The hunger that keeps Alabbar going

Anil Bhoyrul analyses what keeps Emaar's chairman on top of his game
The hunger that keeps Alabbar going
By Anil Bhoyrul
Sat 30 Mar 2013 04:42 PM

Success is a strange animal. I have met many successful people during my career — some have created billion-dollar companies from scratch, others have been behind generation-defining inventions, and many have just been lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

But they all have one thing in common: hunger. Hunger to do better. Hunger to succeed. Hunger to create. Hunger to deliver.  The job, no matter how well done, is never quite done.

Which brings me to our cover star this week, Mohamed Alabbar. Over the course of a couple of hours recently, the Emaar chairman gave this magazine an unprecedented insight into his remarkable world — the trials and tribulations, the highs and lows, the fears and hopes — and a fascinating glimpse into what the future holds. We don’t usually devote twelve pages to one story, but if anything, we could have filled the whole issue with this one.

But throughout the interview, what struck me most was Alabbar’s hunger for success. Let’s be blunt about this: here is a guy, who long before Emaar was created in 1997, had already been a huge star. It’s often forgotten that five years before Emaar, he had been Director General of Dubai’s Department of Economic Development. He had been a member of the Dubai Executive Council, Vice Chairman of DUBAL and Dubai World Trade Centre, Founder Chairman of the DFM and Chairman of Dubai Cable Company. All before the age of 40.

But he had hunger to do more — so along came Emaar. Two years after Emaar was created, Alabbar launched Emirates Hills — what is today one of  the world’s most sought after real estate locations. He floated the company in a historic public offering that was 20 times oversubscribed. (Emaar launched in 1997 with an IPO. At that time DFM was not born.)

He could have quit then — but he had hunger. By 2005, Emaar was the world’s biggest property developer valued at over $37bn. By now, most people would have put their feet up, taken the money and headed for a life of leisure.

Not Alabbar — his hunger saw him go on to build the world’s tallest building and the world’s biggest shopping mall within the 500-acre world-class Downtown Dubai community. As we document in the interview, the brutal pain of the recession followed. Again, rather than quit, he gave himself and his senior executives an immediate 50 percent pay cut. He had the hunger to see it through and make a comeback.

As we all know, Emaar has undergone a remarkable resurgence in the past year with the shares rising by 85 percent. Last year saw net profits rise 18 percent to $577m from $2.24bn of revenues.

Having now turned 53, again, it is worth asking whether now is finally the time to step back. What more is there to achieve? Well, if you have that hunger, plenty more. Alabbar reveals in the interview that he plans to build three more Downtowns and would like a crack at building the world’s tallest building  — again.

I should add that in between all of this, he also chairs the Singapore-based fashion retailer RSH which has 700 stores across Asia and the Middle East — and the small matter of his mining company AMER, which is already, it could be argued, worth over $2bn. No wonder he spends 700 hours a year on planes.

For anyone starting out in business, or just wanting to grow their existing business, Alabbar’s story is worth reading.  He proves one thing beyond any doubt: when it comes to success in business, there is no top, no peak and no end.  The easy option is the wrong option. The only thing that really matters — or to use a phrase that Alabbar often does, “separates the men from the boys”— is hunger.

Anil Bhoyrul is the Editorial Director of Arabian Business.

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