Hani Khoja, CEO & Managing Partner, Elixir Management Consultancy Partner, McKinsey & Co., talked with Dr. Tausif Malik, Founder-Editor of GCC Region’s First Startup & Entrepreneurship News portal ‘GCCStartup.News’. Here are the excerpts of the Interview.
Dr. Tausif Malik. Please give us brief background about yourself?
Hani Khoja. I am a son, a brother, a husband, & a father.
I am a Muslim.
I am a management consultant with a passion to solve complex problems which prevent people from reaching their full potential.
I am a Global Nomad in search of true happiness.
Dr. Tausif Malik. Please tell us about your entrepreneurship journey ?
Hani Khoja. I have always had the entrepreneurial bug. As a teenager, it was a matter of making some spending income. so I designed T-shirts and posters for special events, I painted houses, I delivered newspapers door to door, I sold knives to housewives, basically i did anything to make an extra buck.
Even when I joined Procter & Gamble, I always had something on the side. I sold mugs, designer clothes, & food. but all these efforts failed because I never gave them 100% of my attention, they were always after-hour efforts. near the end of my P&G career, I started to provide consultancy services to friends owning businesses. They experienced an immediate impact from my recommendations, and they encouraged me to pursue it as a full time career. So I resigned from P&G in 2005 and co-founded Elixir Management Consultancy.
Dr. Tausif Malik. You are an entrepreneur, community leader, mountaineer & author …How do you define yourself ?
Hani Khoja. I am first and foremost passionate about being a Khalifa on Earth. God created each and every one of us to be his Khalifa to build the Earth and help others reach their full potential. That is my life purpose. Therefore I try to ensure that every action I take helps me fulfill this purpose. I take this very seriously. I am convinced that I have been blessed with so much by God, and it is my responsibility to utilize such blessings to help others succeed to reach their full potential.
Being an entrepreneur, community leader, mountaineer, author are platforms for me to fulfill this purpose. Elixir was created to join like-minded people together to solve complex problems for companies, government entities, non-profits, and individuals. I strive to be a community leader to help others serve the less fortunate. I climb mountains to refresh my batteries, to enjoy God’s works of art, and plan the future.
Dr. Tausif Malik. Entrepreneur & mountaineer a very rare combination, how did you become a mountaineer?
Hani Khoja. Both push the boundaries of what we feel we are capable of achieving. As an Entrepreneur you are constantly faced with the question of whether your idea is valuable to others. Can I sell my idea to others at a price that allows me to succeed? can i attract others to pursue a common dream? Similarly, climbing mountains challenges what you feel your body can do. at the beginning of the trek, your body resists and you question your capabilities, but taking 1 step at a time and remembering the end destination keeps you moving forward. reaching the end destination with persistence and courage gives a similar feeling of accomplishment & a higher sense of personal capabilities. When we constantly push ourselves, we are consistently amazed with our capabilities.
Dr. Tausif Malik. What kind of services Elixir management consultancy offer to the startups and entrepreneurs ?
We have helped startups create new schools, hospitals, clinics, & even government entities. This is what we do best. We work side by side with entrepreneurs, whether in private or public sectors, get their startups off the ground. Currently it is a challenge to serve small startups because all our capacity is being used to serve Vision 2030 and major government entities, so not a lot of work is being invested in small startups. What I would advise is that small entrepreneurs read my book because it has tons of practical advice.
Dr. Tausif Malik. Please tell us about your book “A Global Nomad in Search of True Happiness” and how can we order this book ?
Hani Khoja. I believe that each and every human being in history has been created to make the world a better place. Some of us have been blessed with more health, wealth, wisdom, and security. But all of us have a unique ability to make a difference. Our destiny is beyond eating, sleeping, fornicating, propagating, having a bit of fun, and then dying. Life is more than that. It has to be.
I started writing this book at age 45. This is what many people would call the golden decade of one’s life, and I am now contemplating what’s next. How do I leverage my God-given skills and blessings to do more? On my deathbed, can I state with a clear conscious that I did my very best to help my fellow human being? It feels as if everything in my life has been leading up to this point.
There is a compelling Quran verse informing us that we have been chosen by God as his “khalifas (agents and inheritors) on Earth”:
It is He Who hath made you (His) agents, inheritors of the earth: He hath raised you in ranks, some above others: that He may try you in the gifts He hath given you: for thy Lord is quick in punishment: yet He is indeed Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.” (6:165)
Yusuf Ali translation.
I believe that each and every human being in history has been created by God to be His agent on Earth. The question that constantly whispers in my ear and drives my every action is, how can I be God’s “khalifa”?
With so much chaos surrounding us, where would I start? I had recently been stuck in the mud. I wanted to do something, but I didn’t know what. This book has been a process to overcome my paralysis and start the momentum. Through this self-reflection, I have come up with a formula to living forever happy.
All you have to do answer 5 key questions:
1. Who are you?
2. What are you supremely good at?
3. Who do you want to help and how?
4. What needs to be done to turn ideas into reality?
5. What’s stopping you from jumping?
There it is! The 5 step secret formula to living with a permanent smile on your face. By writing this book I firstly hope I will inspire others to determine their ultimate destiny. How can each and every one of us fulfill their destiny on earth? We must have faith that we can do anything we want –as long as we have good intentions, strong willpower, and resilience. We are stronger than we think. After reaching our summits, we can hopefully look back on our lives with a sense of satisfaction that we truly gave our best.
Secondly, I hope to bridge the gap between the American and Saudi cultures. Extremists have created unjustified distrust on both sides. Most Americans feel Saudis are violent, backward, and unapproachable. Most Saudis feel Americans are imperialistic warmongers. Having lived most of my life between both cultures, I will highlight the similar values and beliefs Americans and Saudis share. I aim to out-voice the extremists who have thus far dominated the conversation. Ideally Americans and Saudis can collaborate to make this world a better place and together enjoy eternal happiness by fixing our world and helping others.
To encourage the reader along, I have filled this book with anecdotes and stories from my life. Each chapter and each recommended step is supported by my real life experiences in Saudi Arabia, the United States, Belgium, Niger, Tanzania, and other countries across the world. Some stories are inspirational and others are funny. I have also included many practical exercises which the reader can apply for self-exploration. My aim is to not only entertain the reader throughout the book but also help him or her apply the steps in their life.
It is available on Amazon bookstore. just put “Global Nomad in Search of True Happiness” in the search.
Dr. Tausif Malik. You are involved in so many community activities, can you share some of your experience?
Hani Khoja. It is important to keep in touch with the people you aim to help. Maintain a personal connection to see the need in their eyes, to see how they live, how much they struggle, and how much you can impact their lives positively. it is also important to implant this in our children at an early age. To get them to reach out to others less fortunate and get involved in bridging the gap no matter how wide.
Dr. Tausif Malik. What are your future plans?
I plan on continuing to solve complex problems to unlock the potential of people around me. I will continue as CEO of Elixir and help it expand within Saudi Arabia to serve Vision 2030. Then expand Elixir beyond Saudi Arabia to the GCC and neighboring countries. I plan on writing another book. I don’t have a topic yet, and any ideas are welcome! I plan on helping my family reach their full potential. I plan on doing something really challenging every year. Most recently, my family and I traveled to Nepal and hiked the Poonhill trek. This was challenging for my wife and as well as my teenage son and daughter. I also plan on living more in the moment and enjoying the journey. I spend too much time planning the future and sometimes forget to smell the roses along the way.
Dr. Tausif Malik. Based on your experience, what are the challenges entrepreneurs and startups face in the GCC region? Finally, a message to Entrepreneurs, especially Saudi entrepreneurs?
Hani Khoja. The challenges are two-fold; firstly real bureaucratic challenges in getting licenses, funding, support, & overcoming government complexity. This i am confident will be smoothed out as part of Vision 2030. The bigger challenge is psychological and social. Entrepreneurs are constantly discouraged in Saudi society. Anything new is ridiculed and fought. So Entrepreneurs need to have a thick skin. They need to balance between listening to productive critics who provide necessary input to their ideas. They criticize with the intention of helping the Entrepreneur. This must be balanced with an ability to ignore cynics and skeptics whose only intention is to kill the passion of the Entrepreneur. We must be able to distinguish between them. we must proactively pursue the productive critics and add them to our advisory board. they are important to our success. and we must also proactively keep the cynics and skeptics out of our lives -at least our entrepreneurial lives.