Off hours: Dubai events boss sees work as more than just a 'Mickey Mouse' job

Ali Haidary is the founder and chief executive of Sport & Entertainment Solutions (SES), a sponsorship and events agency he launched in 2005. Mr Haidary, 43, is a British Iraqi who has been visiting the UAE since 1977, making his residency official about 15 years ago. His next big event is Disney Live, which runs from April 6 to 9 at the Dubai World Trade Centre.

How do you spend your weekend?

Having an extremely busy and stressful lifestyle means I need to take advantage of every moment I have during the weekend. I try to get as much exercise in as possible, so I play tennis and go to the gym. I also like to have a lazy day on the beach when I can. As a massive football fan, I catch up on all the games, but being a Liverpool fan means I’ve had very little to cheer about this year. I also like to stay on top of the entertainment scene, so I attend as many events as I can.

How did you become a chief executive?

For me it wasn’t actually becoming a chief executive. SES is a company I founded more than 11 years ago. It has grown organically and we have reached a place where we have excellent senior-level management who are all performing their specific jobs to the best of their abilities. They have all come from leading institutions and leading companies, specialising in their respective fields. So I would say I am very fortunate to be the quarterback of this team, or better yet, the captain of this ship, that steers the team in the right direction. That’s really what a chief executive does. He brings all the talent that is available to him and gives them the direction and objectives to fulfil their potential.

What is your go-to gadget?

My Fitbit, which tells me how many steps I’ve taken in a day and how well I sleep at night. I give myself a goal to walk a certain amount of steps a day, but unfortunately in Dubai I rarely meet that because there aren’t a lot of opportunities to walk. Although I do use it a lot when I travel. My Fitbit makes exercising and being healthy fun.

What was the lowest point of your career?

As a business owner there are ups and downs on a daily basis, so I don’t really see situations as a low point but more as an experience and a learning curve of how to do things better. There is a famous Arabic saying that translates to “Never hate something that in the end may be good for you”, so there is always a silver lining in every cloud. There have been many moments in my career where I was between a rock and a hard place and thought things couldn’t get worse, but as I said, you learn from it and grow. I’m a true believer that if one door closes another will open, and that’s proved right in every aspect of my life so far.

What advice would you offer others starting out in your business?

Have a lot of patience, commitment, perseverance and a thick skin because a lot of people will tell you don’t do it. Being a promoter is an absolutely crazy profession in a very volatile sector, but an extremely fulfilling and rewarding one. Believe in your abilities and gut instinct and despite what others may tell you, believe in yourself and do it. There may be troubling times ahead but it will all be worth it if you have the right planning and maintain the same standards you’ve set out for yourself at the beginning.

What is your most indulgent habit?

Pinkberry. But with lots and lots of fruit to minimise my guilt.

What do you have on your desk at work?

I have a bobblehead toy of a basketball player with my photo in it, which reminds me of the first event I did which was the Fifa Beach Soccer World Cup Qualifier in 2005. I also have a Mickey Mouse toy, which reminds me of how lucky I am to be promoting Disney On Ice and Disney Live.

What can’t you live without?

My phone. I live by my phone. I conduct all my business with my phone. I read and respond to all my emails through my phone. I need to be in touch with staff, colleagues and partners all the time. So, yes, I couldn’t live without it, especially since I spend most of my time travelling and my team needs me on a daily basis; it’s the only way to really get a hold of me.

How do you achieve a work-life balance?

Because I love what I do, I wake up every day with so much excitement and passion that I don’t actually feel like I’m working. I suppose that makes it sound like I don’t have a work-life balance, but to me my work is my life and I enjoy every moment of it.

If you could swap jobs with anyone, who would it be and why?

Mickey Mouse. He travels the world, to the most exotic locations, in the most fantastic modes of transport available to both man and mouse, and his objective is to put smiles on people’s faces.

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