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Hamish Harding: British billionaire in the UAE

Hamish Harding founded the UAE business jets brokerage Action Aviation
Hamish Harding founded the UAE business jets brokerage Action Aviation

Hamish Harding was one of the five people who died on the Titan submersible in the Atlantic on June 18. He founded Action Aviation, a UAE-based international aircraft brokerage company, and was chair of the Middle East chapter of The Explorers Club.

Read below AGBI’s interview with him last September, when he had just been into space on Jeff Bezos’s rocket.

What do you look for when hiring talent?

We look for employees who really understand the private (or business) jet market. It’s a lot more complex than the airliner world, where aircraft are very similar to each other. There are many different types of private jets, and all have different benefits and disadvantages. Sales take a long time, and you have to know your market.

What counts for more, luck or hard work?

I believe you make your own luck in life. You create the environment around you, where luck comes or doesn’t come, based on your decisions, your anticipation of things going wrong, and taking steps before they go wrong. 

What was your biggest ‘lucky moment?’ 

I think I’m in one right now. The business jet market is amazing. It’s booming because during the pandemic, people who could afford them realised they needed private jets to travel and reduce health risks.

There’s currently a supply and demand issue. A huge number of people are trying to get business jets, with very few available.

The companies that are best at finding pre-owned jets in the middle of nowhere – people like us with international connections and the initiative to find things are doing very well right now – because people feel they have just got to have these planes. 

What’s something you wish you had done differently?

I’ve found I don’t do so well at investing in companies when I just don’t know anything about the business, and I rely on other people’s knowledge.

If you could rule the world for a day, what would you change?

This is the only planet we have – at the moment. We really have got to get on better with each other. 

I recently went into space in Blue Origin, a rocket built by Jeff Bezos. One of the things we did while we were up there was spend some good quality time looking out down at earth. 

If everybody had the chance to do this they too could see the world from a different perspective. 

So I’d like to try to get leaders to see that most of the conflict and disagreement really doesn’t matter. Working together, so much more could be achieved. 

What do entrepreneurs misjudge about the Gulf market?

Certain businesses in the Middle East can run into trouble because they don’t manage cashflow, as they’re expecting payment on time for projects. 

There is a slight culture of sometimes not paying on time – 30 days becomes 90 days, or a lot more, for instance. So if someone has a 30-day payment period, they must pay within 30 days or there should be some major financial penalty. 

Is there any other factor you think is typically misjudged in the Gulf market?

You can do lots of business but the margins you get in profit are relatively low. Then you’ve got a lot of expenses for staff. Housing is pretty expensive, so salaries have to be enough to cover the high cost of living. 

It’s easy to get squashed where there’s not much net profit but you’re doing a lot of work. I think that’s something people don’t understand. 

My own rule of business is you can’t just be the same as everybody else. You’ve got to have an unfair advantage in a business to make it work. Otherwise, you’ll always be doing low margin, highly competitive business.

Dream mentor?

Right now, I can only think of one person – Jeff Bezos. 

He built up a fantastic company – we all use Amazon – and then he reinvested some of the profits from Amazon in Blue Origin. 

I was so impressed by the whole operation. He’s not trying to make a return on equity. He is trying to do something very special for humanity, getting millions of people into space over the next few decades.