In a rare interview, Dr Anas Kozbari, the chief executive of Invest Group Overseas, explains why his firm is back investing in the Dubai market, and his plans to expand both abroad and at home
Spend a couple of hours with Dr Anas Kozbari, and you’ll soon become very familiar with his personal mantra: ‘the process is the product’.
“Don’t be fooled by the suit and tie,” warns the Syrian-born managing partner and chief executive of Invest Group Overseas (IGO). “Most of my time, I have my working boots on and my helmet by my side.”
There are, in fact, two Anas Kozbaris. There’s the immaculately tailored businessman, who has two degrees and a doctorate, and who works from a 38th floor office that has one of the best views in Dubai. Then there’s the hands-on company man, who likes to get onsite at his firm’s real estate projects at least twice a day.
“I get involved in almost all steps of the development process from the design to choosing all the finishing materials first-hand,” he says, earnestly. “You will see me on my hands and knees, testing marble. I test electromechanical equipment, switches, everything.
“Anything the end user will see and touch, it has to be approved by me — personally.”
For Kozbari, if the process if correct, the product will sell. So far, it looks like he has done a pretty good job of managing both the process and the product at IGO.
Now celebrating its tenth anniversary, IGO was originally set up as a division of the MAG Group — chaired by Syrian entrepreneur Moafaq Al Gaddah — with its aim being to look for and invest into opportunities outside the UAE, especially in countries like Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. While concentrating on real estate development, the original plan was also to diversify into investments in Islamic banking, tourism and healthcare.
In 2006, IGO teamed up with Dubai megadeveloper Emaar Properties to launch the Eighth Gate project in Damascus, Syria. Worth an estimated $1.7bn, the Eighth Gate is a mixed-use project, featuring commercial, retail and residential space in three large zones. Work on the site had progressed quickly, but the ongoing crisis in Syria has forced IGO to put a hold on project.
“We effectively introduced real estate development as an industry into the Syrian market,” says Kozbari. “But with what’s happening right now in Syria, we had to slow it down and shift somewhere else.”
Instead, the focus has come back to Dubai. Last year, IGO launched the Polo Townhouses in the Meydan masterplanned community, which has 106 homes. Last month it followed that up with the launch of the Polo Residences, a community featuring 29 four-storey apartment buildings. Altogether, both projects are worth an estimated $545m (AED2.1bn).
“After the Cityscape event last year, people were questioning why we were announcing projects before the Expo win was announced, as they said they would sell better if we launched it afterwards,” Kozbari recalls. “We said no; to show our commitment and to be a part of the belief in this market, let’s do it right now.
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