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Wed 7 May 2008 04:00 AM

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Surf & turf

Having just unveiled new offices in Dubai, Samir Badro, CEO of the Greenline Group, tells Laura Collacott why he decided to turn his design skills from the land to the sea by establishing a yacht interiors division.

Having just unveiled new offices in Dubai, Samir Badro, CEO of the Greenline Group, tells Laura Collacott why he decided to turn his design skills from the land to the sea by establishing a yacht interiors division.

I don't like the ocean much," Samir Badro, CEO of the Greenline Group, tells me; "I'm not a seafaring person.

In light of this it is perhaps bizarre then that he chose to establish Greenline Yacht Interiors (one of seven subsidiaries of the Greenline Group) in 1997, the new headquarters of which were inaugurated last month in Dubai's Jebel Ali Free Zone (JAFZA).

But on this point I am swiftly corrected: "I'm talking about the interior. We are all about the interior." Besides which, his family do not share his aversion to oceanic escapades.

We don’t only look for celebrity clients. The best clients, good clients, are the ones that I like to enjoy time with.

Accompanying him on a trip to a trade show in Germany recently Badro's wife caught sight of a 70m superyacht: "She said, ‘that's the one I want!'" he laughs; "I said, ‘yes. One day!'"

As he reminds me, it is interior design that is something of a passion for Badro.

Graduating from the Lebanese University with a masters degree in architecture and interior design, he worked on prestigious projects in France, Belgium, the USA and Lebanon before being seconded to Dubai for a brief project in 1975.

His return from the four day assignment was interrupted by the outbreak of war in Lebanon, forcing him to settle here. "I am stuck here," he jokes.

Building on the foundation of his architecture and design experience, he established Greenline Interiors in 1976 and began his company's success story. From its humble beginnings, the company has built an enviable portfolio of royal and top-end projects across the world, establishing a global reputation.

Many of the royal palaces in the UAE have been designed by Badro's team; George Bush Snr commissioned the company to fit out his Presidential Library in Texas; the company completed 202 suites at Dubai's iconic Burj Al Arab, a project that Badro is rightfully proud of.

It's very luxurious and has been a great boost for Dubai," he says, by way of explanation; "if you go any where in the world [people recognise it]."

Some are of the opinion that the city's flagship hotel could do with refreshing, ten years on. On the subject of a redesign of the Burj Al Arab he refuses to be drawn.

Some people like this colour, others don't. Some people like this taste, others prefer something different. But it's luxury, whether you like the colour or not. It's the service and quality that you have that make it luxurious.

As all but the most inept executives will know, it is not simply a case of a market existing for your product, it's making yourself marketable within it.

On this point, it is arguably Badro and his team's ability to see to the heart of what each client really wants from their project that has been key to their success, cementing Greenline's status.

No longer does it have to resort to the trivial matter of advertising; word of mouth does the work for them. These days the strategy is working so well that Greenline finds itself able to choose which projects to undertake. "Now out of the 10 or so invitations that we receive monthly, we reject nine," he confirms.

The designation ‘invitation' hints at the value that Badro places on each project and the pride that he and his team take in their work. He goes further: "We don't only look for celebrity clients. The best clients, good clients, are the ones that I like to enjoy time with.This is as important to him for the benefit of his staff as much as it is for him personally; staff wellbeing is a refreshingly high priority for him. "It's important for us that our staff don't have to suffer from working with some difficult people.

It's not a question of not being able to handle difficulties but it's better to select the good clients and be appreciated.

It's not only the money - we're looking for a sense of achievement when we do something."

The group portfolio now consists of seven companies including Fauchar (supplying luxury, custom-made furniture to the Middle East) and more recently, Greenline Yacht Interiors.

In the boat business we are booked up for almost five years, until 2012, and in the hotel business we have plans until almost 2011.

This division is tasked with carrying the theme of opulence through from palaces to cruisers. Badro believes that the same standard of design quality is required whether you are using your home or your yacht to entertain important guests or business contacts.

"They like to show off - the bigger, the better," he says.

Private super and mega yachts are sectors that are enjoying sustained growth and interest worldwide, a reflection of the wealth that is being propagated globally.

The luxury market is growing across the world," says Badro. "Oil wealth is still growing [and significantly, as shown by the price per barrel hitting yet another new high of US$117] and we still see people with excess money [outside the traditional oil markets] in Europe and in the States."

Though there is a strong market for Greenline Yacht Interior's work across the Arab world, high net-worth individuals in the emerging markets are also starting to engage its services.

Badro says that his company is seeing increased demand from Russian and Chinese business people with plenty of money to spend on commissioning designers to cater for their every whim both on land and sea.

But what of the credit crunch and imminent recession? Does Badro consider this a threat to the luxury sector?

Not at all. He sees the high growth levels continuing for some time yet - "we can easily see another ten to fifteen years in the super yacht business" - an opinion that has been echoed by commentators elsewhere, who say the luxury market is likely to be cushioned from the crunch affecting other sectors, largely because even if those in this spending-power bracket take a hit, there is still plenty of cash to fall back on.

Besides, as Badro points out, who is to say that the crash will hit uniformly throughout the world?

Certainly there has been no dent in the demand in the UAE: "In the boat business we are booked up for almost five years, until 2012, and in the hotel business we have plans almost until 2011," he says.

The sovereign wealth funds and oil revenues are shoring up the top-end market here in the same way as the new found wealth of Russian and Chinese business people is stimulating and growing the same market in their respective regions. Good news for the Greenline Group.

At the outset, Badro was working directly on all the projects himself. These days he relies more on his team. "I'm an architect and designer. I used to do all the design in the beginning but as the company has grown, I no longer have time. I wish I did.Though he can afford to take a back seat in the design stakes now, he still likes to get involved with some of the creative work: "I was involved in the last project personally," he tells me.

This step back from the design coalface means a strong team is even more important. To keep morale and loyalty high, he describes his employee philosophy: "When you grow you have to go corporate, and family corporate.

I don't mean family, my family, but the feeling of the company - it's a family feeling."

And to underline his committment to his team's welfare, the whole design of the new headquarters focuses on creating a positive working environment. "Of course we've built it for our clients but we also built it for ourselves," confesses Badro.

This has translated into tranquil gardens, sports facilities, lounges and complimentary food for employees, all of which have had a positive effect almost immediately as according to Badro if employees are comfortable in their working environment, creativity levels will run much higher.

Top designers from all over the world collaborate on Greenline's projects, seeking inspiration from the region they operate in, client preferences, international trends and established styles.

A creative team to come up with the concepts, a design team to mould them into a given blueprint and a workshop team to make them into a reality is the formula that keeps the company at the forefront of the field.

Clearly it is a successful one since Philippe Starck and Terence Disdale are among the household names to have lent their services to joint Greenline projects.

After over thirty years in the field it must be a challenge to keep coming up with new ideas. Badro says he is often inspired by the countries he travels to. His favourite global destinations perhaps give a clue as to the influences that keep his work (and critical eye) fresh.

He cites three places as his favourite to visit: Japan, Honolulu and Las Vegas.

As one of the cutting-edge design capitals of the world Japan can make sure that contemporary ideas and technologies used in Greenline's projects are kept as sharp as possible.

Honolulu exudes an air of calm relaxation, an atmosphere that can be captured to provide clients with the sumptuous sanctuaries that they want, not to mention the marine connotations that can be applied to yacht interiors.

Finally, the razzamatazz and glamour of Las Vegas surely echoes the decadence that high-end interiors (among them palaces) seek to encapsulate.

The biggest challenge that Greenline is now likely to face, is simply maintaining exclusivity.

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