Getting to know you: Saf Ali

What do you currently do?
‘’I’m managing director of Key Properties – a lettings and property management company based in the North West.   We retain the second largest market share in our geographical areas – beating off stiff competition from national agencies – and are currently rolling out a rapid expansion programme across the North West and beyond.’’
What is your inspiration in Business?
‘’I’m inspired by success.  Whilst it’s important to remain practical and engaged at grass roots level, I think if you allow yourself to purely focus on the daily logistics of business, it’s easy to ignore the bigger picture.  For me, it’s important to be one fifth dreamer – I spend time imagining where I’d like to be in the future, how I want the business to grow – and four fifths strategist and realist: planning how I’m going to get there.  
‘’Never lose sight of the goal – because that’s the inspiration you need to drive forward.’’  
Who do you admire?
I admire anyone who has set up their own business from scratch and made a success of it.  Only when you’ve immersed yourself in running your own company do you know the relentless commitment and dedication it takes – to the detriment to family, friends and hobbies.  For people who are propelled to be a success, running a business is all consuming. 
‘’Of course, I admire the great business success stories of our times – like Richard Branson, Sir Philip Green and Alan Sugar.  They epitomise the fierce drive it takes to get to the top.  But my real heroes are the classical greats:  Julius Caesar, Ghengis Khan…all inspirational leaders from the past.’’ 
Looking back, are there things you would have done differently?
 ‘’I don’t think there’s any point looking back with regret.  Everyone makes mistakes on their business and personal paths, but I wouldn’t be the person I am today, or enjoying the business I run if I hadn’t taken the route I did.  
‘’Before setting up Key, I was a marketing exec in the music industry for labels like Sony Records, and this grounding in fast-paced, big business environments has allowed me to bring elements of corporate mentality to a start up – and this is one of the defining factors that has helped us to achieve fast growth at Key Properties.’’ 
What defines your way of doing business?
 ‘’I think whole-hearted commitment to doing a great job defines both myself and the team at Key. I’m very hands on: after all, I’ve grown the company from just myself and one member of staff to a business with three regional offices – and firm plans to expand nationwide in a space of just five years. 
‘’It’s easy to say that exceptional customer service sets your business apart from the rest, but for me it’s a mantra to live and breathe by.  The property industry is crowded, with plenty of players fighting for market share.  It’s only possible to win the lion’s share of the business by consistently going the extra mile – and at Key we prove this on a day-to-day basis: from Christmas Day property management call outs, to a let in two weeks promise and a suite of related services that is built on our clients’ needs.’’
What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
‘’If you understand right from the outset that business is all about people then you won’t go far wrong.  You can only be as good as those around you, so select your team and advisors carefully – from handpicking a team you trust, to relying on outsourced professional like accountants, solicitors and marketing agencies that will go the extra mile and care about your business as much as you do. 
‘’Treating people in the way you’d like to be treated – fairly and with respect – will take you far.  It’s amazing just how much more commitment you’ll receive from those around you if they know their input is appreciated.  Conversely, build a thick skin and develop the ability to withstand pressure when faced with adversity, as this is the bane of many entrepreneurs’ lives!’’