Striking natural features of the Maldivian archipelago are best witnessed from the sky. Islands scattered like pearls on a string woven by flowing azure Indian Ocean between them leaves you speechless when seen in bird’s-eye view. This is how A.U.M. Fawzy felt when he first came to the Maldives in the early 1990s. Little did he know then that he would eventually lead the World’s Largest Seaplane Operator facilitating transport across the nation.
We at Coral Glass had the pleasure to chat with A.U.M. Fawzy, the Chief Executive Officer of Trans Maldivian Airways. His journey in the making of an eminent CEO since joining TMA in 1995 is more than inspiring, and has valuable lessons for us to learn from.
Fawzy’s first visit to the Maldives was a visit to his brother who was working in the country. He was immediately mesmerized by the untouched islandscapes, lush with vegetation and housing the friendliest of islanders. The feeling of peace in the destination was strong enough to pull Fawzy back to the Maldives in 1995 again, this time to settle.
He was supposed to become a doctor but a change of circumstances led to Fawzy choosing the profession of Finance. Fawzy surprised himself with how good he was in the subject given he had no clue when he started. He is a Chartered Management Accountant with FCMA (UK). This paved the way to his first job in the Maldives at Maldivian Air Taxi’s Finance Department, and quickly climb up the corporate ladder to become the Chief Finance Officer.
Joining a team of merely 25 staff, work was based out of a container in the beginning, says Fawzy. Busy operations and odd tasks soon became routine to him. None of it bothered Fawzy as much because every day was a fresh opportunity to learn something new. Even though he was the Head of his department, he was filling in for junior staff, mingling with other departments of the operation, and learning the ins and outs of the business without his knowledge.
The extra effort nourished Fawzy’s passion for his job. He believes in going one more mile ahead of the rest that adds to experience which when collected over time, makes an individual stand out for his worth. In the span of just six years, Fawzy was promoted to the Chief Executive Officer position at MAT, in 2001.
One of Fawzy’s many notable traits include the urge to do better. If there is anything one can do to go from being good to being great, Fawzy works on improving the needed. There was no stopping him post becoming the head of the company. In 2004, he did his MBA from the National University of Singapore. Much like the aviation industry that demands to evolve with the challenges, Fawzy set his goals to grow with the company. MBA educated him but it was his experience that was to his advantage. The great extent of what the industry taught Fawzy was something no one could take away from him.
Tourism in the Maldives was heavily concentrated around Male’ Atoll in the earlier days. Seaplane operations were the gateway to islands in the far Atolls, opening up a whole new world with freedom to explore. Flying hundreds of times and carrying thousands of passengers to their dream stays in the Maldives in peak tourist season, MAT was at the top of its game for the next decade.
At a point when you have done your best and there is little contribution needed, Fawzy suggests moving on is the next best thing to do. In 2011, he retired from MAT and left to the U.K. to spend time with his family. The reunion lasted only a few months before Fawzy was called back to the shores of Maldives, a tempting invitation at the end of the line.
Seaplane operations in the Maldives was sorting out a knot of chaos. Fawzy was asked to oversee the change in ownership of MAT based on his expertise. Trans Maldivian Airways was simultaneously in the process at the time too. Fawzy networked with his global connections and managed to turn around both companies to pull off one of the biggest and most successful mergers in the Maldivian aviation history.
In partnership with the American private equity, The Blackstone Group, Maldivian Air Taxi and Trans Maldivian Airways merged to retain TMA’s name and MAT’s colors, and grew a combined fleet of 44 strong. Fawzy had little information on business mergers but a strong bond with the new and refined management – both of which intrigued taking on a new challenge. He was reinstated as CEO of the merged company.
Since then, the journey has been an eventful ride uphill. TMA is a unique operation that boosts the tourism industry in the Maldives by providing reliable services and attaining confidence from industry stakeholders. The demand-based business saw addition of new and improved aircraft to its fleet in order to cater for flexible scheduling for its partners. Fawzy believes that in being the largest seaplane operator in the world, Maldives played a pivotal role in creating a universal demand for the technology in the field to evolve.
Not many people can boast of having worked in the Maldives for more than 20 years at a stretch. Fawzy calls it his second home, a place he is utterly in love with. On days when work is stressful, all he had to do was walk out, stroll by the beach and breath in. The momentary halt works as an instant stress buster, a fact that remains unchanged to date. What changed however was the work station; from a cubicle in a container to a generous office space today. Fawzy dedicates all credit to his team.
The biggest achievement of Fawzy’s career has been empowering a trusting team to have his back at all times. It’s the people who carry a company forward, affirms Fawzy. Investing in locals to excel in leading roles welcomed grand talents to the organization. His philosophy is simple – listen to everyone but only make smart decisions. One does not have to agree with the boss without question. Also, letting your managers whose vision aligns with the company’s vision do their jobs only makes one a successful leader.
Today, one of Fawzy’s key role is to guide them in making the right decisions. He trusts them to be prompt in keeping the ‘organized chaos’ in place from sunrise to sunset, and he cannot be thankful enough for them not allowing him to fail. The family of TMA adheres to a service-oriented culture fostered by Fawzy over the years. The ‘Customer first’ and ‘Never say No’ customs truly made the difference in services provided by TMA despite the challenges of every day. We agree with Fawzy when he says that there is never a dull moment in TMA.