Back chat: Sulaiman Al Fahim

Abu Dhabi’s Hydra Properties, part of the massive Royal Group, is taking the market by storm. In a rare interview, chief executive Sulaiman Al Fahim details the reasons why he believes the industry will continue to deliver above average profit returns.

It has been a good day for Sulaiman Al Fahim. The chief executive of Abu Dhabi-based Hydra Properties has been discussing plans to take his property empire abroad, with projects pencilled in for the GCC, the Far East and Europe.

Part of the Royal Group of companies, which spans everything from television to real estate, Hydra has taken the industry by storm. Less than two years since being formed, it has splashed out over US$2bn (AED 7.34bn) on a range of luxury buildings in Dubai’s Business Bay, with customers now demanding the same across the UAE and Gulf. Al Fahim, with a masters degree in real estate, is likely to deliver returns of over 12% a year for his investors.

Hydra, thanks to designs from Arabian Concept Development, claims to be “unique” in the industry, with every single apartment and office inside every building it has developed looking
different. Each one, including the impressive Hydra Towers being constructed in Business Bay, has oozes of “personal touch.”

“The point is that if you want to compete in the long term than you have to be different. If you only want to look at the short term than you can continue doing what you are doing now. A lot of these big companies you see have real estate divisions but they only have short-term strategies. That cannot work.

The other factor you have to be careful about is location. I am not worried because we have been extremely careful to choose the right locations,” Al Fahim observes.

So far the signs are that Al Fahim’s projects will more than prosper. Hydra’s Downtown Towers project at the Burj Dubai development has already been practically sold out, with investors impressed by the architectural and personal touches – the building looks completely different from every single angle viewed. “People like that. You see in the Arab world too many buildings look the same. If you give the customers something not just good but different, then you have an advantage over the competition and you are certain to succeed,” he says.

Al Fahim notes: “The other thing people forget is that the really successful property developers don’t put all their eggs in one basket. Look at Emaar, now one of the biggest companies in the world. How much of its work is confined to the UAE? Not that much any more. It has spread its investments, and you need to do that to be able to counter any negative effects in the market. It is why we are doing the same thing.

The projects we are working on today are just the start. They are a platform for us to expand around the globe. We will start with the GCC because we know this region best, but then move across to the Far East and Europe.”

“I think my advice to people who want to work in the property business is that you need to understand all aspects of it. You can’t just say I will raise money, fund a project and make money. If it were that easy we would all be doing it. It is true, many people are doing it but not all are that successful. It is a complex subject – you need to understand design, construction, finance, geography, the global economy – just about every aspect of business is covered in property,” Al Fahim says.

It may be complex, but Al Fahim has certainly made it look easy, winning him plaudits not just from his designers and fellow investors, but just as importantly his peers. And at last month’s Abu Dhabi leaders summit, former US president George Bush took time out to specially seek out Al Fahim, and commend him on the work he was doing with Hydra.

“It was a nice gesture, and a great honour,” Al Fahim says with modesty.

He sagely comments: “One of the most important things you must do is keep on learning. I am still learning. I am learning every day. I’ll never stop learning. Once you think you have stopped learning, or that you have learned enough, that is when you start to make mistakes.”.

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