Good leadership [Archives:2005/821/Opinion]

March 3 2005

In the management of an important institution like the Yemen Times, it is paramount that one must find the essences of good managerial techniques applied in all facets of its operations. It goes without saying that an institution like the YT is not merely a private sector enterprise that is out to make all the money it can and ensure that its owners are living in the highest standards of wealth and affluence. If that were the case than the YT owners would not have any reason to find themselves employed elsewhere or seeking to further their educational attainments even after they have already established families, etc. I am glad to say that the owners of the YT in general understand the YT not to be their own enterprise, but really belongs to its readers, its staff and its worldwide followers, who regard the YT as a shining beacon of truth and a forum for self expression, no matter what views are expressed.

Since the tragic and premature death of the late Dr. Abdul-Aziz Al-Saqqaf many people thought, “well that is it folks, there goes the Yemen Times”. This observer recalls calling the family to convey my sincere sympathies on this terrible loss, not only to the Saqqaf family, but to journalism in Yemen and the fight for freedom and civil liberties, which Dr. Al-Saqqaf strongly stood for. But immediately after that I told Walid: “No matter what has happened and notwithstanding the aura of grief that has not only overcome your family, but all those who loved the good doctor and the YT, the presses must roll and the YT must be in the newsstands this coming Thursday (the YT was only published once a week then)”. Without hesitation, and with very little practical experience, Walid Abdul-Aziz told me: “You bet your life it will be there! My father will not have it any other way!” I was indeed very delighted to hear that and all of a sudden I felt reassured that the YT spirit was indeed inherited by the elder son of Dr. Abdul-Aziz, and the YT would carry on delivering the mission that Dr. Abdul-Aziz has dedicated his life for.

Needless to say, Walid took over the helms, with very little writing experience and perhaps no management experience whatsoever. Yet, from the outset, Walid was under no illusions that he was merely managing a business and his task was to ensure that its profits kept himself and his brothers up to par with the Yemeni social elite. In fact, the last thing in his mind was the financial situation (of course it was not the least!). Ever since that fateful moment in the history of the YT, Walid not only set out to carry forward the enterprise that his father kept at the forefront of Arab journalism, but actually set in his own initiatives to keep the paper a shining example the pioneering journalism that his father had made the paper so famous for. So, he set out to improve the quality of its copy and the variety of its output, dedicating a significant portion of the YT print to important issues of the day and to social issues that truly mattered. Whereas his father was more politically involved, Walid saw it wise to maintain a low profile politically and contend with making sure that the YT is alert to the significant challenges it faced, especially as press freedom in Yemen retracted significantly and the depressive economic situation was bound to have an effect on the YT's ad revenue, which to this day continue to represent the YT's main source of revenues. Thanks to the understanding and support of our advertisers, Walid was able to keep the YT free from having to go to anyone to seek support or some sort of subsidization. Even when that was generously offered to the YT (and I am witness to this), Walid was quick to reject such offers and demanded to know what the YT has done to serve such unexpected generosity. He took off for Aden for a couple of days not to be continuously bothered by those who were trying to provide this support. I remember that day well, and I was very proud to see Walid rush to pack his bags for Aden.

With the YT managing to stay afloat, Walid then set out to increase the number of issues per week, hoping to reach his father's dream of an eventual English daily. There were many who saw this is pure suicide and regarded the idea as disastrous. But Walid again proved that he had a knack for feeling the market and knowing what the readers wanted. The second edition (Monday) became even more successful in terms of ad sales and circulation than the Thursday edition.

With the Monday edition in full swing, the pioneering Chief Editor, in the meantime improved the design of the YT website and made it attractive to some 200,000 visitors a month. Most of the feedback to this observer's column was in fact coming from our overseas readers, who would rush to website almost seconds after the paper has been put at the site. I was now comfortable with not having to keep hundreds of papers on stack to keep a record of my column. In fact, it was relatively easy to find all of my past articles ever since the paper got on the web.

Even more important than that, was the human side of management that Walid manifested during his six years of stewardship of the paper. His brother and two charming sisters were clearly able to see that their elder brother was the right man to be given this formidable task and had no doubt about his sincerity and integrity. Their assumptions were absolutely correct. To underscore this, Walid made sure that he was always the last to receive his salary from all the staff and made sure of this each and every month. Any dues that he also had are still sitting in the ledgers of the YT, because Walid was simply not interested in his own financial rewards. Even in his travels, he took with him the least amount of petty cash and never used the credit card for his own personal purchases, which he listed and deducted, every time he traveled, from the YT expenses. I am aware of this because I also had oversight over the finances of the YT. With the printing press now in operation and the mission of the YT fully engrained in the staff of the YT, Walid thought it was time to further his academic attainments to increase the YT's resources in professional acumen and to give the other's a chance in carrying on the legacy of Dr. Abdul-Aziz. What better way to do this than to have a woman, personified by his charming and diligent sister Nadia take over the formidable challenge. Life must go on and the YT will stand to prove that it is indeed a Yemeni legacy of the greatest dimensions. We are with you Nadia, as we were with Walid, so have no fear.