Dubai: When Nasser Al Shaali was a young boy, there was nothing he enjoyed more than wandering through the family's factory in Umm Al Quwain, getting covered in fibre-glass strands, and watching the men there building boats.

"It was the ultimate playground," he recalls. Now, nearly 30 years on, Al Shaali has just taken the helm as CEO at Gulf Craft, the largest leisure boat and luxury yacht builder in the Middle East. "In many ways, I'm just returning to my roots," he says, referring to his family-run business which employs 1,400 workers.

A fit and single 33-year-old, Al Shaali has already carved out a diverse career as CEO of the Dubai International Financial Centre, as well as serving on the board of the Dubai Financial Market, the Consulting Office of the Government of Dubai, and the Social Responsibility Fund of the UAE Government — he was also chief operating officer at the DIFX where he helped launch the region's only international exchange.

With that type of heavyweight pedigree, he ought to be aware that the economic downturn might hamper spending on discretionary items such as luxury yachts.

"Not at all," he says. "There has always been a sector of the market here which is impervious to downturns. A luxury yacht is a lifestyle statement, and there are always those who can afford to make such a statement."

Al Shaali is bringing his extensive planning and organisational abilities to the tiller of Gulf Craft and is determined to secure the company's place and reputation as the definitive builder in luxury yachts and leisure boats. Some 70 per cent of Gulf Craft's output is shipped around the world, and the company just recently delivered two yachts to Venezuela.

Inferior influx

But it's not all smooth sailing for the sector. Al Shaali points out that other manufacturers have gone under, with receivers flooding the market with under-priced vessels.

"Of course, these boats are inferior and there's no follow-up service available," he notes. "But this abnormality in the market place will soon clear."

Al Shaali is proud of Gulf Craft's reputation as a world-class manufacturer of the vessels which can be found in pretty much any major harbour around the world. As well as the recent sales to Venezuela, he's looking at opportunities in Malaysia and China.

He believes his company's yachts are superior because of their electronic systems, tried and tested mechanics and a proven track record.

"If you look at some of the Italian manufacturers, for example," he says, "they sell their boats in the harbour. We sell ours at sea." In other words, true sailors appreciate the sea-going virtues and characteristics of the Gulf Craft vessels.

But does he get seasick?

"Only in very rough waters," he laughs. "But we are developing motion technology for our new models which will virtually eliminate motion. We'll be announcing that in the near future."

Gulf Craft is one of the few manufacturers of fibreglass yachts with the capability and experience to build vessels over 100-feet in length, and the firm has a reputation for delivering state-of-the-art luxury boats. Its Majesty Yachts series begins with the 44-footer, up to the Majesty 135.

Given his new role and his past in the financial services sector, among others, Al Shaali is fully sensitive to the need for growth in the industrial sector in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Need for diversification

"If you look at the picture in the GCC, all of the countries import something like 90 per cent of what's consumed here," he says. "Obviously, that level is unsustainable when it comes to long-term growth. The only way to develop economies and allow for real growth is through developing the private industrial sector."

He notes that at present there is an over reliance on trading and the service sector in GCC economies, and what is needed for real long-term growth are policies which develop and sustain non-governmental industrial development.

"The real estate and property sector will always be important in this region, but we need to diversify and develop the private industry to develop our economies in the long term," he says. "This is not a new situation  it is something that has been happening here for the last 30 years. If you look at Oman, for example, it has taken steps and is ahead of us here in the UAE in some ways by encouraging and developing its private industries."

He points out that the manufacturing sector here is hampered by uncertainties in the supply of labour and fluctuation in land and material costs.

With 1,400 workers to look after, Al Shaali will be all out to chart new waters for Gulf Craft.