Driven by the will to contribute to Dubai’s vision to become one of the world’s most modern and advanced cities, Mohamed Ali Alabbar founded Emaar in Dubai on 16 June 1997. Today, Emaar Properties is considered one of the world’s most valuable and admired integrated real estate development companies. Its vision as an organisation is to transform urban spaces into sustainable, healthy, and vibrant developments for a brighter future and is most known for being the developer of assets such as the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Mall.
“[to me] it was not about money or business. It was about that child standing in front of Burj Khalifa, looking at it, smiling and saying, ‘I belong to a civilised country, and I am proud’.”
– Mohamed Ali Alabbar
Alabbar’s passion for real estate is also reflected through his other renowned real-estate development companies, Eagle Hills and Nshama but as a global entrepreneur he was determined to expand his business empire to encompass virtually almost all other industries. These include retail, hospitality, e-commerce, technology, logistics, F&B, and venture capital industries where he is a major player.
Valuing education from an early age Alabbar earned accolades in Finance and Business Administration from Seattle University in the United States, Alabbar also holds an Honorary Doctorate from Seattle University, an Honorary Doctorate from London School of Economics, and a Political Science Honorary Doctorate from Sun Moon University in South Korea.
After college, Alabbar started off his career with the Central Bank of the United Arab Emirates as a banking manager. In 1992, Alabbar returned to Dubai and began working for the government as the founding director general of the Department of Economic Development (DED). Alabbar’s career led him to establish a close relationship with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Ruler of Dubai, where he later became one of Sheikh Mohammed’s chief economic advisers. Alabbar worked with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum to drive the development and growth of both Dubai’s tourism industry and global reputation.
He is the founder and chairman of Africa Middle East Resources (AMER), a private company that works to unlock the value of natural resource opportunities in Africa and link them with large consumer markets in Asia. He is also the founder and major shareholder of RSH, the leading Singapore-based pan-Asian marketer, distributor and retailer of international fashion and lifestyle brands.
In March 2015, Capital City Partners, a real estate investment fund led by Alabbar, announced plans to build a new capital in Egypt. Also in 2015, Alabbar, who sits on the board of Eagle Hills, announced plans to develop the largest mall in the Balkans in Belgrade.
When Alabbar first started Emaar Hospitality Group, the aim was to launch successful home-grown brands on par with the best brands in the hospitality sector worldwide. Today, the group is reaping the rewards of its exceptional work, with remarkable hospitality assets, including Address Hotels + Resorts, Armani Hotels and Resorts, and Vida Hotels and Resorts, in addition to serviced residences, leisure clubs, and a comprehensive portfolio of restaurants and spas.
Nshama, another of Alabbar’s real estate ventures, is a Dubai-based developer of integrated lifestyle communities, offering exceptional value to aspiring homeowners since 2014 through elegantly master-planned neighbourhoods that are smart, interconnected, networked, tech-driven, and sustainable.
“The traditional [hospitality] business will always be there. But a big portion of our industry must change.’
– Mohamed Alabbar
As a visionary and champion of innovative technologies, Alabbar has also built up a diversified investment portfolio in the technology sector. Teaming up with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), he launched noon in 2017, which has become the region’s leading e-commerce platform and digital ecosystem. He is also a major investor with Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP), a fund offering investors tech exposure in the MENA region and Turkey. Additionally, through Alabbar Enterprises, which he heads, he has a stake in global online fashion retailer Yoox Net-a-Porter Group and has signed a joint venture to set up an online luxury retail business in the Middle East. In 2021, Alabbar announced Zand, his latest technology venture and the world’s first fully digital bank to offer both retail and corporate banking services.
“We owe it to 400 million Arabs that they go to the digital economy. I think it’s our duty; otherwise the Middle East will be left behind.”
– Mohamed Ali Alabbar
Noon is the region’s technology leader, aiming to accelerate the digital economy of the Middle East by empowering regional talent and businesses to meet consumers’ online needs. Starting in 2017 with noon.com, noon is now a digital ecosystem of products and services.
In 2016, Alabbar led a consortium of Gulf investors to acquire the food packaging and restaurant franchise business, Americana, one of the region’s largest food manufacturing and distribution companies. Founded in Kuwait in 1964, the group operates 1,800 restaurants across the region and 25 food production sites in the UAE, KSA, Kuwait, and Egypt.
Through Alabbar Enterprises, he has also brought a plethora of reputed international F&B brands into the region. More recently, noon announced the launch of noon Food, a new food delivery marketplace housed within the noon app, aiming to grow the food and beverage delivery sector via accessible technology and fair pricing, to create a more sustainable ecosystem for businesses and consumers.
Driven by the wellbeing of his society rather than by financial success, Alabbar has made sure to give back to the community in more ways than one. Since 2004, Emaar Properties has established a culture of corporate social responsibility, which began with providing assistance to welfare groups in UAE communities. Mohamed Alabbar recommended a series of initiatives as part of Emaar’s CSR programme. Today, its outreach has gone beyond the UAE border to reach a host of different countries and different categories. One such initiative is Sandooq Al Watan, a social initiative launched by a group of Emirati businessmen to achieve sustainable development, a decent life, and a bright future for all the nation’s people. In its commitment to reinforcing social participation and strengthening national unity, Emaar has been a strong supporter of and the biggest contributor to this noble mission. This reflects the priority that Emaar attributes to its corporate and social responsibility as a leader in the community.
In 2020, Emaar Properties also vowed to incorporate environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles and values into its operations and investments, based on a three-pillar strategy. The first pillar aims to decarbonise the company’s real estate assets, monitoring their emissions in line with global targets. The second considers the resiliency of all assets in relation to physical hazards from climate change and transitional risks arising from market trends and energy transition. The third focuses on building the foundations of tomorrow’s society through supporting Emaar employees and the communities in which the company operates.
The growth potential for ecommerce in the middle eastern region is extremely high with a young tech-savvy population that is hungry for entrepreneurial success. There is much optimism for the future and Mr. Alabbar is confident that the bureaucracy and boundaries that hindered small and medium-sized enterprises could be less of an issue in a more interconnected world. He also sees a lot more opportunities for regional collaboration despite the global economic instability. However, he emphasises that flexibility and open-mindedness are crucial to making effective change and plays a huge role in how the world’s most global cities are managed.