Dubai: Like father, like son?
While Abdul Hafeez Al Yousefi, former agricultural adviser to the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, is known to have made the desert bloom, his son Tariq Al Yousefi then shaped his own destiny.
However, as Al Yousefi points to a century-old olive tree in the garden of his upscale Dubai villa, there is an undeniable sense of déjà vu. Eldest of Khan’s seven children, Al Yousefi proudly clings to the ideals his father instilled in him. He is firmly rooted in Khan’s values and love for adventure and nature, but he has since grown and diversified into very different fields.
Former United Arab Emirates Armed Forces Officer Al Yousefi, a successful graduate and businessman, is also an avid hunter armed with compelling stories to share.
He remembers his childhood days in Al Ain’s very first ‘clean house’ with concrete walls, which was specially commissioned for his father by Sheikh Zayed when he was roped up from the American University of Beirut where he studied agricultural sciences.
“His Highness, who wanted to make the desert as green as parts of Europe he had been to, chose my father for this task in 1962 when some foreign consultants ruled out this possibility, citing the harsh climate. His Highness held my father’s hand and asked him, “Khan, let’s do it now, what are you saying”. The trust and responsibility placed in him was enormous and he readily accepted, ”recalls Al Yousefi.
His father, in his memoir, 50 years old in the oasis of Al Ain, dwelled on his experiences with the ruling family, the challenges posed by the mighty desert and his long-standing friendship with Sheikh Zayed.
As Al Yousefi points out, Khan often spoke of his friend’s warmth and kindness and was impressed by his magnetic personality. They had an instant rapport even though their initial interactions were through an interpreter.
“They met all the time, at work, at our place or at the Sheikh’s palace,” says Al Yousefi.
Khan, who was of Pakistani descent but later became a naturalized citizen of the United Arab Emirates, initially could not speak Arabic, which is why a translator was hired for him. “But one evening when my father visited His Highness at the Majlis to update him on the progress of his work, the translator was missing. My father learned that the translator had been made redundant because it would leave him no choice but to learn Arabic.
Growing up in such an environment, Al Yousefi was bound to be close to His Highness and his family. His vacation was spent in Al Ain while he was doing his first studies in Karachi. During his first semester at Al Ain University, His Highness sent him to England to graduate. It was under the sponsorship of the Ministry of Education.
Al Yousefi’s incursion into the UAE armed forces was also at the behest of the family.
He remembers how his parents were once visiting Houston in the United States when he visited the palace during his summer vacation. He was then invited to join the armed forces and was inducted into the Air Force wing. “On their return, my parents were extremely surprised to see me in uniform.
Subsequently, Al Yousefi trained at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida and became a pilot. In addition to continuing to fly, he also acquired a series of degrees in aeronautical engineering and other fields such as aviation management, power plant maintenance and business administration.
His upbringing took him on a completely different trajectory from that of his father. “I worked with the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces for 11 years, during which time I was also sent as one of two people from here to the prestigious RAF (Royal Air Force) College Cranwell UK. It was a lifelong experience where I was able to train with British, American and other GCC nationals. “
But Al Yousefi was unable to complete his commando training in the Air Force due to a permanent disability he suffered in an accident during his early years in the United States. He had been an avid athlete. After a game of tennis, he had an accident while waiting behind a jeep at the gas station for his friend who was at the convenience store. “I got stuck between the jeep and a car and ended up with a permanent 5% disability due to my back injuries,” recalls Al Yousefi.
In many ways, his inability to complete his commando training was a turning point. On the advice of His Highness’s family, Al Yousefi was transferred to Gulf Aircraft Maintenance Company (GAMCO) to oversee the maintenance of UAE Air Force aircraft.
Always ready to try something different, he took on the role and reached new heights. Soon he worked closely on projects at Gamco with investment major Mubadala and was subsequently instrumental in establishing Borouge, a joint venture between the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and Borealis of Austria.
“The experience has been invaluable,” says Al Yousefi, now a successful businessman with diverse interests in multi-level marketing, energy, biomedicine, education and philanthropy. The principles he learned from his father have served him well.
“He taught me patience and how to build and maintain relationships. He also showed me the importance of being grounded and living within your means.
Al Yousefi, father of three adult sons, Mohammad, Musabbeh and Hamad, emphasizes the importance of these life lessons, both professionally and personally.
As you browse the photographs on the panels of his office, many of them with members of royalty, he takes you on a journey of memory.
A closed courtyard adjoining the office, which adorns a collection of hunting trophies, also evokes special memories of his expeditions.
They say life is a great adventure, and few do it better than Al Yousefi.