The quote I live by is, "Don't give up." Some people might look at that as cliche, but I look at it with its meaning, and it's the reason I'm here.
- Oweis Zahran
- Tell us a bit about yourself and your entrepreneurial journey
My entrepreneurial journey started when I was about 16 years old. I started working for my dad when I was 13. And, I say it all the time, he's taught me everything I know about being an entrepreneur and a businessman, whether he knew he was teaching me or not, just being around him and seeing how he did things.
I have also been around the world a few times, in 70-plus countries just for work, from a very young age, and that really helped me learn several elements of life from different perspectives.
I didn't have much of a childhood or much of a playful youth; it was all work from a very young age. I was never a major social person either; I was selectively social. If it was important for the task at hand, I would attend, but I wouldn't be the one to throw parties or attend parties just because I was looking for fun and entertainment. So it's been an interesting journey.
- You didn't have much of a childhood. Do you think that has impacted you in any way as an adult?
Definitely. I was in the car yesterday with a good friend, and we were driving from Abu Dhabi to Dubai, and he asked, "Are you going to play the music?" I said, "I don't even know how to turn on the radio."
I've never even had music be a part of my life growing up; I've never had the things that people look at as norms because it wasn't a part of my dad's life.
My dad was work-oriented and mission-focused. And so that definitely shaped me to be the person I am today because, again, you are your habits. Whatever you do as a habit eventually shapes who you are as a person.
- How did you build up an entrepreneurial spirit at such a young age? Do you believe you were born with it or did you develop it?
When I was in my teens, early teens, I said, "I would love to be one of the most successful 24-year-olds in the world." So I had this goal that I was working towards, without really knowing that I was working towards it, but I would think about it every morning. Every morning, for that 10-year period from 13, 14 to 24 years old.
And then my dad, obviously, was my role model. I still talk to him several times a day about everything, not work as much, but about everything else going on in my life. And he's always been the perfect scenario or the perfect story for me. I wanted my story to be somewhat the same in whatever way possible. So, absolutely, my dad was the role model that I strive to be like, and he seems to be pretty proud of what he produced.
- You mentioned your dad is pretty proud of what he produced. Are you proud of yourself as well?
I think I've excelled in some areas. Again, now that I'm an adult, I'm noticing that I'm lacking in certain areas… but I'm not upset about it either.
I don't smoke, I don't drink, and I don't party. Nor do I want to, especially now, but like growing up in my early 20s, I would feel somewhat left out because that's what all the cool people my age were doing.
And then you realise very quickly that, especially as you get older and life becomes more serious, It's cool being different.
- So let's talk about success a little bit; what does that look, feel and sound like to you?
I think the average person would jump to the conclusion that success is monetary success, and that's a piece of it, but it's not success as a whole. I've seen a lot of money in my bank account several times throughout my life, and at the highest point, I can't say I felt the most successful.
So again, money is an important piece of success, obviously, but having balance and peace is also a very important piece of success.
I was talking to a good friend the other day, and we were going over the fact that I reached a part of my life, at one point, where I was successful from the outside in, but from the inside out, I wasn't taking care of my mental health, physical health. I didn't really have a home; I was in-between homes, renting hotel rooms, instead of renting or buying a real home. And it became a real, almost trauma with myself. Again, from the outside, everybody's looking at me as this super successful guy who owns all these companies and all this other stuff; and I reached a point where I literally didn't care about any of that. It almost became irrelevant, until I was able to build that balance.
I think the balance consists of family, health, physical and mental, of course, economic balance, social balance. That's what success is; it's not one of those and not the others.
- What advice would you give to a young person wanting to start out in business?
Don't do anything you don't enjoy, and don't do anything because you're desperate. It's okay to do that for a little while just to get out of whatever tight situation you're in financially, but you will never be successful doing something you don't like to do or want to do.
Understanding that is the first piece of it, because otherwise, you would just waste your life being miserable, living paycheque to paycheque, before realising 10 years later that you've wasted your life. So find something you're passionate about, whatever that is, and pursue it.
One could be a barber if they are great at cutting hair, then become a millionaire cutting hair, and open a bunch of barber salons offering haircuts. Train people to train other people to cut hair. If you're a mechanic, see how you excel at whatever part of the trade you're good at. If you're an engine mechanic, can you fix hybrid engines, can you fix electric engines?
What else can you do to excel in your passion? That's where success is. I mean, every passion, every industry has the capacity to make you the most successful person, you just have to find it.
- You mentioned your dad is your motivation and inspiration. Is there anybody else that you look to for motivation or inspiration?
I look at just people who have achieved great things in life, coming from humble beginnings, and there are several of them. I'm not going to name any because I'll leave some of them out.
I'm sitting in Dubai now and looking at what the ruler of Dubai has built from literally nothing, so he's definitely one of my inspirations. But again, there's a really long list of people that inspire me.
I know that building a success story is not easy. Even if you have the passion, talent, luck and everything else, you still have to balance a lot of things. And when you take a city like Dubai, or you take a major company like Emaar, for example, and look at what was built, that's the inspiration, that's motivation.
- What are the main highlights of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
I have a few of those, and once I realised and dwelled on one of the first ones, I was able to really continue being successful.
What that means is you realise things get really hard at times, and you think they're going to fail and they're going to break, and they're going to explode, and you're going to be embarrassed. Once you overcome that fear and realise that whatever is on the other side is phenomenally greater than whatever you've gone through or you're going through, that's when you develop this pattern of success that anybody would want.
A good friend told me something extremely inspirational, and I think about it all the time. He said to have a convenient life, you have to go through a lot of inconveniences, Steve Harvey. So that's what Steve told me three days ago, and it's things you think about quite a bit but don't really implement. And I say you think about it because you would be going through hardship, whether it's at work or with your physical health, or whatever it is that you're putting in all this effort and work to get to the other side of something great, but you don't really think about what that means.
Anyone who has great success went through some really horrible days, some really tough moments of just feeling like life was tumbling, everything was collapsing. Those are the ones who make it to the highest levels of "success".
- What is the motivation behind your celebrity events, such as the one with Steve Harvey?
Steve—an entrepreneur, businessman, the epitome of a success story that so happens to be a celebrity—is one of my inspirations that I didn't name earlier. I know him pretty well, and I don't look at him as a celebrity before any of those other things. He's twice my age. He's literally old enough to be my dad, and he gives me fatherly advice very often.
But then he also tells me several times, "Look, you're the perfect balance I need, because you're built in this very kind of serious business form. You're not in the entertainment world; you're not a celebrity by any standards." I think when we saw each other's value, that's when we knew we needed to be partners, and we formed MELT Middle East, which is doing only great things.
I'll tell you a quick story about one of the businesses we're bringing to the UAE. I used to get really bad migraine headaches, and they would put me out of order for two weeks almost every month. I would be in a dark room for half of my life. Steve flew to Abu Dhabi to meet me once. He's in town, and I stayed in Abu Dhabi during the time… to be closer. I was in my hotel room for four days, and he said, "Dude, where are you? I flew 19 hours to come and see you." I told him it's really hard to fathom, but I get bad migraines that put me out of order. It doesn't matter what's on the other side of the room, I can't leave it, because if I do, I'll start throwing up, I'll start having literal seizures.
He goes, "Well, there's this doctor in Houston that you should go see, African-American guy named Kevin Smith." Steve tracks him down through his radio team and connects me to this doctor. I go and see him. He does a very simple procedure in my nose that involves a deviated septum that, apparently, most people have, and something else, and I no longer get migrates.
I'm four months into not having another migraine, and I also know that I'll never have another migraine because my mental belief is so strong. So Steve and I are on the phone going over how amazing it is that this worked for me, and at the same time, we both say, "This needs to be in the Middle East and Africa." So that's one of the first physical businesses in partnership with Dr Kevin Smith that is being set up in the Middle East and Africa.
Also, this is the only doctor in the world that's figured out how to cure migraines, not treat migraines, but cure migraines. And, we believe that should be shared with the rest of the world. Not everybody can get to the US, not everybody can afford to stay in the US for two or three weeks after the procedure to recover. So businesses like that we're attracting to the region as well, as I talked about some of the other things relating to students, orphans, even, so we're doing quite a few life-changing products through MELT Middle East.
MELT has also engaged with governments in the region, including the Government of Abu Dhabi, to do some pretty cool entertainment stuff. We just did a big event with Kevin Hart in Abu Dhabi. We did the golf tournament; we talked about many, several other initiatives in the entertainment and tourism spaces.
- So outside of MELT Middle East, what else are you working on?
So MELT is something I've never done before, nor did I ever think was doable for me, personally. But again, I thought about it a little bit more and said, "No, it's all kind of the same thing." You need a product that you can sell, and a customer that looks at that product as something attractive enough that they would spend money on and see value in; it just so happens to be mostly in the entertainment space.
My core business is automotive-related. It's not a pretty business or something that's very fancy, but we've done it pretty well. And it's because, again, it was a passion that I simply wanted it to be one of the best. And today, OWS Automotive is spoken of in the same breath as the major manufacturers... So we've excelled in a way that was pretty noticeable, especially in the Middle East region.
Even on the highest levels of the manufacturers, we're one of the strongest automotive players in the Middle East, with a total of about 2,400 employees. So it's not a small business, and it's only growing; the company is growing.
- How do you look after your mental health?
So I'm not the person to come to for mental health advice simply because I don't think I've excelled in that area as much as I have in other areas. But I would say this, two and a half years ago, I was really affected by how many employees of ours were affected by COVID. Personally, it didn't change too much of my lifestyle, other than the fact that I wasn't going to offices, doing some of those things, but some of the employees, the businesses that they worked for, couldn't afford to pay them their full salaries, or couldn't afford to even have them be a part of the team, because everything was being downsized, and that really affected me. It was probably one of the first times in my life that I felt helpless, I didn't know what to do. I couldn't figure it out.
I spoke to all these different mentors that I would have throughout various phases of my life. And then I realised that I was stressing it a little bit too much.
While speaking to another good friend, who's a celebrity in the US, he gave me some solid advice. He said, "Have you ever considered therapy?" I said, "Well, I'm not crazy; I'm not suicidal, I'm not." And he said, "Well, that's the problem. We only associate therapy with extreme cases of depression or suicidal thoughts, or drug-related concerns. And it doesn't have to be that, you just need someone sometimes to talk to, that will not judge, will not prolong or just get bored, or you not have to feel like you're telling someone something that one day they may use it against you."
So I would say therapy is a really important part, not only males, but alpha males' mental health. So find a therapist. Your therapist can be a trained therapist or a friend you noticed has therapist-like traits. Even if they don't carry that title, just someone you can talk to, it's really important that you find someone. If you don't have that friend, then find a professional therapist.
- What's that one quote you live by?
The quote I live by is, "Don't give up." Some people might look at that as cliche, but I look at it with its meaning, and it's the reason I'm here.
I've seen some really dark times. Let's close with another Steve Harvey quote he says "If you're going through hell, you don't want to stop there, right? You want to get through it." And that's what I learned a long, long time ago. You don't give up, just push through it, and look back at it. What stories to tell!