Arab Trump: how Hussein Sajwani created a construction oasis in Dubai
Developer Hussein Sajwani, new to Forbes, has earned billions in real estate by attracting customers with unusual advertising offers and friendships with Donald Trump
When, in December, US presidential candidate and billionaire Donald Trump called for Muslims to be banned from entering the country, Hussein Sajwani understood that this had nothing to do with him. One of the most important people in the UAE real estate market has conceived a project, grandiose even by the standards of Dubai. It’s about the luxurious village of Akoya, spread over an area of more than 260 hectares, 15 minutes from the center of Dubai. The pearl of this project is an elite golf club named after Trump, whose name has long been associated with success in the Arab world.
“We agreed with Trump as a businessman. His people know a lot about good golf clubs, ”Sajwani shrugs. “It has nothing to do with politics.”
63-year-old Sajwani, if he understands what, then in business. The revenues of his construction company Damac Properties in 2015 reached $ 2.3 billion, more than half of this amount is net profit. Since its foundation in 2002, the company has built 15,500 apartments, with plans for another 40,000 in the UAE and even London. Such stunning results in 2016 brought Sajwani to the list of the richest people in the world for the first time. A 72% stake in Damac Properties, as well as shares in other projects, secured him 527th place in the list of the richest with income of $ 3.2 billion.
“This is just a combination of good luck and foresight,” said Sajwani. “Someone opened the door, and I ran into it and used the opportunity.”
New horizons opened before the businessman in 2001, when the UAE government allowed foreigners to acquire property in the country. He started selling expensive real estate and realized how to get around competitors using advertising. The first advertising move was the rental of expensive cars. Every January, Sajwani invites potential buyers to take advantage of the new Lamborghini or BMW models presented at the annual Dubai Motor Show. In addition, Sajvani customers can try exclusive jet skis and purchase them if they wish, and the company provides free luxury apartments to buyers of villas and mansions. In order to attract customers from China, in December last year, Damac Properties launched a company, during which it provides Chinese people wishing to purchase real estate in the UAE, airline tickets, a hotel and visa services.
Damac Properties collaborates with Versace, Fendi and Bugatti brands – the company builds apartments with design from fashion houses.
The first such village with an area of more than 509 hectares with a design from Bugatti will soon be completed. Like Akoya, there will be Trump Golf Club. And Bugatti owners will never lose sight of their cars – a glass garage will be built for them.
But Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric had an effect in one way or another. As Reuters found out, three days later, Damac Properties removed the Trump International Golf Club sign from a stone wall at the site of the future Akoya village and photographs of the billionaire and his daughter Ivanka on nearby advertising banners. However, after another three days, the tablet again appeared in its original place. The company explained to Forbes that they removed the sign just to “clean it.” As for the banners, Trump and Ivanka were replaced with a photograph of Marlon Brando in the role of Vito Carleone from the movie “The Godfather”, for a reason known only to Sajwani.
Luxury house in Dubai with a place for a Bugatti in the living room.
But Damac Properties’s affairs have deteriorated, not only because of Trump. Low oil prices and weakening world currencies are much worse.
Turning to the Chinese market is rather a necessary step, caused by the fall of the Russian ruble, and then the euro and the dollar. In a 2015 earnings report, Damac Properties, submitted in January, indicated that the company is now operating in a “challenging economic environment.” An analyst at NBAD Securities, Sanyalak Manibhandu, said property prices in Dubai have fallen by about 15% since the beginning of 2015.
To attract customers in a crisis situation, Damac guaranteed buyers 3% of the annual income on advances made (this is about two times more than the current rate on deposits). In addition, she promised to “maintain” the cost of housing for two years, that is, if the price drops compared to the purchase price of the property, Damac will compensate for the difference.
Sajwani believes that such a market situation “creates new opportunities for the growth and development of companies such as Damac.” And this position of the billionaire is approved by his more eminent partners.
Hussein Sajwani grew up in Dubai in the usual family of a merchant. His father had a small shop in the local market, which sold watches, Parker pens, T-shirts and goods from China. Sajwani spent all his free time from school at this store. His mother sold goods from the store to housewives, coming to their home. Throughout his childhood and youth, according to Sajwani, he heard around him talking about trade and business.