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Award-winning CEO Khalid Abdulla spills secrets of success

Group chief executive of African Equity Empowerment Investments Limited (AEEI) and multi-award-winning businessman Khalid Abdulla

Group chief executive of African Equity Empowerment Investments Limited (AEEI) and multi-award-winning businessman Khalid Abdulla

Published Oct 29, 2017


Running a successful business means you have to be a step ahead of everyone, all the time. You’ll be up against many people – and it won’t be easy.

Running a successful business means making mistakes, but learning from them. Key in the game of success versus defeat is getting education, gaining experience and how to execute for success.

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This is the advice of one of the most successful businessmen in the country – group chief executive of African Equity Empowerment Investments Limited (AEEI), and multi-award-winning businessman Khalid Abdulla.

He has been with the AEEI Group since 1999 and has served as the CEO of various subsidiaries, including the information technology businesses, and as Group CFO in 2007 before being appointed Group CEO in November 2009.

Abdulla’s list of awards for this year already include:

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– Business Leader of the Year - Southern Africa 2017 award at the 7th All Africa Business Leaders Awards in partnership with CNBC Africa.

– SA’s Future Maker - Driver for Change Award 2017 at the Inaugural Vision 2030 Awards.

– South Africa’s Most Empowered Business Leader of the Year 2017 at The Oliver Empowerment Awards.

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– Being recognised as a Most Empowered Company by Empowerdex over the years since its inception.

– Top CEO Africa Award for South Africa - by the CEO Today Africa Awards magazine.

He was a finalist in the 2015 Oliver Empowerment Awards - Top Male Leader of the Year; and has been ranked among the 10 best executives of 2015 by the Financial Mail.

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Abdulla was also the recipient of the Black Business Executive Circle (BBEC)/Absa Bank Kaelo Awards in 2010 for leadership, Kaelo meaning “nurturing or mentoring” others.

“Every career has tools for success. If you want to be a professional sportsman, you have to practise to perfect your technique. If you want to go into business you have to have the right tools and education is key.

“You have to get your matric first, and then decide whether you want to go to university or Technicon. 

"To be in business today means you’ll be up against a lot of competition; it’s not easy. You have to make sure you are a step ahead of everyone else.”

Abdulla was first exposed to industry by his father, who was an entrepreneur. He grew up in Harfield Village and his dad, Sharfoodin Abdulla, had a corner shop, and a music and movie house.

Abdulla and his brother had to make sure the movies played according to schedule, as the movie projector was played through a hole in the wall that connected the theatre to their bedroom.

“Our room was next to the movie house and my brother and I were the movie operators. It taught us discipline.”

Growing up, Abdulla was a flourishing sportsman - having played soccer for Clarewood and later at Thornhill United, scoring many goals that led to their winning premier leagues and trophies.

He also played squash, volleyball and did athletics - often practising all these codes in the same day.

His dad hardly missed watching any of his matches.

Today Abdulla encourages his children, Shaazia, 22, Idrees, 17, and Amaara, 14, to follow their dreams, and work hard. 

“I read in my spare time, and my children always ask me why the books are always business-related, and never novels. I tell them that I enjoy what I do,” Abdulla said.

His wife Fatima, a medical doctor, has been there for him through it all, Abdulla said.

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