The Edition

Latest

Naabe’s journey to commercial success

Brands of Maldives unveils the inner workings of Malla Ahmed Naasir, Founder of Lily Group

Nafaahath Ibrahim
25 November 2019, MVT 12:12
Founder and CEO of Lily Group Malla Ahmed Nasir (Naabe). PHOTO: AHMED NISHAATH / MIHAARU
Nafaahath Ibrahim
25 November 2019, MVT 12:12

Even as he approaches his mid-sixties, Malla Ahmed Naasir, fondly known as Naabe, shows no signs of slowing pace. Founder of the widely successful Lily Group, he still eagerly leads and participates in the day-to-day operations. A business legend in every right, Naabe's position at the very top has remained constant, even as those beside him have faded into bankruptcy and commercial irrelevance.

Naabe's role in the formation of Lily Group is such that he is the core within which the entire company stems from. It was his business strategies that led the collective to prosperity and his leadership that ensures its continued growth.

All the ups and downs, the struggles Naabe faced in his journey to success over the course of the last 35 years would most certainly serve as an inspiration to aspiring entrepreneurs.

This writer attempts to navigate the cogs and gears driving the man behind virtually unparallelled commercial triumphs, in a then-untested and ever-precarious market.

When and how did Lily business first come into being?

"Lily was founded in 1982. It was a business that started out at home. We named the shop 'Friend', after my father's house, 'Friendly Cottage'.

The following year, 1983, we imported goods and began to sell them from the shop.

We brought over 80 cases of tea leaves from Sri Lanka. This happened amidst World War II, and since we were the only ones stocking tea, it brought a lot of profit.

From those earnings, we opened a shop called Lily in 1984, focusing on the sale of food items. The name ‘Lily’ was passed on to all the shops that came after.

We rented the premises from the owner, 'Koligey' Nasira.

After that, Lily Enterprises, Lily Shipping, Lily Beach, Lily Hotels, Lily F&B, Lily International and Hideaway eventually came into existence."

How did you expand your business to the booming success it is today?

"At the time, the resort business had just come into being. There were about 15 resorts operating in Maldives but even fewer suppliers. We began to import canned goods and supply them to the properties. The demand grew to be so high, we formed a separate company and expanded our business.

So, we moved into the F&B sector in the year 2000. As we speak, some of our [company's] ferries are journeying through various resorts [supplying goods]. We have acquired our own resorts as well. We even own 50 percent of shares within Apollo company, which specialises in the import of construction materials. Additionally, we operate several shops in Addu City."

Who was Naabe before Lily? What did you pursue prior to this business?

"After completing school, I joined the civil service in 1974. Then I ventured into seafaring.

Once I returned, I started working for a private business. In those days, a government secretary received a basic salary of MVR 250. Hence, I was about to join the civil service when a private businessman just happened to offer me MVR 350 to work for him. And so I did."

As a youth, what sort of career did you envision yourself building?

"I was performing very well in school when my parents were forced to remove me as they could not afford the fees. At first, I attended Aaliyaa School. Afterwards, I attempted to enrol myself in Majeedhiyya but although everything had been set for my admission, plans fell through since we were unable to meet all of the school's requirements. Having to abruptly halt my education like that really affected me. However, even then, I convinced myself to move ahead doing whatever work I was able to do."

Delving into more personal matters, when did you decide to settle down and start a family?

"My first marriage was in 1975 and lasted about two years. We have one child together.

In 1982, I got married for the second time and we are together even today. My wife had a child from a different marriage when I married her. So, altogether, I now have three children."

If you had to attribute all of your success to one factor, what would it be?

"I believe it is the shared hard work of everyone involved, together. It is friendship that kept this going. The honesty with which we all worked in earning the trust of our customers is what brought us this far."

When did Lily Group face its biggest obstacles to date?

"Some point into the business, a ban preventing those who could not acquire dollars within Maldives from importing goods into the country, came into effect. This caused us to face a lot of difficulties. Nevertheless, (Canary) Abdul Sattar, owner of 'Safari Tours', helped us overcome the struggle.

Thankfully, the issue was soon resolved.

In 1993, we began seafaring, armed with only two ships. Our ship, 'Lilymoo' sank on its second voyage, along with all the goods it was carrying. Due to our inexperience at the time, the ship had not been insured; we were not as aware of how businesses work. Our loss amounted to approximately MVR 70 million.

The next biggest challenge we faced came about in 2008, at the time when the whole world went through an economic crisis."

In shaping your corporation, did you 'cut your losses' or abandon any businesses?

"No, I did not close any of the businesses that I had started, rather, I kept on improving them.

By 2008, I owned 10 ships. Still, as they did not allow for vessels older than 25 years to be docked at Indian harbours, we faced a lot of difficulties. As the ships we had were somewhat old, we started to slowly sell them off.

At this time, we are operating chartered ships. Although we were only importing roughly 100 containers per month in 1990, we've now grown to bring in as many as 4,000 containers each month."

Naabe, CEO of Lily Group. PHOTO: AHMED NISHAATH | MIHSAN ABDUL GHANEE / MIHAARU

That's certainly impressive. How far would you say your initial investment has increased?

"I started the business with about MVR 200,000. At present, just our Lily Shops are worth millions."

Building a business is time-consuming, taxing work. How does family, and spending time with them, factor in your life?

"I do dedicate a lot of time to my family.

I clock into office in the morning and return home by 2:30 in the afternoon. I spend time with family until about 5:00 in the evening, at which time I head back to work.

At night, I used to play games like carrom. These days, I exercise and wake up early to play badminton. I wrap things up by 7:00 in the morning, and am at office by 9:00 am.

I've been following this routine for nearly 20-25 years now.

Honestly, I was always a sports fan. I've tried my hand at pretty much every sport from Cricket to Football, Volleyball, Basketball, Tennis, Table Tennis and even some local sports like Mandi, Suvaa and Hiri.

In fact, Lily regularly sponsors a range of sports events."

What does the future hold for Lily Group of Companies?

"I just want to see how far we can progress as a business. We will move forward, as we have done, through legal forms of business."

Naabe, CEO of Lily Group. PHOTO: AHMED NISHAATH | GRAPHICS: MIHSAN ABDUL GHANEE / MIHAARU

You've achieved so much over the course of your career. What would you describe as the biggest form of success in life?

"The greatest success one can achieve in life is good health. The ability to successfully conduct business at my age is as incredible an achievement as it is to reach this point of success with our business."

So you have it; hard work, personal happiness and health all factor in the longevity of one’s business career. Take it from a persona that continues to inspire and push boundaries - the unforgettable and undeniable Malla Ahmed Naasir.

MORE ON BUSINESS