Colm McLoughlin to step down as executive vice chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free
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Colm McLoughlin to step down as executive vice chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free

Colm McLoughlin to step down as executive vice chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free

UAE retail industry legend Colm McLoughlin to step down after 41 years at Dubai Duty Free

Marisha Singh
Colm McLoughlin - Dubai Duty Free

Colm McLoughlin, executive vice chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free, is retiring from his role on May 31. McLoughlin is a veteran and giant of the UAE travel retail industry as he spent over five decades shaping the sector. For 41 of those years, he led Dubai Duty Free.

McLoughlin is credited for being the driving force behind Dubai Duty Free’s rise to become the single largest duty free operation in the world.

After this retirement, he will maintain an advisory role, while attending sponsored sporting events. He will also stay on as chairman of the Dubai Duty Free Foundation, as per the official statement.

“I am pleased to announce my retirement and want to extend my sincere thanks to all of our management and staff who have supported me so well,” said McLoughlin in a statement.

“A huge thanks of course to our chairman, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, who has been a wonderful boss to me for all these years and who I know will give the same level of support to my successor.

“I am confident that Dubai Duty Free will continue to grow and I see a very bright future for the operation,” he added.

The original team

McLoughlin was a member of the original consultancy team from Aer Rianta, the Irish Airport Authority, which was contracted by the Dubai Government to launch the new duty free operation in 1983.

Reporting to then director general, Mohi-Din BinHendi, he remained in Dubai as general manager of the new operation, becoming managing director in 2011.

McLoughlin was later named executive vice chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free and its subsidiary businesses, which include The Irish Village restaurants, The Century Village, the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium and the Jumeirah Creekside Hotel.

Under his leadership, Dubai Duty Free has grown dramatically over the past four decades as its business earnings grew from $20m in 1984 to a significant $2.16bn in 2023.

Dubai Duty Free, has been the recipient of over 780 awards, of which 86 have been attributed to McLoughlin directly. This includes the ‘Most Distinguished Employee Award’ presented in 2000 by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

McLoughlin was also a recipient of the ‘Irish Presidential Distinguished Service Award’ which was presented in 2014 by President Michael D Higgins.

In 2017, the Middlesex University Dubai conferred an Honorary Doctorate to McLoughlin as part of its celebration of the academic success of its class of that year.

Recipe for success

In a previous interview with Gulf Business, McLoughlin attributed his successful career to old school values of hard work and being grounded.

“I think it would be possible if somebody works honestly, works hard and doesn’t lose touch with reality. But I do think the freedom and support I got in Dubai over 32 years would be difficult to get elsewhere.”

He has also spoken about having a close working relationship with Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, president of the Civil Aviation Authority and chairman of DDF.

“I meet with him every week if he is here and I am here. If I need to get an approval from him, I ask and there is no procrastination. It is very quick. He also tells me what he would like. The working relationship is very good. He works very hard but has time for everybody. Personally, I learn from him all of the time.”

Image credit: Dubai Duty Free

McLoughlin will be succeeded by Ramesh Cidambi, the current chief operating officer (COO) of Dubai Duty Free, who will become managing director, reporting directly to Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum.

Ramesh Cidambi joined Dubai Duty Free in 1987 and became head of the IT division before taking on further senior positions across Logistics, Retail Development and the DDF Leisure division. He stepped into the role of COO in 2016 following the retirement of George Horan and has been responsible for all aspects of the company’s operation, overseeing major retail projects at Dubai International Airport and Al Maktoum International Airport.

Commenting on the new role, Cidambi said, “I want to thank our chairman, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum and our executive vice chairman and CEO, Colm McLoughlin for this appointment. Colm is a legendary figure in our industry and has been a fantastic role model for me, and our entire team. I wish him and his wife Breeda a very happy retirement.”

Salah Tahlak, who is the current joint-COO, will become deputy managing director of Dubai Duty Free.

Salah Tahlak joined the airport retailer in 1992 and was one of the first Emiratis and US graduates to join the organisation. He went on to head up the marketing division and became Tournament Director of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in 2003. He was the first Arab national to be on the council of both the ATP and WTA.

In 2016, Tahlak became executive vice president for Corporate Services responsible for Marketing, IT, Logistics and Corporate Security. In 2022, Tahlak was appointed as Joint COO.

Commenting on his new appointment, Tahlak said “I have had a long and rewarding career with Dubai Duty Free and I want to thank our chairman, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum and of course Colm McLoughlin for this new opportunity. Colm has been like a father figure to me over the years and I have learnt so much from him. I wish him and Breeda and the whole McLoughlin family many happy years of retirement.”

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