Mr Qasim Ibrahim started working to earn a living at a very young age. One of his earliest memories is moving to Male’ and taking up the job of a clerk and later an accountant at the government hospital.
Now, he is often named as one of the wealthiest and successful businessmen in the country. During his lengthy business career which spans the majority
of his life, he has explored multiple sectors such as trading, tourism, aviation, education, just to name a few. A well-loved and respected philanthropist, he has funded the education and healthcare of countless people, personally and through his company.
He also served as Finance and Home Minister of Maldives. In addition, he was a Board member at Bank of Maldives and Maldives Ports Authority. He also served as the Vice-President of the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) and the President of the Maldives National Chamber of
Commerce and Industry (MNCCI).
In acknowledgement of the innumerable ways he has contributed to the success of the industry and the country, he was awarded the prestigious Gold 100 Lifetime Achievement Award this year.
You’re considered one of the most successful businessmen in the Maldives. Could you tell us a bit about how you got started on your journey to success?
The earliest memories I have are of when I was around ten years old and working on an uninhabited island as a cook. I worked there for four years with another kid around my age, cooking for the few people who worked there on some project. I remember thinking I wanted to do more than just cook. I wanted to study and make something of myself. So I asked my father to send me to Male’ to study and he agreed. I attended Alia School in Male’ for a year but had to stop as my father wasn’t able to provide the financial support necessary to keep me enrolled there. Instead, I started attending tuition classes, which was a lot cheaper.
Nevertheless, I studied hard but it took me almost 6 to 7 years to receive the educational certificates I needed to get even a basic level job in Male’. Armed with the certificates, I was able to get a job at the government hospital as a clerk. While working there I joined an accountancy class, passed, and got promoted to an accountant at the same hospital. Four years
after working in the hospital, I resigned after I was falsely accused and convicted of a minor infraction at the hospital.
After leaving the hospital, I became the Manager of MGBS (Maldives Government Bodu Store) and it was during this period I decided to start saving some money. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was saving for at the time but I knew I needed funds to get anything done. So I meticulously saved, putting aside funds from my monthly wages and the bonuses I received from the shop. Over time, I realized that I needed to own some property to get any sort of business started. With my father’s help, I was able to purchase a plot of land in Male’ in Maafannu ward. It took almost all the money I had saved from my previous job to purchase the plot of land. I mortgaged 50% of the land and got a loan of MVR 1,500.00, which became the capital to start my business.
My business was named QIM at the start, but I later changed it to Villa Shipping and Trading in 1984. I first traded in sugar, flour and rice and then later moved on to oil, as it generated higher profits than the other products. Selling oil to the resorts was very profitable, and after some time dealing with the resorts, I became interested in the idea of operating my own resort.
I bought Fun Island, my first ever resort, from PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) for $500,000. The resort was already in operation with 30 or so rooms, but I constructed an additional 50 rooms once the ownership was handed over to me. However, I only managed to operate the resort during the 1986 and 1987 tourist seasons before I had to close it down on Government instructions. I took the time to make more renovations at the resort and reopened the resort in April 1988, and it has been in operation since then. After that, I opened my second resort, Holiday Island, and then Paradise Island in 1994. Sun Island was next, followed by Royal Island in 1998. This is just a short summary of how I got started in the resort business, which is what I am most well-known for, I guess, but the real story is very long, full of ups and downs, struggles, and tragedy… interspaced with moments of happiness and triumph, of course.
Speaking of obstacles, what do you consider the biggest challenge you have faced so far in life?
In my extremely long professional career, I have faced numerous obstacles and countless difficulties that I’ve had to overcome or navigate around, using all my years of expertise and experience as a businessman. However, without a doubt, the single most hopeless situation I have ever faced was what I went through after being imprisoned during former President Yameen’s reign. That was the lowest point in my life; never have I ever felt so hopeless and powerless. I am very happy that I managed to survive it physically, but the psychological scars will probably never heal. It is something I do not wish to go through ever again.
What about successes? What do you think is your biggest achievement?
There are so many. I have received so many accolades and awards for my work, my business; so much praise for what I have achieved in my career, it’s hard to choose one. One of the first achievements I was particularly proud of was, with all my resorts combined I was operating the highest number of tourist resorts with the most number of beds within a period of 10 years. No one else has ever been able to make that claim before. However, that’s just business numbers. There are other things you can’t quantify that I am very proud of such as being able to help those who need help during hard times. I am particularly proud of the fact that I am in a
position to help young students without the financial means necessary to get a higher education. Through Villa Foundation I have provided funding for thousands of Maldivian students. And then there are those who seek medical treatment from abroad. I am very happy that I can and was able to provide the help they needed at a time they needed it most. Being able to help those people in need, I consider that one of the greatest achievements in my life.
What advice would you offer to young entrepreneurs in the Maldives?
Become very involved in every aspect of what you are doing. Know your business! Even more importantly, know and accept your limits… so you can break them forearmed with knowledge! Finally, no matter what, never cheat your customers.
What do you think is the most important quality you have that has made you into such a huge success?
There are no secrets to success. Everyone knows what the secrets are. Some refuse to accept it. More importantly, there is no single quality in a person which can turn him into a success. It is the amalgamation of several qualities, during certain key points in your life, which makes or breaks you. However, there are some qualities that will definitely allow you to move forward in your career. For me, it was truthfulness, sincerity, dedication, and willpower. I work hard, sometimes to the point of exhaustion, but that is one of the several keys to success, I think. Not giving up in the face of adversity. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I believe these are the qualities that kept me going and helped me succeed in my life and career.
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