Rachael Wunsch, the CEO of Al Tamimi Investments in Dubai, is shaping the business leaders of tomorrow
Television shows like Shark Tank operate on the premise of a visionary entrepreneur who brings to the table a business idea so revolutionary that it promises to throw a lit match into a tinderbox of a market which is otherwise saturated with mediocre ideas. The Apprentice, another television show, hones the business acumen of fledgeling entrepreneurs to prepare battle-hardened executives who will become future CEOs and business leaders.
Melding the underlying themes of Shark Tank and The Apprentice into a real-life not-for-television act is Rachael Wunsch, the CEO of Dubai-headquartered Al Tamimi Investments.
“Al Tamimi is an investment company. We tend to do greenfield investments. So a majority of our investments have grown from an idea. We identify an opportunity within the market, build a plan, find people, enter the market and scale the business,” says Wunsch.
Wunsch worked in a variety of different of business marketing roles including insurance, telecommunication and even led an NGO in Taiwan before heading to Dubai to set up Al Tamimi Investments in 2006 along with Essam Al Tamimi, the Chairman of the investment firm.
Wunsch’s role as CEO is to identify and cherry pick the ideas with the most potential. There are several ways through which Al Tamimi identifies a greenfield investment. One such method is individual entrepreneurs who have a great idea which is then pitched to Wunsch and her team – think Shark Tank. A good example of this is the group’s The Big Start initiative where it went to grassroots levels and connected with very young men and women and encouraged them to pitch Al Tamimi with their brightest ideas. “The Big Start came out of our CSR programme. We approached schools saying that if you have talented students who have an idea but don’t have the capital, present the idea to us. If we believe in the idea, we will give you the opportunity to make your idea a reality.”
United Designers, a retail chain of fashion stores in the UAE, had its genesis in The Big Start. “We had a young student who said, ‘Look, in other places in the world local designers have platforms to showcase small capsules collections without having big budgets.’ It was an idea that we believed in.” The flagship store opened in Mirdif City Centre in 2009. “United Designers has grown beautifully. We work with regional designers. It’s very much the type of shop our customers go to if they’re looking at a kaftan, abayas, dresses for weddings or a one-of-a-kind piece. We have our own tailor on-site. In terms of the growth, it went from a young person’s ideas to a realized store in Mirdif and then on to another store in Dubai as well as Abu Dhabi, with one more opening soon in Al Ain.”
Al Tamimi’s investment portfolio includes retail, healthcare, education, manufacturing and services. “We’re running 18 different subsidiaries across the group. Each industry sector that we focus on has a business leader who is that subject matter expert. In its entirety, we employ 3,000 people,” says Wunsch.
As CEO, Wunsch needs to channel The Apprentice when guiding the sometimes young business leaders who are tasked with managing the subsidiaries. Apart from a mentoring role, her team also offers a shared-services solutions. “Often when you are starting from a small business, you don’t usually have the resources to have too many above-the-line costs. From a head office perspective, the businesses we invest in can pull from the various industry experts we have here be it business analyst, research, marketing, HR or finance. So rather than hiring full-time resources dedicated to each business function, they can pull these experts from our head-office team as and when they need.”
Apart from bright entrepreneurs pitching ideas to Al Tamimi, sometimes they derive their investment business ideas from more personal experiences. “For example, with Emirates Home Nursing, it came from a direct experience with our Chairman whose mother required home care. When we looked at the market, we realised that there was a gap in terms of qualified nurses who could seamlessly go into a home and provide a great level of support. Coming from Australia, what would typically happen is a family member would go into an assisted living environment. That doesn’t really exist here. Culturally, it’s important to keep the family member close and so we were able to leverage off that opportunity and build the business we have with Emirates Home Nursing.”
One of Wunsch’s role has been to shape the corporate culture at Al Tamimi. “We are an investment company and financial success is one of the cornerstones, but we do like to do investments that give something back to the community.” Another example of one of their ventures that services the community, apart from Emirates Home Nursing, is Hummingbird Nursery in Dubai. “Hummingbird again was quite personal. In Australia, it is typical for there to be good quality nurseries in business districts supporting working professional women. The UAE has a plethora of nurseries, but often they tend to be suburb based, not necessarily there supporting the business district or not certainly when we opened 10 years ago. So DIFC was developing into an international hub and we saw this as an essential service that other international financial hubs provided to executives.”
Al Tamimi has since 2006, under Wunsch’s leadership, evolved and updated themselves to introducing technology into their overall operations. For example, Wunsch and her team are now exploring the idea of building United Designers’ e-commerce platform. “We’ve recently partnered with Namshi to help grow our reach into the Saudi Arabian market. We do believe in brick-and-mortar because of the relationship we have with our customers. But it’s all about convenience. The region here is very e-commerce savvy and it’s certainly also a way for us as a business to test, regionally, where our customers are.”
Wunsch will crack the whip when necessary and explains the red flags for her when deciding whether to invest in a business. “There needs to be a vision. If the vision isn’t clear – so not just what you’re going to do today, but how you’re going to grow from just a concept into something great – that’s a red flag. But also, the numbers need to stack up.”
Wunsch credits her success in part to a positive business environment in Dubai. “The environment in Dubai is incredibly conducive to supporting women in finance. There are some excellent role models in the community in both the private and public sectors. The rulers of the UAE have never made any distinction between male and female.”
Wunsch has always maintained a people-first approach in her business and encourages the business leaders of Al Tamimi’s subsidiaries to do the same as well. Unlike some of the ruthless tactics employed on shows like The Apprentice, Wunsch says that in her books “people are bigger than the ideas.” She adds, “It comes down to empowering the people around you. Everybody has talents or strong areas. A true manager understands what these people bring to the table, where they need assistance and surrounds themselves with people that give them that 360.” It’s a business lesson that an MBA school might not necessarily teach you, but one that Wunsch lives out every single day in her professional life.