The first time ever Arabian Business interviewed Mohamed Alabbar, on 13 July 2006, the Emaar chairman was in fighting mode. His company was the biggest property developer on the planet, worth $36bn. He had just delivered a 21 percent rise in half year profits to $1.38bn, and announced $21bn worth of new projects in the previous six months. He told us then: “You know what separates the men from the boys? Do you know what? It’s when you have to run a very large publicly listed company, and every 90 days you have to report the figures. You have to explain exactly what you’ve been doing. No excuses, just results. That’s what separates the men from the boys.”
Nearly eight years on, and actually not very much has changed. Sure, there was a mega recession, and yes the numbers today sound better in dirhams than dollars. But you want growth? You want relentless energy? You want determination? And most of all, do you want to see the 2006 numbers replicated possibly within just two years from now? Then Mohamed Alabbar is your best and only option.
A week ago Alabbar, not for the first time and definitely not for the last, stunned the financial markets by announcing a record AED16bn windfall for his shareholders, and the listing of his shopping malls and retail subsidiary. The new outfit is likely to be worth $9bn to $10bn when listed in both Dubai and London. If anyone thought that delivering a 70 percent one-year return on the share price would be a hard act to follow, they should think again. The men, once again, have been separated from the boys.
“If you are really concentrating on the ingredients, then you will have a good meal. Right now, we are focused on the kitchen,” he says.
Chances are Jamie Oliver would be proud of Alabbar’s kitchen and what’s being cooked up on a daily basis. The AED16bn payout to shareholders breaks Emaar’s own records, with AED9bn coming from the 25 percent shares being offered in the new listing, the rest from the 15 percent cash dividend and 10 percent bonus shares being given out. For so many years, Alabbar has been at the centre of battles with his shareholders, and the company’s AGM turned into pure theatre. Suddenly, and out of the blue, he has emerged as the shareholders’ hero.
“We’re a public company in the Middle East and still the culture is young, everybody wants to buy your shares, see the price increase, sell them and have their dividends quickly. But we are lucky enough because more than 60 percent of our shareholders are the original shareholders. We have to give them credit for being with us, they are solid and stable. The fundamentals are right and looking at the company for the next five years things look quite interesting even though five years is a long time, and we are comfortable enough to say it is time to reward our shareholders,” he says.
But this is just the start of the reward phase. Next up, and possibly before Ramadan, is the dual listing of the shopping malls and retail subsidiary. Emaar Malls & Retail is one of the high-growth business entities of Emaar, having recorded full-year 2013 revenue of AED2.837bn, an increase of over 20 percent compared to 2012. Gross operating profit for the unit increased to AED2.232bn, compared to AED1.856bn in the previous year.
Emaar’s malls assets include The Dubai Mall, Dubai Marina Mall, Souk Al Bahar and Gold & Diamond Park. The Dubai Mall’s 1,200 plus retail outlets recorded a 26 percent rise in sales during 2013 compared to the previous year. According to market estimates, more than 50 percent of all luxury goods sold in Dubai are purchased at the mall.
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