Dubai’s rising economic temperature has been questioned of late and local pundits are already debating whether the newly ripe conditions could form another bubble.
So Gulf Business deemed it a fitting time to seek the whereabouts of the CEOs from Dubai’s last precipitous boom in 2006-2008.
Back then the desert moguls could do no wrong as armies of skyscrapers, seven-star hotels and mega-profits sprung blithely up and out of the sand, much like cactuses.
In no particular order, Gulf Business has sought out some of the former stars of the boom-then-bust.
Their tales are mixed. Some are tinged with high-drama, court writs and a search for new beginnings. Others have sought an altogether quieter redemption. Some are even regaining their former glory in their new roles. We’ll let you decide.
Then: Damas founders and senior management team
Now: Non-executive advisors, Damas board
In 2010, Damas was mired in the biggest scandal to hit a UAE-listed company to date.
The firm’s three Abdullah brothers were convicted by the Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA) of withdrawing some $167 million in ‘unauthorised transactions’ from the century-old family company having effectively used public funds as a personal bank account for everything from petrol receipts to real estate purchases.
The DFSA ordered Tawfique Abdullah, Tawhid Abdullah and Tamjid Abdullah to pay suspended fines totalling Dhs11 million, asked Damas to dissolve its board, and banned the Abdullahs from residing on any board for up to 10 years.
However, the brothers retain a ‘non-executive advisory’ board role, causing local media to debate whether the DFSA had any real ‘teeth’.
In March this year, Damas’ new board agreed to a $445 million takeover deal by Qatari conglomerate Mannai and Egyptian investment bank EFG Hermes. Damas has since been delisted.
Sultan Bin Sulayem
Then: Chairman, Dubai World
Now: Chairman, DP World
Sultan Bin Sulayem was at the helm of mighty Dubai World, a colossal government backed investment vehicle, in its formative years.
Following Dubai World’s debt meltdown, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, head of Emirates airline and uncle of the state’s ruler, was instated as the new chairman of Dubai World, a position he retains today.
Bin Sulayem has since flourished in his new role as head of DP World, one of world’s largest and fastest-growing ports companies.
Dr Sulaiman Al Fahim
Then: CEO, Hydra Properties; founder, Hydra Executives
Now: US investor
Who could forget the gregarious figure behind Hydra Executives, the Arab world’s version of the UK’s Apprentice TV show.
Al Fahim was one of Dubai’s most famous faces between 2008 and 2009 when he acted as a spokesperson for HH Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who bought Manchester City football club.
Just a few months later, Dr ‘Yes’ bought Portsmouth FC in the UK with some of his small change.
Amid all this, Al Fahim set up Hydra Properties, an Abu Dhabi firm, that has since faced a slew of legal cases from buyers in the wake of the economic downturn.
More than 100 buyers filed cases for refunds from Hydra in 2011 for property in stalled projects, including Hydra Village, Hydra Golf Walk and Hydra Avenue.
Dubai-based The Legal Group lawyer Fareya Azfar told reporters that eight defendants have won eight cases against the developer to date.
According to Gulf Business sources, Al Fahim is now primarily working as an investor in the US.
Then: Managing director of ACI Real Estate in Dubai
ACI unveiled its plans for three celebrity-branded towers at the height of Dubai’s five-year property boom in 2008, fronted by its CEO Robin Lohmann (pictured above right).
Michael Schumacher Business Avenue, Boris Becker Business Tower and Niki Lauda Twin Towers were to be built in the city’s Business Bay district and include residential, retail and office space.
All three towers stalled following the collapse of Dubai’s property market in late-2008 and ACI filed for bankruptcy on four of its seven property funds in September 2010, according to German media reports.
According to reports, one British investor has since spent more than Dhs800,000 in legal fees in a bid to reclaim money he invested in Niki Lauda Twin Towers.
One inside source told Gulf Business that Lohmann may be hiding out in Iran.
Then: CEO, Taqa (Abu Dhabi National Energy Company)
Now: Senior principal and energy practice head, The Capital Corporation, California, US.
Perhaps the award for the most devil-may-care of spending sprees goes to Peter Barker-Homek, former CEO of Abu Dhabi oil firm Taqa.
From 2006 to 2009, the American oil boss splurged more than $24.5 billion on a portfolio of international oil, gas and electricity assets. Most of the acquisitions were debt-financed.
Once the recession kicked in and the credit lifelines dried up, the debatably profligate CEO was shown the door.
What happened next proved to be the UAE’s most ignominious and bizarre CEO dismissal spat to date.
The ousted CEO tried to sue his Middle Eastern employer for $460 million in the US, alleging Taqa executives threatened to toss him in jail if he didn’t comply with a severance agreement.
Barker-Homek signed the agreement out of fear he would otherwise “languish in prison for years, be deprived of food, beaten and tortured, or worse,” the lawsuit said.
Eventually the Michigan-based judges said they didn’t have jurisdiction powers over Abu Dhabi and the case was thrown out.
It’s unlikely that Barker-Homek will be setting foot on Abu Dhabi sands anytime soon.