By Intisar Alyamani
At an interview in London’s Corinthia Hotel, Kuwaiti businessman Fahed Boodai exhibits eagle-eyed focus, as he responds to questions about his business success. Indeed, his ever-sharp eyes could be said to provide a window to his entrepreneurial dynamism.
Boodai (right and below), is the award winning co-founder of Gatehouse Financial Group and chairman of its two subsidiaries; Kuwait-based Gatehouse Capital, and the London-based Gatehouse Bank, with a combined workforce totalling around 175 employees.
Only a few weeks ago, Boodai won the prestigious Award for Business at the first Arabian Business London Awards, an accolade acknowledging Gatehouse Bank as an important and growing force to be reckoned with in the UK’s high profile banking sector. The award is also an acknowledgment of Gatehouse’s valuable contribution to British society, through its home financing solutions and ground-breaking build-to-rent platform. Gatehouse is currently involved in managing funds offering access to more than 2,500 British homes in a bid to support the housing crisis in the United Kingdom.
“In 2008, we started up as a capital markets’ bank. Soon after, the financial crisis froze all capital market business, and we had to completely reinvent our strategic positioning,” Boodai explained.
“Being agile and dynamic, we were able to successfully become an institutional real estate advisory firm and provider of income producing investment products,” he went on.
“In addition, we aspired to build a more sustainable business model that combined both the fee income advisory elements and the solution-based ethical benchmarks of banking. As we evolved, and our focus sharpened, we built a challenger banking model for Gatehouse Bank, which provides mortgage solutions and home purchasing plans, in a shariah compliant manner, for UK expatriates, international clients and the UK community in general.”
Mistakes and what we refer to as failures, are the things that shape you. I embrace them as warning signs. They help refine your future actions to achieve even greater success.
For this Kuwaiti entrepreneur, disruptive banking was the road he chose to follow in an attempt to mount a challenge on the problems he had personally encountered when seeking a mortgage to buy a second home.
When none of the conventional banks were able to offer him the home financing he required, Boodai, who refused to consider throwing in the towel, grasped the initiative: firstly, to study the obstacle, secondly, to provide an alternative and thirdly, to offer it to the masses.
“There were virtually no home purchasing plans available to international clients, which meant there was a gap in the market. The opportunity was very clear to me. Gatehouse was established to provide exactly what I had been looking for as an international client myself,” he recalls.
Boodai was not discouraged by sceptics who either did not subscribe to his business model, or were critical of his choice of the UK as the base for his financial operations.
Many believed his idea was too grand, and felt the highly regulated UK financial sector would prove prohibitively expensive. However, the Kuwaiti entrepreneur remained adamant the UK was the most suitable location, precisely because of its regulatory strength and credibility.
“London is one of the top financial cities in the world. I would even go as far as to call it the global financial capital. With this level of international exposure, the UK was obviously the best choice for Gatehouse Bank.”
Earlier in his career, Boodai had a fully fledged global public equity career in San Francisco. However, the “dot com crash” of 2000 was a wake up call that persuaded him to search for alternative investment vehicles.
“2000 was the first financial crisis to affect me personally. The second one followed in 2008. Of course, they were both very stressful points on my business journey but I am blessed to be able to adapt and grow.
“Mistakes and what we refer to as failures, are the things that shape you. I embrace them as warning signs. They help refine your future actions to achieve even greater success. You never stop growing. Two years after the 2000 crisis, I decided to focus on real estate was the way forward.”
Boodai’s perseverance and strength is reflected in his leadership style. He professes to lead by example; while acting as a macro manager, he relies on strong executive teams to achieve his businesses fullest potential. However, he is happy to be hands-on and to step up to the plate if and when the situation requires it.
As for risk taking, it is, of course, part and parcel of any business, but the savvy entrepreneur understands how to minimise exposure by taking only calculated risks, and Boodai is no exception.
“Risk taking is inevitable, however to decrease risk it is essential to have a Plan B and a Plan C and, where possible, to select a low risk sector. In our business, the housing sector and the loans associated with it, are among the lowest risk weighted,” he explained.
Gatehouse Financial Group’s success reflects Boodai’s personal business philosophy. Focusing on longevity, his vision and mission is heavily driven by a strategic approach built on authenticity, transparency, credibility, accountability, social responsibility, and a refreshingly traditional approach to superior customer care.
Moreover, intellectual capital is exciting, and extremely relevant, for this businessman who describes it as a way to remain “creative, unique, and productive” in this knowledge-based economy.
And when it comes to digital communication, this entrepreneur is fully entrenched.
Boodai has been inspired by entrepreneurs, including John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, but also by more contemporary influences such as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos
“If you do not keep up with digital communication, you will be left out. All my transactions are digital, I have not used or carried cash for over five years!” he confirms with a smile.
Boodai is fully aware of the fast-shifting generational and lifestyle shifts in the financial market and uses this information to inform his business directives.
As to what and who inspires Fahed Boodai , he warmly acknowledges the support of his wife Sheikha Al-Zain Al-Sabah. Through her philanthropic and film production work, Al-Sabah is a powerful and influential force in her own right. She is highly respected for the way in which she uses her work to strengthen the fabric of society through creative and social development. Boodai readily describes her as being “his rock”.
He recognises how he has gained inspiration through researching the work and achievements of several great entrepreneurs of the past, including John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and JP Morgan. However, he also admires the more contemporary achievements of trailblazers like Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon.
“Years ago, when I was a student at university in the United States, my professor asked me and the other students about our life goals. Not many of us knew what we really wanted at the time. So he asked us to write our own obituary in a few short sentences. In that moment, my eyes were opened to the opportunities that awaited me.
“I believe I have achieved about 70% of what I had written that day,” said Boodai with a proud smile that acknowledges both the distance he has come so far and his ambition to continue with his mission. Fahed Boodai refers to his life as his legacy, and not many can argue, it certainly bears all the hallmarks of one.