Dubai’s Boom-Time Boys: Where Are They Now?

Gulf Business investigates the current CV status of some of Dubai’s former celebrity CEOs.



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.

Chris O’Donnell

Chris O Donnell, former boss of Nakheel (right) with Donald Trump
Chris O Donnell, former boss of Nakheel (right) with Donald Trump.

Then: Nakheel CEO
Now: President, Al Futtaim Real Estate Group

This beleaguered exec hit the headlines during the property boom when he led Nakheel to propose developments including The Palm and The World – the very essence of Dubai’s limitless ambition stroke hubris.

But the real estate firm found itself struggling with debt in 2008 as the bottom lurched out of the property market.

Nakheel eventually wrote down $21.4 billion from the value of its real estate during the Dubai debt crisis, which saw house prices in the city fall more than 60 per cent from their peak. And Australian O’Donnell found himself pushed out of a job in 2011.

But the exec wasn’t going down without a fight and filed a breach of contract lawsuit with the Dubai World Tribunal. In February last year O’Donnell was awarded more than $3 million.

Tim Taylor, for Nakheel, remarked that O’Donnell had received “a large amount of remuneration and had left a company that the government has had to bail out.”

Sameer Al Ansari

ansari-580_33650a

Then: Founder and CEO, Dubai International Capital (DIC)
Now: Founder and CEO, PEPlus advisors

As head of the investment arm of Dubai Holding, the emirate’s SWF body, Al Ansari was charged with leading Dubai’s march onto the world stage in 2004.

As former financial advisor to Ruler HH Sheikh Mohammed, it’s little surprise that Kuwait-born Ansari was given the plum job as Dubai’s personal shopper for European assets and more.

It was a role that confirmed anglophile Al Ansari took to with gusto, telling a conference in 2008 that DIC should attempt to snap up foreign assets at bargain prices: “This is our moment and we should seize it.”

When the crisis hit Dubai in 2009, DIC’s freewheeling spending on UK institutions such as The Tussauds Group for $1.5 billion may have seemed somewhat overzealous as Dubai nursed its debt wounds. DIC had also snapped up firms like Travelodge and bought stakes in Daimler AG, EADS and Sony.

Ansari later took the top spot at private equity firm Shuaa Capital but left after two years as the global recession shaved value off assets and cut access to credit.

These days Al Ansari is working for himself, according to his website, PEPlus. He remains a trusted advisor on several high-profile boards, including DIFC, TVM Capital MENA, and Aquasciences in the US.

The Abdullah Brothers

Tawhid Abdullah, former managing director and CEO, Damas
Tawhid Abdullah,former managing director and CEO, Damas

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

Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, chairman of DP World, speaks durin

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

7th Annual Chrysalis Butterfly Ball - Arrivals

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.

Robin Lohmann

Lohmann_2
Then: Managing director of ACI Real Estate in Dubai
Now: Unconfirmed

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.

And finally…

PETER BARKER-HOMEK

taqa

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.