Al Hawaj is a brand familiar to most Bahrainis. The traditional perfume company Al Hawaj & Sons, was established in 1942 and is now chaired by the eldest son Jawad Al Hawaj, who in 2013 received the Chevalier De Légion d’Honneur (Legion of Honor) from the president of France. It is the country’s highest decoration. Chairman and board member at the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry, he spent many years during his youth driving across Europe and growing along with the snow and the evergreen around him. A businessman who values quality, he began work with his father at the age of 9 and then worked alongside him in Qatar a few years later, taking a year off of school.
What was your impression of work at that age?
When you love your work and you
love to do something, definitely you will be able to understand the business. Of course, when I was 12 years old and I came back from Qatar, when I wanted to make any correspondence, I used a freelancer who was with us, to help me.
So what I did, after two or three years, is that I started copying his letter style. Then, I wrote to companies and began communicating with them.
When you start in communications, then you get interested in continuing and in learning more.
What was your favorite part?
My favorite was to discover new things and introduce them to people. If you want to be better and grow, then you have to be different, you cannot be
One thing that is important is to deal with people with honesty. When you work with confidence, trust and honesty, then the people will trust you. When they trust you, they become a part of you. We have one customer, who is a third generation, her mother and grandmother used to come to our shop. That is an example of what trust produces.
Can you tell us a bit more about your career progression?
In my school I was a good student. In the beginning I went to Germany to study medicine, but I did not continue and changed my direction to be in trade and business. However, one thing is very important to note, I started travelling early and young.
First time I was in the Middle East, in Lebanon and Syria at that time, to import some products, I was 14 or 15 years old. Then when I was 17-18, I started going to Turkey and to Europe. At that time, travelling to Europe was not very common like it is today, because today everything is easier and more available. Before, they only knew a few places in the world.
So in that stage, I started visiting the suppliers, manufacturers and exhibitors. That was a big challenge and a big step.
How does travel help a businessman?
Travelling is a big opportunity. It was very helpful. It is a great way to market your product and introduce others to your country. In the end it makes you a stronger person.
What is the biggest challenge you faced in your career?
Actually there are so many, because you know Al Hawaj, we started small and now we are a distributor and we have many shops and we are in all locations.
When we used to export some of our products to other gulf countries, I used to travel by myself, with my bag and bring samples to them.
In my other travels, I bought my car and started in Germany, driving to suppliers across Europe and then when I finished my journey I made my way back to Bahrain.
That is actually a lot of discoveries. I did this in the 70s.
How has Al Hawaj grown over the years?
My father and my brothers worked hard together. Our products evolved from embroidery items, imitation jewelry to many others. Then we started adding more shops, until Al Hawaj became what is today.
What does the name ‘Al Hawaj’ mean to Bahrain?
Actually, Hawaj is a family name, so everyone knows what is the meaning of Hawaj, which means people who are selling traditional medicines and herbs. But that has nothing to do with our business today. We learned a lot about quality from my father, who used to make the Bisht. So when we started working we always chose the best items and the best brands. This made our name a prestigious one.
Today, as a company, we have been in the market for over 70 years and are known across the Gulf and internationally, especially as we are dealing with suppliers like Chanel, Vogue, Yves Saint Laurent and many others. We also opened new electronic ventures, like Samsung, which operate alongside us.
What are your hobbies ?
My hobby, when I was young, was photography. The others, that I maintained till this day are agriculture and house animals, like chickens, birds, cows. I still have them in my house.
When I was young, we had a small house near the church in Manama
and I started making trees in small boxes. Then I saw the fruit that came out of it, for example, tomatoes,
which made me, dream to have a garden of my own. Thanks to god, I have a big garden now, with honeybees and fresh produce.
What is your message for young entrepreneurs?
Actually, honesty is very important, with yourself and your work and
with your people… once you are honest with yourself, you will be successful. Persistence and originality are also crucial.