Saturday, July 20, 2024

How Hassan Jameel Is Reinventing a “75-Year-Old Start-up” With Digitization Strategies

Data and digitization fuel Hassan Jameel’s plans to future-proof the globally diversified company, Abdul Latif Jameel.

Abdul Latif Jameel (ALJ), a globally diversified business with roots in Saudi Arabia, has thrived for more than 75 years and now boasts a strong presence across 30 countries. Today, Deputy President and Vice Chairman of ALJ, Hassan Jameel, is transforming the family-owned business with a wealth of data and digitization strategies to future-proof the company and enhance its offerings for the digital age.

ALJ has historically defined itself as a company that fully embraces technological innovation and development, with digital transformation forming an integral pillar of the company’s strategic framework.

Jameel, who considers data “the new gold”, is driving ALJ’s mission to disrupt itself in line with market trends, developing strategies to ensure digitization streamlines all areas of the business, particularly customer service and other departments that require a huge level of data interpretation.

Here, we’ll explore how ALJ is working towards Jameel’s digitization goals, the Japanese business philosophies that have inspired Jameel’s leadership style, and how the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated ALJ’s digitization.

Photo credit: NAWAWI STUDIO

Abdul Latif Jameel: A Family-Run, Global Business

Jameel’s grandfather founded ALJ in 1945, naming the company after himself. He was humbled by considerable success in the automotive space, following the opening of his first gas station in Jeddah. In 1955, he then secured a Toyota distributorship, now serving seven countries as a distributorship or dealership for Toyota and Lexus.

He later passed control of the business to his son Mohammed Jameel (who is now the Chairman and CEO of ALJ) and his grandchildren Hassan and Fady Jameel. While Hassan Jameel handles ALJ’s domestic businesses, Fady Jameel manages the company’s foreign units. Today, the renowned family business covers a multitude of industries, from engineering and manufacturing to real estate, with deepening expertise across its core sectors – Mobility, Energy, Healthcare and Finance.

ALJ has retained the entrepreneurial spirit of its founder to this day.

Reaching Hassan Jameel’s Digitization Goals

One of ALJ’s latest technological developments includes launching a business-to-business (B2B) platform for its vehicle parts. The company plans to launch a similar platform for consumers soon. The platforms will apply machine learning to data that ALJ has collated over many years, allowing the company to forecast fluctuations, better plan its inventory, build a data-centric culture, and save costs. ALJ is also hiring software and data engineers who can read and utilize the company’s data effectively.

Jameel predicts that growing ALJ’s data science team will improve its problem-solving capacity from financial, legal, and operational standpoints.

Jameel’s technological ambitions reflect those of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Deputy Prime Minister, and Minister of Defense HRH Mohammed bin Salman, who has made technological developments a key part of the nation’s economic development plans. For example, Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 explains how emerging technologies will enable the world’s top oil exporter to reduce its reliance on hydrocarbons.

Japanese Business Philosophies

Having studied in Japan before returning to Saudi Arabia, Jameel is lacing ALJ with Honshu practices to prepare the business for the era of advanced technology.


During his time in Japan, Jameel studied at Sophia University (Tokyo) and then worked in Toyota’s domestic marketing division, where he collaborated with Toyota’s dealers (now also ALJ’s colleagues) and gained firsthand experience of the company culture. Here, Jameel learned the ways of kaizen, a Japanese business philosophy that encourages continuous improvement and development. Kaizen is central to Toyota’s operations, and the company threads the concept through all operations. Jameel considers digitization a natural progression from kaizen. He explains that ALJ is investing in both technologies and its people to drive the company forward and cultivate a healthy, forward-facing culture that will fit Saudi Arabia’s 2030 Vision.

Genchi Genbutsu

Jameel also learned of the concept genchi genbutsu during his time in Japan, which Toyota upholds throughout its operations. The concept translates as “real location, real thing” and highlights the importance of experiencing events firsthand. Jameel emphasizes that although technology is paving the way for change in business on many levels, technologies that enable remote working won’t change the fact that ALJ works on the front line. While digitization is important to the company, staff will continue to address technical and stock issues in person.

Responding to the Pandemic With Digitization

Although ALJ had kickstarted digitization before the COVID-19 pandemic, the crisis accelerated this plan considerably. For example, ALJ started offering vehicle home deliveries for its Toyota and Lexus customers and, given the long, socially distanced queues of people waiting outside car showrooms, it prepared virtual showrooms that enabled remote viewings.

Jameel explains that the way we shop for vehicles is changing and that many prospective customers are now better informed about the cars they’re interested in purchasing before they arrive at a showroom. As cars are one of the costliest purchases we make, he notes that viewing a car in a virtual showroom will likely become a precondition to laying down a deposit. As vehicles become smarter and more connected, data is becoming increasingly essential to the automotive industry. Therefore, Jameel doesn’t consider digitization a luxury. Instead, he considers it a fundamental process that businesses must apply to survive and flourish.

New Trends in the Automotive Industry

ALJ has implemented these long-term offerings and has enjoyed a noticeable rise in e-commerce related business as a result. Its next steps will focus on new trends in the automotive industry, which include electrification, connectivity, autonomous vehicles, and mobility as a service. Jameel expects that disruption will occur when these trends converge. At this point, ALJ could extend its existing businesses, invest in more companies, and/or partner with additional organizations to support the company. (The Jameel Family adopted a similar approach when it became the first major investor in the US electric vehicle manufacturer Rivian more than 10 years ago, at which point the company was a start-up with around 15 employees.)

Next Steps

On top of this, to embrace new trends in aerospace technology, the Jameel Investment Management Company (JIMCO) in parallel with Toyota invested in electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft developer Joby Aviation, which publicly listed its shares in 2021. Jameel explains that developers need to build new cities around new technologies rather than vice versa.

Moving forward, ALJ will focus on continuing to create ‘digital twins’ for its core business units (Mobility, Energy, Healthcare and Finance), to equip them with the technology needed to become leaders in the new digital age. In parallel, the business will continue to invest in companies that could complement or support existing technologies. In particular, Jameel seeks fintechs and insurtechs that have synergies with ALJ and could support its platforms.

About Hassan Jameel

Hassan Jameel is Deputy President and Vice Chairman of Abdul Latif Jameel, a globally diversified family-owned business founded in Saudi Arabia in 1945 by the late Abdul Latif Jameel. He heads the company’s domestic division from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, overseeing their automotive, real estate, land and machinery operations. He also oversees the company’s digitization processes, revolutionizing how the business interacts with its partners and guests.

Furthermore, Jameel is Vice Chairman of Community Jameel. An independent, global organization, Community Jameel was established in 2003 to continue the Jameel Family’s tradition of philanthropy, using science to help communities thrive in a rapidly changing world.

Jameel is a founding member of the Family Business Council – Gulf, which supports the growth and development of businesses in the Middle East and North Africa. He also holds memberships on the Dean’s Advisory Council at the MIT School of Engineering and on the University of Tokyo’s UTokyo Global Advisory Board.

Jameel holds a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) from the London Business School and a Bachelor of Arts in International Economics from Sophia University in Tokyo.

Learn more about Hassan Jameel.

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