Robin Lohmann is a man in a hurry. No sooner have we finished lunch then he turns to racing legend Niki Lauda for a quiet word. "I have another idea. We can discuss it after pudding is served," says Lohmann.
The chances are it is another cracking idea - right now, Lohmann is on a roll. The boss of German-owned ACI has added spice to the UAE's property market, by putting branded buildings onto the market. And not just any brand - in the past month, Lohmann has persuaded sporting legends Michael Schumacher, Nikki Lauda and Boris Becker to lend their names to his projects. Early next year, the Michael Schumacher Business Avenue will be launched in Dubai - hot on the heels on Niki Lauda Twin Towers and Boris Becker Tower.
"I nearly got burnt when I first started out and Niki nearly got burnt when he drove Formula One cars, so we have a lot in common," jokes Lohmann, adding: "It is something different, something new and something that I think will make our investors a lot of money."
Everyone in life has to find the right time to do the right thing. I think I have found mine.
His track record suggests he is more than right. In less than two years of trading in Dubai, ACI has revenues topping the billion dollar mark. So far the company has launched Victory Bay and Sami Tower in Dubai's Business Bay, Dubai Star in Jumeirah Lake Towers and Wings of Arabia in Dubailand. With his sports-branded developments now off the mark, car-branded buildings are on the drawing board, again in new projects based mostly in Dubai.
"It is simple. We develop and we flip. We make people money. There is a lot of talk about the property market not being sustainable but those people talking that way - well, they don't know what they are talking about. There are still millions of people forecast to move to Dubai in the coming years. They all need somewhere to live and work. Prices will keep rising and I actually think we can double our turnover next year," says a confident Lohmann, adding: "As for the idea of branded buildings, well, again it is a simple equation. What would an investor pay more for - No.1 Business Avenue or No.1 Michael Schumacher Business Avenue?"
The real coup for German-born Lohmann has been in persuading Lauda and friends to join his property empire. Lauda's son Lukas is a friend of Lohmann, through whom the plan for Niki Lauda Twin Towers was first pitched.
Lauda liked what he saw and very quickly signed up. "I've never seen anything like Dubai - the pace of development here is just amazing, and everything is so much bigger every time I come here," says former F1 champion Lauda.
"Robin approached me with this idea and I was very impressed. The property market here is booming so it is nice to be a part of it in some way. I don't think you can find this kind of pace and energy anywhere else in the world," he adds.
The Lauda project is equally impressive, encompassing 29 and 26 floors of retail and office space on twin skyscrapers, and Lohmann is sure that the building will be a hit with investors. "This is about adding value, and adding Niki's name adds value - nobody can argue with that. We have a strong client base of people who have got in and out at different prices and they have all made money, so it is not as if we need to suddenly find a whole new group of investors - we already have them.
"But I think that these kind of projects bring something different to the market. We are not talking about any casual endorsement by people who are a little famous, we are talking about three of the greatest sporting legends of all time becoming brand ambassadors for ACI. When I first kicked around this idea I said to my team that I wanted the very best - Schumacher, Lauda and Becker - well, that is the very best," he says.
This is about adding value, and adding Niki’s name adds value — nobody can argue with that.
He can say that again - few projects anywhere in the world can boast an endorsement from the world's greatest ever F1 driver Michael Schumacher. Despite now being retired, the German legend is extremely choosy when putting his name to any project, turning down several offers a day. But again, Lohmann used his connections to entice the star to the project, a 29-storey office development with three levels of basement parking.
"Michael gets a lot of offers as you can imagine, and he is a very wealthy man. He doesn't exactly need more money. He is more concerned about protecting his image and his brand. I know he has turned down a lot of other projects, but he saw the value in this one and the deal was done very quickly. There are not going to be F1 museums and that kind of stuff - it is just a high quality building branded with his name," says Lohmann.
Schumacher himself will come to Dubai next month to personally launch the project, which judging by early reaction, is likely to be an immediate sell-out.
"Even without the name we are talking about a premium office space opposite the Burj Dubai. You add the Schumacher name and you get a lot of added value," says Lohmann.
Schumacher will likely be joined by tennis legend Boris Becker on his Dubai visit.
"I think the market for this kind of thing is going to grow hugely. If you look at the Porsche Design Tower it is going for US$680 per square foot - that's 25% more expensive than our most expensive tower, so there is still a huge gap there. I don't see any sign of the market burning out. Look at the US right now - rental incomes there are around 5% a year. Over here it is between 9-12%. If the property market comes down, then let it come down and you will still end up making money," he says.
What Lohmann has going for him in a big way is that most of his projects are over 90% sold out before launch. His healthy spread of investors have done well for themselves and are keen for more action.
"We have delivered them profits so a lot of them are looking for repeat business. There is a lot of choice out there in the market but we have found properties where the premiums are good. You go in at one price and you come out at a higher price. That is good business. Whatever other factors are out there are not really an issue," he says.
If the property market comes down, then let it come down and you will still end up making money.
But what about the end user? "Well he still ends up with a very high quality building at a good price with rental returns far better than any other market. You can make all kinds of arguments about the dollar sliding and what would happen if US interest rates changed.
"The list goes on. But the facts remain the same, which is that property in Dubai is an extremely good investment. Otherwise we wouldn't be doing this, and otherwise, we wouldn't as a company be growing as fast as we are."
ACI was founded by Lohmann's father Uwe, and Robin Lohmann first came to Dubai in 2004. At the time he was living in New York working in finance, and visited the emirate as part of a project that involved researching the potential growth of the DIFC.
"I saw then the potential for property in the UAE and decided to start ACI in Dubai. We didn't really get going until 2006 but now things have really taken off. It's a great place to live in and do business in. I don't plan on being anywhere else for some time," he says.
Lohmann adds: "The great thing about working in this business is that it is always exciting. Every day you have new challenges. The most important thing you need is a good team, and to treat them well. In my company, I make sure the coffee boy is as happy as the sales director."
With ACI having already grown to 40 staff, the future looks very bright for Lohmann. As he explains: "Everyone in life has to find the right time to do the right thing. I think I have found mine."
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