By Anil Bhoyrul
Dr Naseer Homoud, head of property firm WIRED, on building a Qatari real estate empire and why charity begins at home
The interview with Dr Naseer Homoud is over, and we are leaving his fabulous villas in Doha for dinner. But it is a passing remark as we depart that really sums up the man. “Qualification alone is not sufficient, distinction is necessary,” he says.
Few would argue that Dr Homoud doesn’t have both in abundance. The Jordanian-born dentist moved to Qatar eleven years ago; since then he has gone on to create one of the country’s most successful dentistry companies and a real estate empire. Along the way, he has been pivotal in promoting trade relations between Spain and the Middle East, not to mention devoting a huge chunk of his time and money to philanthropic work. Little wonder that it’s difficult to walk down the streets of Doha or Amman without somebody wanting to shake his hand.
The Wall for Investment and Real Estate Development has become synonymous with the rapid growth of Qatar, as well as contributing hugely to the growth of affordable housing. His Consultant Dental Centre is the place to go for an affordable smile, while the Spanish International Business & Trading Centre has already gained a reputation for being the place to go for Spanish companies looking to invest in the region, and Arab firms wanting to tap the Spanish market.
He may be smiling now, but getting here has been no easy journey. The Dr Homoud story begins in Jordan, where he first became interested in dentistry.
“During my early childhood, study of political science fascinated me as I had seen my cousins achieving great successes in the field of diplomacy. However, my mother wanted me to be a dentist. She believed that dentistry was essential for serving the people in my native country. She also believed that this field was not receiving the attention that it deserved. Her inspiration made me realise that the dentistry was not only a science providing relief to people but was actually an art as well,” he says.
Just as well she did: he studied at the University of Damascus, graduating in 1987 before returning to Jordan, and by 1994 had already set up his first dental centre in Amman. “However, I believed that I needed to do much more. Amman has been a great place to work but my mind and heart craved for more, more work achievements, and success. I wanted to go beyond all boundaries, whether national or professional. I decided to explore beyond Jordan. I thought about many countries in the Arabian Gulf. The State of Qatar and the remarkable progress there fascinated me, so I decided to make Doha as my city of work,” he says, adding: “In 2001, I moved to Doha. My choice was correct. State of Qatar has progressed in leaps and bounds. Today it is one of the leading countries of the world in terms of prosperity, economic growth and per capita savings. I established a new dental centre at Doha, giving it a name different from the one functioning in Amman with an idea to make it fully independent. The centre was named as the Consultant Dental Centre. By the grace of Almighty Allah, this Centre turned out to be a success story as it established itself as a dependable source of dental healthcare.
“My success story progressed with the economic progress of the State of Qatar. Growth in the production of liquefied natural gas, expansion of infrastructure, hosting of major international sporting events complemented and supplemented each other. I also started to diversify and get involved in other fields of economy.”
He is being modest: launching the dental centre in Doha was no piece of cake. Medical licences are notoriously difficult to get, and cash was not easy to come by. He explains: “When Allah wants to get certain things done through you, He guides you and provides means to make it possible. I approached equipment suppliers and loan providers with whatever finances that I had. The centre required an investment of around a million US dollars… My success story at Amman Centre was my asset with the equipment suppliers. The equipment suppliers agreed to supply equipment on payment of just 20 percent of the costs. The equipment suppliers studied my project report and were convinced about the success of my endeavour. They were also not wrong in their assessment.
“My centre established itself as one of the best centres of dental healthcare and cosmetic dentistry in Qatar in a very short span of time.”
He can smile today, but looking back, it all very nearly didn’t happen. Dr Homoud explains: “I needed a licence from the Ministry of Health for opening the centre. I submitted necessary documents and obtained preliminary approval from the ministry. However, after obtaining the preliminary approval of the ministry, I was required to obtain clearance from the concerned municipality. The municipality refused to give me approval of the location of the centre...This refusal was a great setback. I had spent a lot of money and time, my hopes of establishing the centre started dying. I was at the crossroads; I did not know what to do now.
“The delay in establishment of the centre caused many problems with the equipment suppliers. The crisis was severe. However, as I said earlier, when you are determined to do a thing, obstacles have to make way for success.”
Nobody can question his success in dentistry, but it is in real estate that Dr Homoud has really made his mark. And it is something that very much happened by chance.
“It was a combination of chance and intuition. In 2002, I established the Consultant Dental Centre. I needed residential accommodation for the staff working at the centre. I found that the rental value of each of the apartment would be around 5,000 riyals per month. However, when I was looking for the apartments, I found a vacant building that had nine apartments. The real estate consultant who was helping me searching for accommodation was a Pakistani brother named Mukhtar. He advised me to take the entire building on rent for 23.5 thousand riyals per month and lease out the accommodation that I did not require. This was the starting point. The idea appealed to me, and as the destiny had it, the advice of Mukhtar proved to be a great start,” he says.
And so began his real estate empire. “I contracted with the building owner and signed a contract that allowed subleasing. I subleased some of the accommodation in that building. This experience motivated me to explore this field. At that time, Qatar had successfully bid for Doha Asian Games 2006. There was a boom in the construction sector. Many infrastructure projects were going on giving impetus to real estate sector. I realised the potential of growth in real estate sector.”
This led to the creation of his real estate company The Wall for Investment and Real Estate Development. The name was derived from the concept of a wall’s innate strength, plus his interest in the Great Wall of China. Soon enough, the company started doing great things. He says: “Another important aspect of the real estate sector which has become a priority for “The Wall” is the affordable housing. In the contemporary times, affordable housing for common people in the Middle East region has become the new mantra. Everyone — buyers, investors, sellers and promoters — is pitching for affordable quality homes. There is huge unmet demand for affordable housing as the premium section of the sector is witnessing an oversupply. This is also for the fact that the real estate property market has experienced recession in late 2008 with a downfall of up to 50 percent in property prices. This has necessitated that realtors look for measures to take control of the situation. “The Wall” knows that there is huge demand for low-cost housing projects in region and thus, the company is set to announce some quality affordable housing projects in the near future. We have started in Jordan, and would be launching such affordable quality housing projects in Saudi Arabia very soon.”
If that wasn’t enough, three years ago he also formed the Spanish International Trading and Business Centre (SITBC), to promote bilateral trade between the Middle East and Spain. He says: “The motivation for establishment of the SITBC was the frequent visits of a significant number of Spanish businessmen to Doha, many of whom were seeking to have a permanent base to explore opportunities for cooperation and to put forward their real estate projects before their Qatari counterparts as well as potential buyers. In order to address this need, I founded the centre after meeting a delegation representing 20 Spanish real estate companies in Doha.”
He adds: “SITBC has been hugely successful in promoting cooperation and collaboration between investors in Qatar and other Gulf countries and reputed Spanish developers. We have a significant number of deals pertaining to luxurious and tourism-oriented residential projects combining European beauty with Andalusian style in different regions of the Kingdom of Spain. These projects are mostly found in the cities of Almeria, Granada, Seville, Malaga and Valencia. These projects have been affected by the global financial crisis and the European debt crisis and currently there is a reluctance among investors for the acquisition of Spanish real estate assets until the picture gets clearer.”
Another big part of Dr Homoud’s life has been philanthropy. This has been going on for many years — back in 1997 the late Jordanian King Hussein Bin Talal honoured him for his medical services to orphans. He has been supporting for a long time now various programmes concerning orphans, disabled, elderly, women and homeless. He is associated with many charitable and humanitarian organisations — locally, regionally and internationally.
He says: “We cannot close our eyes to the plight of people suffering hunger. We cannot ignore the fact that such people number more than a billion now. For example, the images of people, young and elderly, dying in Somalia for lack of food, medicine and water are horrifying. We should not forget such fellow beings. We must share these bounties of Allah with the people who need them most. This is what Allah has ordained us. Help comes to those who help others in their hour of need.”
Dr Homoud adds: “In the past, I launched a campaign to aid the people of Gaza following the aggression they have suffered since the middle of the last decade. In the same way, I also contributed to other initiatives to aid Japan after the devastating earthquake and tsunami last March. Similarly, I have also contributed to help Haiti, and the people affected by natural disasters in different regions in Africa. I have also helped plant one of the most important historical forests in Jordan that had suffered a man-made fire.”
There is no shortage of achievements in his career so far, and plenty of people are hoping to emulate his success one day.
His advice to them is simple: “Anyone who wants success in his work, he must take initiatives, must take initiatives, and again must take initiatives. I am repeating them because this is the basis for business success.”
That this man truly is one of the giants of the modern century, everything in nature because of his humility and his humanity unlimited tender