Arabian Business exclusively presents part three of the UAE business magnate's memoirs
Everyone benefited 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 General Manager.
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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