Ali Abdulla was born in the island of Omadu in Thaa Atoll in 1941. At the age of 5, under a Government evaluation scheme, he received a scholarship to study in Male’. At 16, upon the completion of his studies, Ali Abdulla began working as a clerk at the Maldives Customs.
While serving with Customs, Abdulla began working at a secondary job as an editor for the magazine “Udhares”. The post attracted unfavorable attention for his open comments and views. Never balking, he continued to openly express his concerns and views over a multitude of social issues.
He was soon to lose his fledging career the day he publicly expressed concerns over the ethics of the then Prime Minister running his own private business. Ignoring the cowardice of his colleagues, and never balking to take leadership roles, he continued to openly express his concerns and views over a multitude of social issues. This came with a price.
Soon his views were perceived as hostile and at the age of 19 he was banished, first to the island of Kumburudhoo in the northernmost atoll, and later transferred to the island of Nolhivaranfaru, and then to Goidhoo in Baa Atoll. His banishment only made him even more determined to succeed in life. Poverty was not to mar his optimism.
From the very remote island of Goidhoo, he soon initiated his first business, the shipping of coconut wood timber and processed fish to Male’, providing a number of men from the island an opportunity for employment. He constructed a house for the employees, adjacent to the working area – the very first building and construction project undertaken by Abdulla.
In 1965, after nearly 4 years in banishment, Abdulla returned to Male’ and was employed as a Manager by the Maldives Government Bodu Store – the predecessor to the modern State Trading Organization Plc. During this time, he also set up a carpentry business and got involved in import and export trading activities.
On 14 October 1989, ALIA Furniture Mart was formally registered and opened on Marine Drive in Male’. To meet the demands of growing business, Abdulla’s younger brothers Ilyas and Abbas also joined the business. ALIA soon became a household name, diversified business activities to include shipping, trading, building and construction. This was further expanded to include investment in fishing and tourism.
In 1987, President Gayyoom appointed Abdulla to the post of Managing Director at Maldives Ports Authority (MPA). In his 13 years as the Managing Director, he worked to achieve the objectives of transforming MPA from a struggling small island port to a modern port. Abdulla’s effort in improving port services and human resource development is still recognized today by the Board of Directors and staff.
He retired from active Government service in 2000, but remained as a Special Advisor to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation on Maldives Ports Development Affairs. His retirement once again provided him the opportunity to oversee his business activities. It was during this time that his two sons Atho and Alau joined the business and formed the business entities Alia Construction (Pvt) Ltd and Alia Investments Pvt Ltd.
Abdulla believed the secret of his success was education, unfailing optimism, honesty, and quality hard work. His faith, love of freedom and expression, remained as his fundamental values of life.