and kept rolling so that stock can be renewed as soon as possible if there is demand for it.
What kind of advice would you give to the younger entrepreneurs?
When you have decided on what your business will be and the location you will operate from, move to securing the capital for it as soon as possible. For this you don’t necessarily have to get help from banks. Get a group of friends you can trust together and get something started, even if it a small business. Each of you can contribute a little something to produce a significant amount. If you’re hardworking and honest in everything you do, you will find success. Be patient and thoughtful. These are the qualities that are sure to carry you forward in your career.