We’ve been told that in Dubai, anything is possible. In Dubai, if you can dream it, you can do it.” Such are the words of Mohammed Ali Al Hashimi, the fresh, young face who is on point to become the city-state’s next great business leader. With a mere 35 years under his belt, Al Hashimi heads up Zabeel Investments, a diversified investment company with a $6 billion portfolio comprising of commercial real estate development, private equity, and asset management.
With his relative youth, it is no wonder that Al Hashimi speaks often of youth development. A member of the Young Arab Leaders organization and named one of 2008’s Young Global Leaders, Mohammed is a strong advocate for youth education and empowerment. “Our generation is starting to take over,” he says, “and the previous generation is still around, but it is not coming up with as much as it used to.” While the most authoritative businessmen and leaders are typically in their fifties, at the very least, Al Hashimi’s rapid rise to the top can be credited to his hard work and innovative vision that allows him to see—and therefore help shape—the future of Dubai. Don’t let his relative youth fool you; he has amassed enough experiences in the business world than most men could ever dream of.
It is in part because he is able to recognize and cater to the wants and desires of the next generation—his generation—that is beginning to have just as much influence on a global scale as its forefathers. Al Hashimi and his contemporaries understand luxury as it is defined by the new generation, and cater their companies appropriately. While in the past, it was about impeccable service, the trend has shifted to entail state-of-the-art technologies, green standards, and a hip locale, which is what Hashimi provides through his company’s ventures.
Al Hashimi was educated in the U.S., which he credits with giving him a strong foundation in diverse developments, as well as in the mortgage concept, which at the time was nonexistent in the United Arab Emirates. Upon returning to Dubai after completing his studies, “An opportunity to establish really the first mortgage company in the region arose,” he explains. Al Hashimi’s intrinsic business sense told him to pounce on the chance.
He did, and became the industry’s leader. Al Hashimi’s mortgage business, dubbed Amlak Finance, began with merely $10 million capital, a very small investment for a company of its size. Yet everything was running as planned, until 2002 when His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, opened up the real estate market to non-nationals. “Really the whole real estate market in Dubai just went berserk,” Al Hashimi recalls. “It exploded overnight. That year, in the month of June alone we did the same amount of business we had done in the entire previous year.”
That was the start of a major explosion in the mortgage industry. “Our business started skyrocketing. We were growing so much that we got to a stage where we had to make a decision because the business was growing so fast, we couldn’t accommodate the growth from a capital standpoint. It became a funding issue.” Amlak tried to secure additional capital from international institutions, but many were hesitant to enter into Dubai, which at the time was a new, unproven market. This is a decision that these banks no doubt regret today. “The only other option we had was to go to public….The stock market had been quiet in Dubai since there was no regulated stock market and there had been a market crash in 1998.” But Al Hashimi thought the time was right to take that risk. Once again, his intuitions paid off. The IPO performed beyond expectations…and then some. “We aimed to raise $200 million; we raised in the region of $5 billion,” he exclaims. This provided them with the necessary capital to become the region’s leading specialized mortgage company, a status Amlak still holds today. Al Hashimi credits HH Shiek Mohammed with the vision to see the possibilities. “Basically without his support and guidance, people like myself would not be where we are today, because he allows you to live your dream,” Al Hashimi states.
In 2006, Al Hashimi founded Zabeel Investments, and has since been responsible for the company’s rapid expansion. Based in the Dubai International Financial Centre, Zabeel has amassed a portfolio worth more than $6 billion with arms in property development, construction, hospitality, media, finance, and education. Zabeel Investment has equity stakes in the likes of Abraaj Capital, Emaar Industries & Investments, Sony Corporations, and Empire Aviation Group, amongst numerous others. The company is managed by Al Hashimi, who acts as the executive chairman. The corporate philosophy is rooted in doing good, both for the environment and the community. “You’ve always got to give back,” says Al Hashimi. “We have a scholarship fund that we’ve launched that focuses on the underprivileged individuals from the UAE. We are focusing on people who are in the top percentile of their class, but at the bottom from a financial standpoint.”
This “doing good” philosophy extends into Zabeel’s latest venture, Zabeel Properties, whose developments are all environmentally sound. Launched in March, 2008, Zabeel Properties is already on track to become one of the dominant forces in Dubai and beyond, thanks to Al Hashimi’s dedication to being the best in the field, whatever field that happens to be at the time. “I always say that I don’t believe in replicating,” Al Hashimi says. “I want to innovate—anything I do has to have that element of innovation. My projects will stand out amongst everything else.
“I can create something different because in Dubai’s property boom, there wasn’t a focus on high-end. Everyone talks about being high-end, but then the next project may be low-end, and that doesn’t work. Luxury is a mindset; you have to have it. So we are focusing on high-end across the board whether it’s hospitality, whether it’s residential, whether it’s construction. It’s all related to the target market. I want to be a leader and I don’t want to be matched. I am used to competition and I know that I need to make an impact.”
The Tiara Residence and Tiara Palm Dubai exemplify that sentiment. The $500 million residential, hospitality, and lifestyle project is set to be one of the premier properties on the Palm Jumeirah, incorporating a luxury hotel, 132 furnished and serviced apartments, a beach, and landscaped gardens. “Tiara is a flagship for us….We will have brands from London, L.A., and Vegas—name brands that have not been seen in Dubai—that will add value to that development.”
Zabeel Properties made international headlines when it announced BradPitt as the design consultant for a coming five-star hotel and resort designed by the L.A.-based GRAFT. Add this project to the Porto Dubai, a low-density hotel off Umm Sequim Beach, and there is no room for doubt that Zabeel Properties will be the next big thing in luxury developments.
Porto Dubai was designed with Portofino, Italy, in mind. “Two summers ago, I was waiting for a friend on his ship in Portofino and we were going to go off for Cannes. I started to look about and see these beautiful houses and notice how they are on a hill on different levels,” he recalls. “I said, ‘Wow, that’s gorgeous, let’s do something like that in Dubai. Instead of making it flat, let’s build it on levels like a wedding cake.’” Porto Dubai is a tiered island design on a reclaimed peninsula, made complete with exotically landscaped tropical gardens and pools. The development will include 44 villas alongside a five-star hotel and beach club.
Additionally, Zabeel is looking at investment opportunities in other sectors, with a probing spotlight on U.S. real estate. “Where others may see doom and gloom, I see opportunity in the U.S. real estate market, since it has now become affordable for me to look at areas I couldn’t before,” he explains. “At the end of the day, there is only one Los Angeles, there is only one Miami, there is only one New York. No matter what anybody says, it still remains the strongest and most resilient economy in the world, and just like anything else, there are peaks and troughs in all investments.” As such, we can expect Zabeel to take full advantage of the downed market and make some sound investments. While it is still too early to name any projects specifically, Al Hashimi says that Zabeel will make an entry into the U.S. market through marquee hotels in New York, Miami, or Los Angeles.
But the focus will stay in the homeland, because, as he says, “In Dubai, if you can dream it, you can do it….When you name the major world cities, you say Los Angeles, New York, London and now Dubai in the same breath. It shows how far we’ve come in Dubai, in that we’ve been given the opportunity, which is all you can hope for. When opportunity comes along, you have to take it.” And he has. And he will continue to do so, helping to cement his place not as a young global leader, but as a global leader, period.