Wissam Al Mana is the man who has ushered in a brand new luxury shopping experience in Qatar through the retail division of the Al Mana Group – a concept that is an extension of his belief in the ‘best things in life – all under one roof’
Meet the business magnate with a difference – Wissam Al Mana. This young go-getter heads the retail division of the Qatar-based Al Mana Group and is so busy that he has hardly any time for hobbies, “I don’t really have much free time,” he confesses.
The Al Mana Group is a family business that encompasses everything, right from real estate, construction and engineering to automobiles, food services and media. Wissam and his two brothers oversee the Group, which was founded by their father over 60 years ago and now comprises of over fifty companies in the Gulf region.
As the Managing Director of Al Mana Retail, it was Wissam Al Mana who launched their foray into retail business. “I started the division in 2000, introducing an array of brands, ranging from fashion and jewellery to home furnishings. It was an exciting phase as Qatar’s exposure to international retail business was in its infancy.”
Just as the Middle East was awakening to the luxury retail market, Wissam cashed in on this opportunity, to introduce some of the most familiar global brands into this region. By 2004 Al Mana had opened the first Hermès boutique in the Middle East, followed by Saks Fifth Avenue soon thereafter. “I had been interested in fashion brands since a young age and used to dream of creating a luxury sub-division within our retail business.”
With the commencement of luxury retail, he worked aggressively to add a host of global fashion labels to their range, “Our primary business is with Hermès, whom we represent in the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain. Our portfolio of brands in Qatar includes Armani, Balenciaga, Chloé, Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, Roberto Cavalli, Giuseppe Zanotti and Loro Piana. In Dubai we represent Hermès and Dolce&Gabbana, as well as Saks Fifth Avenue, which carries a large portfolio of luxury brands.”
And how did the whole odyssey begin – Wissam recounts, “Though I was born in Qatar, my family moved to London by the time I was two; and that’s where I spent the majority of my childhood and teenage years. I am fortunate to have spent the formative years of my life in London. It’s a vibrant, creative and multicultural city, which helped me develop an early love for fashion and style. On finishing my secondary education in London, I went to America to pursue a degree and did my Master’s in Business Administration. I returned to Qatar over a decade ago to work with my brothers in our family business.”
He remembers the Doha of his childhood years and retraces the growth of the city and the country, “I have witnessed Doha’s incredible transformation from a small town to a city, while managing to retain its culture and heritage. There were just two shopping malls here at that time, compared to at least half a dozen today, with many more impressive projects being developed. The economy continues to grow rapidly and I am optimistic for the future of my home country. This is largely thanks to His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and to the vision he has chosen to pursue for the country.”
Commenting on the luxury business in this region, “Our main luxury market is Dubai, with its strong retail economy, reinforced by the heavy influx of tourists to the city. Having said that, we see a healthy growth in Qatar too due to the Qatari consumers’ high purchasing power and growing demand for luxury goods.” And, as to the role of the Al Mana Group, he adds, “We shall continue to introduce new brands to Qatar and the GCC. We are also developing shopping malls and hope to bring Saks Fifth Avenue to Qatar in the near future.”
Apart from regular business, Wissam says, “I’m working on an interesting design project. I’m also pursuing an art project and I’m involved in several charities.”
How does he take some time off to relax amidst all this hectic activity, “Coming back to your question on hobbies – I try to devote some time to fitness and make it a point to take lessons in Arabic Calligraphy, which is a fascinating art.”
As for vacationing, “I am usually between London, Paris and Malibu in California, whenever I get a chance. Malibu is such a great place, the beach, the weather, the wildlife; very peaceful and laid back.”
Wissam Al Mana’s perspective of the luxury business is impressive – as a magnate, who was born in Qatar, raised in Europe and educated in the United States, he has a global outlook and is able to select business associates from across the continents to introduce the Middle East to the world of luxury.