Damac is the name which spells luxury in Dubai’s vibrant real estate sector and a risk-taking businessman Hussain Sajwani, being listed among the top 10 Arab billionaires, has made it big with his visionary approach to the market
When one thinks of luxury properties in the vibrant city of Dubai, one name that towers above many is Damac Properties.
While the company often hits the headlines for its bold projects, Emirati real estate legend Hussain Sajwani, the man behind these visionary developments, is busy creating innovative lifestyle concepts, new opportunities for the company as well as giving back to the community.
The UAE-based Damac Properties, valued at approximately AED20 billion ($5.45 billion), has delivered more than 20,230 homes to date and boasts a portfolio of more than 44,000 units in development.
Founded in 2002 by Sajwani, the publicly listed company has rapidly spread its presence in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Lebanon and Oman, and most recently, the United Kingdom. Last year, Damac Properties ranked first on Forbes Global 2000 list of fastest growing companies worldwide. Sajwani is among the top 10 Arab billionaires with his assets valued at $3.7 billion by the Forbes 2017 list.
“Anything is possible with hard work, determination and dedication,” Sajwani, Founder and Chairman of Damac Properties, tells Arabian Knight.
While growing up, Sajwani would often spend time after school helping in the family business, a humble watch and pen store in creek-side Deira district. This started from a very young age, he tells us, and the experience was instrumental in nurturing his entrepreneurial spirit.
As a risk-taker, and while studying at the University of Washington in the US, he started selling time-share apartments. The profits from this venture would later serve as capital to start his first business. Sajwani spent two years working as a contracts manager at Gasco, a subsidiary of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) after he graduated, but he knew his heart was really into working for himself.
In 1982, he started a catering business, attracting clients such as the US military and construction giant Bechtel. The catering unit has now grown to become a market leader, managing more than 200 projects and serving over 150,000 meals daily in a number of markets, including the Middle East, Africa and the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States).
Sajwani’s latent interest in real estate resurfaced, and in the 90s, he started developing small residential apartments and hotels to accommodate the growing influx of people coming to Dubai for business. These small projects then funded his actual ambition of developing towers in the prime areas of the emirate. He founded Damac Properties in 2002, capitalising on Dubai government’s decree allowing foreigners to own property in the emirate. The rest is history.
Luxury real estate
Damac Properties is one of the leaders of the region’s luxury real estate market today. “Damac’s vision is to deliver luxury living within high-quality residential, hospitality, leisure and commercial developments. At the heart of the company’s culture lies the desire to accomplish this vision for its customers from all over the world, encompassing every element from architects, designers and contractors, through to the handover of keys,” Sajwani says.
The leading luxury developer has pioneered the concept of branded real estate in Dubai by forging associations with global fashion houses and leading names. Projects include the Trump International Golf Club in Dubai, which is managed by The Trump Organization; luxury apartments with interiors by Italian fashion-houses Versace Home, Fendi Casa and Just Cavalli; and uniquely conceptualised Paramount Hotels & Resorts.
“Designer-branded properties cater to the needs of clientele who prefer a certain brand and appreciate the value of branded real estate. It is the industry norm for branded properties to command a premium due to their uniqueness and desirability amongst the discerning clientele. These are bespoke products – it is not every day one has the opportunity to own a branded home for personal use or for investment,” says Sajwani.
Damac’s latest collaboration with the Roberto Cavalli Group, the Just Cavalli villas (handover in 2020), features the designer brand’s signature style. “As with a number of our collaborations with renowned names, our relationship has extended to more than one project and also outside of Dubai, and so in the future, it could be possible to extend our association with Just Cavalli to other bespoke products, not just at Akoya Oxygen.
“Our association with Versace, for example, was initiated on our first project in Beirut – Damac Tower with interiors by Versace Home – and our project in London – Aykon London One – is also designed by this brand. The same can be said for Fendi, Paramount Hotels & Resorts as well as Trump-operated golf course in Damac Hills,” he elaborates.
Damac Properties launched its hospitality division Damac Maison in 2011 and is working on a portfolio of more than 13,000 serviced hotel rooms and hotel apartments, with six hotel properties already operating in Dubai.
DICO Investments is Sajwani’s flagship investment company, which focuses on investments in private equities, mergers and acquisitions, and holds majority and minority holdings in publicly traded companies.
Other areas of business interest for Sajwani are in the world of trading, such as Al Amana Building Materials, which represents names like Villeroy & Boch, Grohe and Dornbracht, to name a few. He owns Al Anwar Ceramic Tiles Company, the first and one of only two tile manufacturers in the UAE. Another key investment initiative for Sajwani regionally is Al Jazeira Services, listed on the Muscat Securities Market with a capitalisation of over $110 million.
Secret to success
Sajwani believes hard work, determination and dedication, to be the secret behind his successes, but he doesn’t hesitate in sharing the credit with his 2,000-strong employee force.
“The success of Damac goes to every Damac employee, who embodies our values, practising them in his/her day-to-day work, and spares no effort to achieve the goals, hence contributing to the reputable, leading position we hold today.
“In addition, insight on the market dynamics is key to the success of any business. In real estate, it is particularly important to do the proper due-diligence, study the market and stay at least two steps ahead of emerging trends,” he says. “I take calculated risks, and when I believe something has potential, I put a great amount of effort into making it happen.”
The 64-year-old property tycoon shows no signs of slowing down. “Whenever I need inspiration, I look at Dubai and imagine how it will be in 10 or 20 years from now.”
The real estate mogul shares some pearls of wisdom for young entrepreneurs: “The fear of failure must be put aside. Be bold and audacious in your vision. Be honest and be ready to accept different views, since diversity in age, gender, nationality, culture and social level all bring different perspectives that can open our eyes to a new way of doing something. Focus on nurturing a culture of collaboration within your teams and keep an eye on the competition. Watch how the market behaves, so you can help your organisation stay ahead of the curve.
“Always seek to learn new things and new skills, as it allows you to re-invent yourself. Always set new challenges to overcome, as this will help you evolve and bring a new dimension to your businesses. That is what I do!”
The world will be a better place if only integrity, honesty and respect form the cornerstone of everything we do, says the multi-billion-dollar business magnate. To him, giving back to the community is very important, as it is part of his personal values and those of his family.
“As a home-grown company, I feel it is important to give back to the community in which we operate and that has given us so much. Over the years, we have both contributed to various causes and charitable activities, supporting regional and international NGOs.”
The Hussain Sajwani-Damac Foundation was launched last year to honour the ‘Year of Giving’ initiative, as decreed by His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE. “We are proud that the first initiative the foundation supports is the ‘One Million Arab Coders’ initiative, launched by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.”
The father of four says: “I hold education and learning in great value, and have always encouraged my children to seek to learn and work hard. Contributing to a sustainable future for generations to come, through education and learning, matches my personal beliefs and contributes in the empowerment of the wider community within the Arab region, equipping them with the skills required for the jobs of the future.”
Speaking about the real estate industry in Dubai and the UAE, Sajwani says the market is entering a phase of sustained confidence. “The market is well-regulated, with regulators taking precautions – such as payment of a deposit upfront – to prevent speculation and overheating, payment plans that are aligned with construction progress and even Central Bank regulations on home financing, which have specific criteria for off-plan or ready properties. These are all designed to ensure that the real estate sector remains healthy and presents a sound investment proposition.”
In 2018 and beyond, as Dubai heads towards Expo 2020 – an event that is expected to generate some 500,000 direct jobs and perhaps up to one million indirect ones – Damac is expecting strong market interest from buyers, both locally and from overseas.
More generally, the UAE’s real estate has proven to be a sustainable alternative to equity, bond and currency investments that have tended to take investors on a rollercoaster ride due to market fluctuations. Real estate, meanwhile, has presented investors with stable income generation and longer-term capital gains and represents an essential asset of any investment portfolio. “We see the sector remain a promising haven for investors in the years to come,” he says.
Sajwani says that Damac will continue to seek out strategic investments overseas, enabling it to expand its footprint beyond the Middle East.
“On my recent trips overseas, I have held high-level discussions with officials, where we explored the investment environments that these markets present for hospitality, leisure and luxury property opportunities. There are no specific plans yet, but we continue to explore and conduct due diligence.
“While it is too early to tell what type of partnerships, if any, would be shaped in these markets, Damac is open to all types of opportunities in both sectors. A recent example of this is the $1 billion project in Oman in which Damac was selected as the master developer to transform Port Sultan Qaboos into an integrated tourist port and lifestyle destination that includes hotels, residences, dining, retail and leisure offerings,” he concludes.
– by Rashi Sen
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