It is not every day that a barber gets headhunted.
But that is exactly what happened to Jihad Maksad, the regular barber of James Rigney, Etihad Airways’ chief financial officer.
Tired of making his regular commute from Etihad’s offices in Al Raha Beach to Mr Maksad’s barber’s chair in the Corniche Hilton, Mr Rigney made Mr Maksad an offer he could not refuse: Leave the Hilton, where Mr Maksad had worked for 17 years, and open up a new barbershop on the ground floor of Etihad’s building – Styles and Smiles Gents’ Salon.
“I thought he was joking when he said he would give me space in his building in Al Raha,” Mr Maksad says. “But every time he came to have his hair cut he would talk about giving me a shop to open.”
“I told him, ‘Mr James, I am dreaming about this shop, and I’m not concentrating on my current work. If you cannot do it, don’t mention it’.”
To which Mr Rigney said, “Of course I can do it.”
“After a short time, someone from Etihad came, did a short interview, and then I signed the lease.”
“Now I have my own business. No one tells me what to do and I am responsible for myself.
“And big thanks to Mr James Rigney – he’s my man. He really did change my life.”
According to Google Maps, this shaved 30 minutes off Mr Rigney’s commute.
For Mr Maksad, this is thehighest point in his career.
“It was my destiny – I believe in destiny. I’m sure God was by my side and helped me.”
“When I looked at the Hilton, I thought, is it true I am going to leave this place after 17 years? It is like my home.
“Before this I had never thought of starting a business myself.
“But when I decided to move from the Hilton, I decided never to go back.”
Mr Rigney is not the only of Mr Maksad’s clients to follow him from his job at the Hilton.
“The general manager of the Hilton still comes here. Mr Wolfgang Maier – he’s a very good man. He comes all the way from the Hilton for a haircut just to support me”
“Most of my loyal clients, or customers, or friends, from the Hilton drive all the way to Al Raha. They gave me a push to start my new life here. It really is a new life here – nobody knows me here.”
“I work from all my heart – I don’t do a quick job for anybody,” Mr Maksad says. “I like to take care of people, who come here for a good service.”
“I can make people feel happy and comfortable when they talk to me. When someone doesn’t want to talk to me, I leave him alone, I cut his hair and I give him the best service.”
“Every person who comes here has their different personalities. One person likes to talk about cars, others about houses, others about holidays. You have to know what people like. I like music – it is my hobby. Everyone has their different subjects they like to talk about.”
The rent he pays is “reasonable”, he says, amounting to about half of his costs.
There is a high demand for property in the Al Raha area. According to Bayut.com’s search trend statistics, in the first quarter of this year Al Raha Beach and the nearby Khalifa City A were among the areas that received the most searches from potential tenants.
Mr Maksad would also like to add staff to increase the shop’s income.
“I’m better off than I was working at the Hilton, though I should thank the Hilton for supporting me for 17 years,” he says.
However, setting up the business was not a fast process. Getting the right licenses from the municipality was a “nightmare”, Mr Maksad says.
“Nothing here is quick. You give them money and it takes them two months to finish the paperwork. I had to do everything twice – I had to get approvals to decorate, to open the shop, to put up the signboard – I just wanted to start work,” he says.
“But it’s over now, thank God.”
His experience is not unique.
A Carrefour Market outlet opposite Mr Maksad’s salon has fully stocked shelves but is not open to the public – because its operator is still trying to jump through the right bureaucratic hoops.
Mr Maksad hired an Austrian interior designer to help fit out the salon, and Mayssoun, his wife of 12 years, helped decorate.
Mr Maksad financed the fitout with a bank loan, savings from his previous job and funds from his wife.
“I couldn’t have done this without her,” he says.
Mr and Mrs Maksad have two children.
“I have a beautiful family,” he says.
Styles & Smiles is located on the ground floor of the Etihad Airways building in Al Muneera, Al Raha Beach, in Abu Dhabi
The gentlemen’s hairdresser opened in July last year. It is open seven days a week. Cold drinks, coffee-flavoured candies and chocolate toffee eclairs are available on request.
In 1997, Jihad Maksad left his hometown of Brummana, Lebanon, East of Beiruit, to take up a job his brother found him as a barber at the Corniche Hilton in Abu Dhabi. He worked there for 17 years before Etihad Airways’ chief financial officer got him a shop on the ground floor of the airline’s office building in Al Raha Beach, where Styles & Smiles is now based. This changed his life and fulfilled his destiny, he says.