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Sun 8 May 2011 03:51 PM

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How to get rich (in your spare time)

Emaar's Mohamed Alabbar is a lesson in how to make millions in a short space of time, writes Anil Bhoyrul

How to get rich (in your spare time)
How to get rich (in your spare time)

I often wonder what it takes to make a huge amount of money. Not millions, I’m talking billions, and in a very short space of time.

This week’s cover of Arabian Business may provide some clues, through our interview with Emaar chairman Mohamed Alabbar. Over the past six years, I have been fortunate enough to meet the property chief on several occasions — sometimes social, sometimes through formal interviews. His energy and drive have always amazed me, and left me questioning what a man like Alabbar does in his spare time, assuming he has any.

Now we know: he creates a multi-billion dollar mining empire. Africa Middle East Resources is a company that was only formed two years ago, in partnership with the legendary Malaysian businessman Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Al Bukhary.

Today the results are outstanding: it is active in a total of eight countries in Africa — with more on the way — and is exploring for just about every kind of commodity you can think of.

Mining is a risky business, but the returns can be spectacular. And according to Alabbar, spectacular is just what he has in mind. As he says in the interview, “I am telling you if I don’t take this 6/7 times up easily it’s a waste of time. I would say give me three years to create a $10bn company. I’m very determined about that…..We can go much higher. We work seven days a week day and night, that’s the only way we do business. Because that’s the only way to create anything. That’s me. I’m passionate about what I do and I go all the way.”

With the price of gold at over $1,500 at ounce and silver rising even faster, commodities are clearly where the action is: copper, coal, oil, bauxite, uranium…these are the new buzz words for big business and big bucks.

Given that Africa has 60 percent of the world’s diamonds and 20 percent of global cobalt reserves, those monthly trips to the continent that Alabbar is making suddenly seem very worthwhile.

To have built a $10bn empire in five years from scratch will be nothing short of absolutely phenomenal. You may of course wonder how Alabbar has time for all this, given that he is also the chairman of a huge public company. He explained that he gives 20 percent of his time to this private venture, and the rest to Emaar.

Clearly, 20 percent of Alabbar’s time is worth 100 percent of most people’s.

Listen to the man who knows

Alabbar regularly tells his staff to learn from their mistakes, and not to repeat them. The key to this is to actually admit them in the first place, so I was glad to see the Emaar boss prepared to do just this. During a previous interview in January last year, I had asked him whether he would advise his own son to invest a cool $1m in the Dubai property market. “Yes, absolutely,” he said then.

Thankfully his son didn’t take his advice, or he would probably have lost around $100,000 in the last year. Nobody anywhere is now claiming the property market is rising again, and many experts even fear it could fall as much as another 20% in some parts of Dubai.

So what does Alabbar himself now say about his advice then?

“Maybe I was wrong,” he replied, candidly. Pressed further on whether he thinks the worst is now over for the sector, he said: “No, I don’t think so. A year ago I thought two years (before prices rise). Today I would say it’s not clear.”

If anyone has a lot to gain by talking up the property market, it is Mohamed Alabbar. For the chairman of Emaar to make such comments is both surprising but also a much needed breath of honesty in the property sector.

Forget the dodgy surveys from estate agents telling you that if you don’t buy a property today, you will have missed the spectacular boom that is coming tomorrow. Instead, I suggest we listen to the man who really knows what’s happening out there.

(Anil Bhoyrul is the Editorial Director of Arabian Business. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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jay bhagawati 9 years ago

Well written and an honest article ! A breath of fresh air.

Jamal S. 9 years ago

The title is grossly misleading.
Give almost anyone a couple of Billions, and I assure you that they will become rich (in Their Spare Time).
"Coming from money" is necessarily an accomplishment, and thus, should not be glorified.