Tom Rebollini is the head of finance, sales and marketing for Jalboot Marine Network, the capital’s only scheduled water ferry, which has been running for six months. Mr Rebollini, 40, is a second-generation Italian, born and raised in London, where he worked as an auditor and accountant with Deloitte and the Financial Times before moving to Russia to work with auditors PricewaterhouseCoopers. He came to the UAE in 2009 with accountants Ernst & Young, and then the investment and development company Mubadala, before setting up Jalboot for its parent holding company, Emirates Consortium.
I have a two-year-old Himalayan cat, Mia. Unfortunately, she thinks this is the best time to go hunting. I’m resigned to this as my early wake-up call but try to get another hour’s sleep.
I’m up and out of the house in 15 minutes and make my first work calls on the quick walk from my apartment, near Dana Hotel, to the office in Abu Dhabi Mall – literally 200 metres. I had to learn to get ready quickly when I lived in Russia for six years: I was based in Moscow and was sent to Kazakhstan for three separate, six-month projects in that time. At one point, I had a three-hour commute each way, in -35°C and on a train with no heating, so every minute was precious. It was the weather that brought me to the UAE – I lived on a boat here in Al Bateen when I first came and loved it. I pick up a latte and a skinny raspberry muffin from Tim Hortons on the way in, and will often brief our group chief executive over coffee outside.
The office is in full swing. We’re a pretty small team in Jalboot (four in the back office, five running the boats and three selling tickets), and it amazes me how much we’ve achieved in just under three years. In 2013, Jalboot only existed as a PowerPoint presentation (and, for a month, I was its only employee); since then, we’ve built boats, implemented a new IT infrastructure for the whole group and set up a ticketing and accounting system – including a mobile point-of-sales system which has won international awards.
Building this kind of business from scratch requires a huge number of stakeholders, so I have face-to-face meetings and calls every day, but try to make them brief and eventful. Today I meet a tour operator to add them to our reseller network, have a call with a government department – we’re looking at launching a water transport solution between Yas Island and Raha Beach – and talk to our IT providers to decide on a GPS tracking solution for our boats and how to integrate it into the Jalboot app. I’m pretty sure I drink more coffee than water, with so many meetings.
Time for a Skype call with our website developers in Hyderabad, India. We’re ready to on-board Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, The Entertainer and Etihad Airways into our corporate discount schemes, and have now synced all back-end systems to work together. Our customer service executive sits in with me; she will then put together a product briefing memo about the changes and head to Sharjah tomorrow to train our call centre staff.
I squeeze in a quick 15-minute lunch at Café Nero in Abu Dhabi Mall (a ham and cheese toasted croissant and Sicilian cheesecake) then I’m back to work. I also manage the rest of our shareholders’ investments, together with the Emirates Consortium group chief executive: there’s Bubble, a commercial laundry handling 55 tonnes a day, plus other operational and financial investments in Switzerland, Chile and the UAE.
Jalboot’s general manager, Mohamed Roestali, does a building tour at this time each day. He’s ex-military and knows how to drive results by building a team – and cracking some terrible jokes. It’s important to keep the momentum going, but we like to stop along the way to admire the scenery.
I leave my weightier preparation work until late afternoon – presentations, letters and the like. We are trying to convince various companies and government entities that we should provide a public water transport service in Abu Dhabi. We are also talking to Abu Dhabi Municipality about a possible Corniche jetty, so I have jetty designs to review. When the office has died down, I’ll catch up on unanswered emails.
My fiancée works as first-class crew at Etihad and is flying home from her layover, so I pick her up from the airport. Today is our movie night, so we’re off to the cinema for a 10pm showing and snacks – no proper dinner tonight.
We’re getting married in Lake Como in Italy this June and we’re running short of time to set up this very international wedding (my fiancée is Singaporean), so we need to squeeze in some time to chat about it. As the lake is almost home for me, I’m organising most things myself and we’ve saved on a wedding planner. I do try to get seven to eight hours’ sleep, but sometimes end up just getting five or six.
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