Khaled M. Ismail- Helping Businesses Unlock Potential

TOUGHLOVE Advisors-Helping Businesses Unlock Potential | Khaled M. Ismail | The Enterprise World

As easy as it might sound, the role of a business advisor is much more complex and comprehensive. A business advisor helps take enterprises to the path of success with effective business strategies and solutions. With their strong market research and organizational skills, business advisors help you gain an edge over the competition. 

Khaled M. Ismail, the CEO/Partner of ToughLove Advisors is one such leader, who is helping enterprises unlock their full potential. 

Featuring for The Enterprise World’s this issue of The Most Successful Business Leader to Watch Out is his story. In this interview with him, let us know more about his journey with ToughLove. 

Tell us about the company. 


A collective of nine C-suite executives with more than 250 years of combined hands-on experience in more than 120 markets have come together to create TOUGHLOVE Advisors, a straight-talking advisory firm with a difference. 

Specialising in improving business performance for underserved companies in the region, TOUGHLOVE Advisors provide access to an untapped collective of multi-national trained practitioners who are experts in business, operations, marketing and digital to identify and deliver solutions. 

The squad have a wealth of unrivalled experience from more than 80 leading multi-national companies and their expertise originates in a vast range of business sectors such as telecoms, banking, aviation and manufacturing and includes major names such as Emirates, Etihad, FAB, P&G, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Landmark Group, L’Oréal, Visa, Leo Burnet, Publicis Communications, bp, Tetra Pak, Meta, Nokia and HSBC. 

What were the initial challenges you faced?

There is no other advisory firm with this amount of collaborative hands-on experience in the market. At TOUGH LOVE, we tell our clients what they need to hear, not what they want to hear, so we can effectively help them and their business. We have witnessed first-hand, the dire need to engage with real-life practitioners who are about developing practical, tailor-made solutions based on their own experiences, as opposed to sharing theoretical best practices. We want businesses to know that there is a different way to get help, and that is the TOUGH LOVE way.

Which was that point that triggered the growth of the company?

We focused on our experience rather than theory to advice our clients, but the trigger is our approach. 

Straight-talking, jargon free and honest approach.

We tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.

You will actually understand what we recommend to you. 

So we do things differently.

  • Sophisticated NOT condescending
  • Trustworthy NOT fluffy
  • Inspiring NOT preachy
  • Progressive NOT buzzword bingo
  • Ambitious and Driven NOT antagonistic
  • Provocative NOT imposing
  • Confident NOT Arrogant
  • Supportive NOT transactional
  • Direct NOT Blunt

The Products/Services-

TOUGHLOVE Advisors help you identify blind spots, support you in co-creating solutions, & help you develop internal skills & capabilities to overcome your challenges in 5 areas:

Strategy and Management

Brand Experience & Marketing Communications

Digital Transformation and Business Innovation

People and Culture

Business Operations and Performance

Using a rich mix of data, insights, and know-how, TOUGHLOVE has a clear, uncomplicated methodology based on the principles of direct engagement, co-creation and fully delivered results.

What do you think are the responsibilities of an entrepreneur? 

Being an entrepreneur is as difficult as climbing Mount Everest. Attempting to be an entrepreneur, whilst keeping a day job, is like climbing Mount Everest with flip flops.

Can you please brief us about your professional experience?

Khaled Ismail


Khaled is a pragmatic business leader who is fascinated about business and their inner workings. A former global executive leading Marketing, Branding, Public Affairs and Communications operations for Europe, Central Asia, Middle East & Africa Region.

He has more than 30 years’ experience, which started in advertising and then continued in international sales, marketing and branding in FMCG (B2C) and Food Packaging Industries (B2B), including Tetra Pak and The Coca-Cola Company. 

Khaled has a Bachelor of Commerce degree from Concordia University – Canada, and has completed several executive programmes in leadership and management at Ashridge – UK, IMD – Switzerland and Harvard Business School – USA. 

He is an active investor in technology, beverages, sports marketing and finance. Born in Beirut, he is a Canadian citizen and has lived and worked in 15 countries and now calls Dubai home.

Khaled is also the Chairman of the Marketing Society – UAE and is a very well-respected business leader, public speaker, marketer and mentor to young entrepreneurs.

Khaled is also a published author of a book titled “This Is What Tickles Me”.

What market need is TOUGHLOVE Advisors addressing? 

TOUGHLOVE Advisors makes business advice accessible to those who do not have the people, capability, capacity, or the knowledge to manage this growth or even the time or funds to experiment with theories and best practices. We commit to tell these businesses what they need to hear, not what they want to hear, in a peer-to-peer approach which is driven by co-creating solutions that are market-ready. We recognize that often these assignments leave businesses vulnerable during implementation, and we are prepared to continue partnering with them throughout that phase.

TOUGHLOVE partners have acquired most of their learnings from hands-on, real-life experience in prominent leadership positions and by working with, and on some of the region’s more prominent and successful brands and organizations over the past few decades. As individuals, we have consistently been tasked with challenging and highly demanding agendas in a region that has been pegged as a growth potential for the past couple of decades. Proof of that is the massive growth of home-grown organizations and brands. Today, SME and family-owned businesses must compete with the scale, financial power, and broad expertise of international organizations and brands.

Arguably, this formula might not appeal to all, but that’s OK. Growth and progress often require TOUGHLOVE and that is in our DNA. So, those who really do seek support and advice will value the journey with us and the results it will enable them to achieve. 

What’s the story behind the name?

We know the name is not your traditional company name, but traditional is not what we set out to do when we formed the company. We want to do things differently and give straight-talking advice from experts who care and want to help based on their experience, not just theory. In life, tough love is a key ingredient for growth, and it is our view that business emulates life and businesses need some tough love, sometimes. 

What is your business model?

We have nine partners with over 250+ years of experience in the market. Each project will have a lead partner, supported by a second or a third partner depending on the project and areas of expertise needed. We will also deploy senior or junior advisors as necessary during the co-creation and implementation phases. Each advisor goes through a rigorous selection process to ensure that they live the values of TOUGHLOVE.

What advice would you give corporate leaders who are considering starting their own business?

Don’t wait and over think your ideas and opportunities. The entrepreneurial and start-up world is on steroids right now and the name of the game is who has the first mover advantage. So, we say think MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and go. 

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