Embracing work growth at Abdul Latif Jameel

Written by
Karam Filfilan

04 Sep 2017

04 Sep 2017 • by Karam Filfilan

The history of Abdul Latif Jameel

Founded in 1945, Abdul Latif Jameel is made up of diversified businesses with deep roots in the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey (MENAT region), which represent some of the world’s leading brands.

Our interests encompass automotive distribution, auto parts manufacturing, financial services, renewable energy, environmental services, land and real estate development, logistics, electronics retailing and media services.

How is the Abdul Latif Jameel HR team set up?

I joined Abdul Latif Jameel in 2012, heading up the diversified business interests from a people perspective. I set overarching HR strategy, in conjunction with the senior team. 
There is a core team of 11 HR professionals in the international headquarters in Dubai, in addition to HR teams in each of ALJ’s offices around the globe.

The human capital function is responsible for HR issues across our businesses, while the corporate human capital team oversees strategic HR activities, drives overall planning and provides guidance. It comprises subject matter experts in reward, talent management and leadership.

At a country level, we have HR managers who lead HR teams. For day-to-day HR operations, they work closely with their respective country general managers, and for all corporate HR activities they work with the corporate human capital team.


Is HR valued as a business partner at the top level?

While HR is sometimes perceived to be focused solely on recruitment and personnel record management, we have been building our department to be a true business partner, delivering value through people.

In the past three years, we have conducted several projects to create better awareness of the HR role and the different ways in which we can support the businesses. Through this hard work, our leaders now regularly turn to HR for advice on a variety of business-critical issues.


What challenges are you currently facing?

Abdul Latif Jameel has seen incredible growth. HR not only has to keep up with that pace, but be two steps ahead to ensure growth is supported by the right level of talent, to meet business needs as they arise.

With our global footprint, one of our key challenges is talent mobility. We want to create talent pools and seek leaders with regional and international expertise who can compete at a global level. We also look to have supporting systems that ensure talent development and knowledge sharing, across the organisation. As we grow, we are working on talent recognition through smart systems, market knowledge and strong leadership.

We have a strong culture of corporate social responsibility (CSR), committing to giving back to society through our CSR arm, Community Jameel. As we grow, this responsibility grows too and coordination between HR and our CSR team becomes crucial. This will encourage our own people to participate in our programmes and help us attract talent.

For the HR discipline as a whole, a challenge all organisations share is a lack of set HR metrics. There is work to develop metrics progressing at a global level, led by one of the major HR bodies in the world. The sooner that happens, the better, as it will help create a standard measurement for HR performance and show the real “bottom line” impact of HR activities.

What is your vision for HR at Abdul Latif Jameel?

Most firms in the region concentrate on the operational/transactional side of HR with little emphasis on the strategic/ transformational side. We are working with senior management to emphasise strategic HR and the value that HR can create for the company and its people. It is an ongoing process.

I believe it will become even more diverse, at all levels, within all industries. I also believe that, in the coming years, there will be a net inflow of talent from the developed world, but a higher outflow of talent from the Middle East to the developing world, as these economies grow. 


What are the characteristics of new talent?

This generation tends to be more focused on career growth, development opportunities and learning. Organisations that can help define careers and provide opportunities for growth and development will definitely attract talent over those that do not.

However, at Abdul Latif Jameel, we strive to find the best talent, based on our business needs. We do not restrict ourselves to any specific market, nor do we create limitations on how we will acquire the talent we need.


How do you engage and motivate your people? What motivates you?

We regularly conduct internal surveys to gauge staff motivation, satisfaction, and engagement levels, taking action based on our findings. We also participate in market surveys, collecting data to ensure we are in line with market and business best practices.

I am motivated by my ability to make a difference in my company and within my field. HR can be a strategic driver of growth within a business. I look forward to working with my colleagues to build a more dynamic and strategic HR function.


What advice would you give to fellow HR leaders?

The HR function is relatively new in the region, and a rapidly evolving discipline. There is a perception that anyone can do HR, but that is like saying anyone can be a doctor or an engineer. 

Each profession has its own learning requirements. Not every headache is cured with the same medicine, that’s where the doctor’s education and experience comes in.

Similarly, HR professionals work hard to gain the knowledge and skills to work with people, and systems have evolved. These must be respected and continuously improved. I would advise HR professionals to work with, and learn about, the business and gain trust by providing solutions that work. HR must not complicate processes and must speak the language of business. HR must not be seen as a hurdle but as a facilitator.

Business leaders should be able to rely on HR for support and advice and see value in involving HR in all decisions. They should feel confident that HR can help them achieve business success through people.