DAMAC MD Ali Sajwani on the group's transformation journey
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Cover feature: DAMAC Group’s Ali Sajwani on the company’s journey of transformation

Cover feature: DAMAC Group’s Ali Sajwani on the company’s journey of transformation

The group’s managing director – operations and technology shares the next chapter of growth planned for the Dubai-based conglomerate 

Neesha Salian
Ali Sajwani MD operations and tech DAMAC Group Image Mark Mathew MMG

“We are on a journey of transformation – transitioning from a successful family business into a global corporation that is agile, streamlined and focused on growth and diversification. It’s a key step to consolidate and futureproof the legacy my father has built over four decades,” says Ali Sajwani, referring to DAMAC Group, the multi-billion-dollar home-grown conglomerate that his father, Hussain Sajwani, founded in 1982.   

As the group’s managing director of Operations and Technology, Sajwani is spearheading the evolution of DAMAC, the parent company of luxury property developer DAMAC Properties, high-end jewellery brand de Grisogono, fashion house Roberto Cavalli, and data centre firm, Edgnex.

He has also been tasked with overseeing the company’s digitalisation, including its decision to embark into the metaverse and build its own digital cities, becoming one of the pioneers in the GCC to do so. Considering the scale of the group’s local, regional and global operations, his remit requires constant interaction and involvement in every aspect of the business, and it’s something he has been doing since he was 13 years old.   

Learning the ropes

“My father has always involved us closely in the business and sought our counsel for every major decision. In fact, I remember going to the office from the time I was in school. We even discussed business during family meals. I learned to read balance sheets and understood everything from gross margins to valuation metrics and how to price our products – it was the best training ground anyone could ask for.   

“I joined the company officially in 2014 after graduating from Northeastern University in Boston. I spent two years at our construction sites, followed by a stint leading the sales team in 2016. In fact, I used to follow up on more than 250 leads a day. I then took over other divisions such as technology, customer relationship management (CRM) and handovers. I introduced various tech tools to bolster operations, including the DAMAC Living app and an e-commerce app we are building to facilitate frictionless online sales, which have seen an upward tick since the Covid-19 pandemic. Another significant lesson was understanding how our teams, our people have contributed to our success,” explains Sajwani, who is in his 30s.  

All in the family

Sajwani’s sister Amira, who manages sales and development for the group, and brothers Abbas and Mehdi, are also actively involved in the family business. 

Mehdi, the youngest among them, attends meetings during his school breaks, honing his business skills just like his older siblings.  

Sajwani likens this to how Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has been grooming and preparing Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and the younger generation of leaders to steer the emirate in its next phase of growth.  

“It has been a great inspiration to see how Dubai has evolved, particularly if you liken it to a business or corporation and the role of the emirate’s leaders in making this a reality,” he adds.  

Sajwani says his father’s focus on collaboration and communication has built a strong foundation for the business. “My father is an astute businessman and visionary, but he is also a strict teacher and a stickler for hard work and details, and I share these traits. He continues to be an important force in our business, inspiring us to take the company to the next level.”  

This emphasis on detail is key to DAMAC’s success and ongoing transformation, which commenced with the finance team, and then expanded to the CRM, sales and technology divisions. “The goal is to eliminate bureaucracy and bring governance and processes into the system to shape growth and drive efficiency.  This has required a ‘shift’ in culture, which often is one of the hardest things to do in a company, but it’s what the future demands.”  

Sajwani and Amira are closely involved in driving the group’s current and future plans. “We share an aligned vision when it comes to work and we rarely disagree on decisions; however, when we do have different opinions if it’s a decision related to sales and development, she has the final say and I respect it, and when it’s related to operations and technology, I get to make the final decision and she respects it.”  

 The siblings agree that innovation has kept their business ahead of the competition in their key market and industry: Dubai and property development. Prime examples of this include DAMAC Residenze, DAMAC Heights, Park Tower, Ocean Heights, Damac Towers by Paramount, Damac Hills 1 and 2… the list is long.  

Sajwani says, “Dubai’s real estate sector holds tremendous potential across segments. The emirate is attracting investors and high-net-worth individuals from all around the world, hailing from different backgrounds and nationalities. It offers a wide range of attractive perks such as luxury hospitality, the best international F&B, top-quality entertainment and much more. Dubai is also simplifying all processes that would attract investors to the city, such as the golden visa and the different investors’ visa options. The most important point I would like to highlight is that Dubai offers the best quality of living at the most affordable cost, it gives you real value for money. I believe that living in Dubai costs one-fifth the cost compared to other global cities.”  

While the factors driving consumer interest has spurred business, it’s DAMAC brand of luxury that is the key draw for buyers.   

“We always ask ourselves, what else can we do in this project that will differentiate it from the last one? What can we do to come up with a new and special concept? This strategy and mentality positions DAMAC as a trendsetter in the market, which matters to us and to any other real estate developer to be able to dominate the market,” says Sajwani.  

Talking about the company’s focus on luxury developments, he adds: “We were one of the first developers to introduce branded residences when we announced Cavalli Tower in 2021. Today, we’re also one of the first developers to introduce luxury seafront living properties with DAMAC Bay by Cavalli, an innovative 42-storey residential concept rising as three stunning towers in Dubai Harbour.”   

Additionally, the company has revealed Canal Crown by de GRISOGONO. These are designer waterfront apartments located at Business Bay, with state-of-the-art infrastructure and world-class attractions. 

 Sajwani says that people think DAMAC only makes exclusive luxe towers. “Luxury is part of the company’s DNA, and it extends across segments. We also have some of the most luxurious community developments that are intended for families. They have the best amenities and offerings to satisfy all our customers. DAMAC Lagoons is an example. It’s a huge master community of elegant townhouses and villas, surrounded by azure blue lagoons, inspired by the Mediterranean, where every cluster has its own theme depending on the name such as Monte Carlo or Mykonos.”  

Sajwani is also very focused on the group’s hospitality offerings in the UAE and overseas. Currently, he is closely involved in the construction of the Mandarin Oriental Bolidhuffaru Reef in the Maldives, which is  slated to open in 2025. He says the ultra-luxury resort will raise the bar for the industry and competitors. The 34-hectare resort will feature 130 stand-alone villas, including overwater villas and beachfront villas, as well as ten branded residences.  

The internal size of the villas will range from 100m2 to 600m2, with each featuring exquisite finishes, private pools and offering stunning ocean views. “We will build more such resorts and are looking at Mauritius, Seychelles and Bali next,” he adds.

All about Amali  

However, the project that has both Sajwani and Amira very excited is their new, independent brand. “Amali means ‘my hopes’ in Arabic, and we chose this name because we want to focus on the hopes and dreams of our customers and bring them to life. We wanted to have a project that we create from scratch, with complete freedom in imagining how the product would be, and that’s how we came up with the idea of Amali,” says Sajwani.   

Amali resonates with the concept of premium residential resorts within an urban landscape. Sajwani adds: “We all lead busy lives, but imagine escaping the hustle and bustle of the city to enjoy the comforts and elegance of an uber-luxe resort – every single day. Dubai is the perfect setting for such an offering, with its stunning skyline, beach-fringed landscape and amazing infrastructure. 

“Amali goes one step further – it’s redefining luxury beachfront living in Dubai. The project features a ‘super exclusive’ collection of 18 villas, located in the World Islands, only six minutes away from the centre of Dubai in a boat ride, each with private berths for homeowners to dock their boats. We want to offer our clients the chance to experience their own slice of paradise every day, with breathtaking views, top-of-the-line amenities, and unparalleled exclusivity. The starting price for these villas is Dhs50m.”  

“We’re planning to launch our project in the last quarter of 2023, and we’re extremely excited to show the world what we’ve come up with,” concludes Sajwani on an excited note.   

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