greatly from Dubai’s new cosmopolitan, open spirit which led to a sea change in
the lives of local Emirati women. More young girls than ever were college or
university-educated, most learned to drive at an early age and were now seen
out with their female friends or husbands in restaurants and coffee shops.
In the years ahead,
it wasn’t uncommon to find Emirati girls working in the public sector and
later, in private businesses. I was pleased that my daughters were able to
enjoy the same kind of freedoms they were used to in the UK and elsewhere in
Europe. They were born at the right time, able to enjoy lifestyles that their
mother’s generation had been deprived of by custom and tradition.
Things were going
well for me too. My hotel business was beginning to pick up, Al Habtoor
Engineering was receiving substantial contracts and the real estate arm of my
group was thriving as so many newcomers needed to rent apartments.
My biggest coup in
the early 1980s was beating back strong competition to land the sought-after
Mitsubishi sole distributorship for the entire United Arab Emirates. Until that
time, most agencies and distributorships were in the hands of non-UAE
companies, so it hadn’t really crossed my mind to pitch for that distributorship.
That was, until I was approached by one of Mitsubishi’s sales managers, Ghazi
Shaker, and Aken Riknor, an American guy who had a very strong relationship
with Mitsubishi’s top executives in Tokyo and who was the current distributor’s
They told me that
Mitsubishi wasn’t happy with the way that A.A. Al Zayani & Sons from
Bahrain was handling the distributorship. “They’re not doing well at all;
they’re not selling enough,” said Shaker. “We heard about you and thought you
might be interested in taking it because it isn’t really functioning at
present. Rather than allowing it to be handed to someone outside, we figured
it’s better for someone here in the UAE to take it.”
To be fair to the Al
Zayanis, the problems with their franchise wasn’t so much due to a bad business
plan, but rather a protracted interfamily dispute that led to boardroom
wrangling. That sounded like a good opportunity to me and as I’ve never been one
to walk away from a sound business opportunity, I got in touch with Mitsubishi’s
head office in Tokyo; and within no time, the agreement was signed.
Until then, it had
all been smooth sailing. We liked and trusted our Japanese partners, they had
confidence that we could do a good job of marketing their product, so
everything in the garden was rosy... Well, it would have been if the green-eyed
monster hadn’t popped out of nowhere to show its ugly face.
There were several
influential people in the region pushing to take the franchise, with yet more
influential individuals supporting their bids. Some of them approached me
directly to ask whether I would be willing to pull out of my contract with
Mitsubishi and I discovered that higher authorities had written to the
manufacturer recommending other potential distributors.
Needless to say, I
wasn’t very happy with that cut-throat state of affairs. Full marks to
Mitsubishi’s management! All those demands, including a few from top UAE
officials, were rejected or ignored. In fact, the Japanese made it clear that
their decision was set in stone and if I wasn’t allowed to import their cars,
then they were not prepared to partner with anyone else from the UAE.
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