David Rutledge, CEO of the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre, began his career as an economics professor before taking to the world of commodities and capital markets. Lorraine Chandler discovers, however, that this high-flyer's heart lies in the Australian bush.

He is the sort of personality who makes you think that as a very young man,
he would been what we call a whiz kid.

And whatever the grown-up, impressively mature version of whiz kid is called, that's what David Rutledge is today at 63. There's a sharp and canny mind behind his benign demeanour and I'm not surprised to hear that his Australian family originally came from Scotland.

For the last two years, Rutledge has been at the helm of one of Dubai's biggest success stories, yet his work is known only to insiders in the commodities markets.

CEO of DMCC since December 2004, he joined at the company's launch in February 2003. Originally called Dubai Metals and Commodities Centre, the entity was recently renamed Dubai Multi Commodities Centre to reflect the fact that gold and diamonds are no longer its chief focus.

"In the past we would talk to people in the cotton or sugar industries, but as soon as they heard our name, they would wonder why a metals organisation was contacting them," says Rutledge.

"The DMCC acronym had gained recognition, so we decided to keep that while making the name more descriptive of our functions."

Since joining, he has been intent on developing Dubai as an internationally significant commodities hub.

The DMCC is developing the physical infrastructure for the field, with free zone companies, a gold refinery, commodity-oriented industries and freehold property on a planned 200-hectare development near Dubai Marina.

But, as he points out, it's the market infrastructure that is going to help Dubai make its mark in world commodities.

The DMCC has been almost frighteningly busy developing a range of services for the industry. This includes setting up a gold and commodities exchange, a diamond exchange and an electronic commodity warehouse receipt system.

It has also established coloured stones and gems certification services, the Dubai Good Delivery Standard, Dubai Commodity Receipt and Dubai Gold Receipt, all of which help facilitate the commodities market here.

"Dubai is neither a producer nor massive consumer of commodities," says Rutledge. "But it is uniquely placed geographically to build a viable international marketplace that should be able to compete with centres such as New York, Chicago, London and Antwerp. It's not unlike Singapore in being a trading centre, and it has a wonderful ability to attract people.

"The vision of Shaikh Mohammad (Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai) is a huge inspiration for what we do, while Sultan Ahmad Bin Sulayem (chairman, DMMC and executive chairman, Dubai Ports, Customs and Free Zone Corporation) is an amazing driving force."

"While the physical infrastructure is progressing well, for me what makes us different from other free zone authorities in the UAE is our marketing infrastructure, underlining the fact that we are about more than just property development," he adds.

Rutledge is well placed to lead a burgeoning commodities market here, or indeed anywhere in the world. He has held a number of high-profile positions in Australia and the US. He was managing director of Zurich Capital Markets in Sydney, the CEO
of Brisbane's Queensland Sugar Corporation and the CEO of the Sydney Futures Exchange.

While many start their careers in commodities with degrees in maths or economics, Rutledge is what you might call over-qualified for the commercial field. Although his father, Robert, was a chemical engineer, he was more interested in maths than chemistry, going on to do a PhD in statistics in his seventies.

Rutledge started his tertiary education in 1964 with a BA Honours (first class) in mathematical statistics from the University of Sydney.

"My father was quite an intellectual and looking back, I suppose I did grow up in an academic environment," he says, adding that his mother, at 84, is still intellectually "as sharp as a tack".

While his father was an undisputed city slicker, his mother, Judy, was originally from rural Victoria, where her family still has a farm. It was there that young Rutledge learned a love of the land. At a young age, he became interested in farming or becoming a country vet or doctor, none of which appealed to his father.

Yet, he soon discovered a love of maths that led him to study it and economics as part of an arts degree. "I was soon attracted to economics as I realised it had a relevance to the real world that pure maths didn't have," he explains.

He went on to study for both an MA and PhD in economics in California's prestigious Stanford University, graduating in 1971, having also picked up an MSc in statistics in 1966. He begrudgingly admits he was one of the top few students. During his time at Stanford, he got involved with the Food Research Institute and started to learn about commodities futures.

At that time, financial futures had not yet arrived, so there was a great deal of agricultural commodities (such as sugar and rice). Because of his mother's farming history, he had a great interest in agriculture, which was captured in the commodities markets of the time.

"In the big markets in Chicago, the traders would stand around in brightly-coloured jackets shouting at each other, as they traded in wheat, corn, soy beans and cattle," he reminisces.

Rutledge forged links with the grain companies in Chicago and worked at the Continental Grain Company during holidays and in between completing his PhD thesis, between 1968 and 1970.

Completing his education in 1971, he headed back to Australia, all set for an academic life. He worked as associate professor, economic and financial studies, at Macquarie University, Sydney, from 1971 to 1977. He enjoyed it and made some great friends, but soon realised the "awful truth", as he calls it.

"I found myself getting a bit bored as an academic," he says. "I was surprised and a bit disappointed that it might say something about my intellectual imagination. I'd always done research in commodities and my interest in the real world rather than in academia got the better of me."

He returned to the US to work as vice-president and chief economist at the Commodity Exchange in New York. After two years, he decided to return home to spend more time with his family. His father was getting increasingly frail, and in 2001, died at the age of 85.

Rutledge worked as the CEO of Sydney Futures Exchange and the executive director of Macquarie Bank, before taking the position as CEO of Queensland Sugar Corporation, a job that lasted from 1988 to 1999.

At that stage, Rutledge went back to the US to work as senior vice-president, market development at the New York Board of Trade.

In 2001, he was appointed managing director of Zurich Capital Markets in Sydney, then in 2003 he joined DMCC as executive director of commodities.

Despite his experience being the 'number one honcho', Rutledge had no issues about not being the CEO of the new company. "I've had plenty of high-profile jobs, but I don't see myself as a status-oriented person," he says with a wry smile. "If I ever needed that, I've got it out of my system now."

Rutledge comes from a generation that doesn't believe in promoting itself; instead, in understanding that the proof is in the pudding.

I've always had an interest in the land, and when I got involved in commodities, I found it was a nice combination of all the things I was interested in. The grain companies had a huge amount of data that was highly amenable to statistical analysis, so I found that fascinating.

I'm very excited about my work at DMCC. Naturally, when you start things, you want to see them to fruition - but Dubai is such an exciting place that there are always new projects. I'll have to accept that there will be some unfinished work when I have to move on.

I love challenges. I've probably changed jobs more than the average man in the street. When I joined commodities in Sydney, it was really a new entity, but my New York experience had given me something no one else in Australia had.

In New York, I learned a lot about markets and human nature and about how the markets could be abused. I brought those extraordinary experiences back with me to Australia.

I've always preferred the commodities market to the equities market.

In equities, it's more about individuals and people. You have to know about the quality of management in the companies concerned, but commodities relate to more impersonal factors like the weather and mines. It's an over-simplification, but the equities markets are more about who you know whereas commodities markets are more about underlying economic fundamentals.

I don't think you can be successful in commercial life without a degree of ego and you need to get respect from others in your field, but it's important not to let that get a hold on you. At this stage in my life, I don't need accolades to confirm my success.

I feel one of the downsides of living in Dubai is that you are away from your normal support systems. Without those diversions and demands, it's easy to become a workaholic. I often work from 7 am to 7 pm. I get up pretty early and I'm usually the first one in the office.

I travel a lot too, so I don't get a lot of free days.

I try to deal with people on a very fair and open basis. Everyone in the organisation calls me by my first name and can come and talk to me whenever they want. I think Australian egalitarianism is an overriding element of my personality.

Me and the United States:

When I went to Stanford in 1965, I was 22 and had never been out of Australia.

California was very exciting at the time and I started being more interested in the world and in politics than I had been before. I was relatively conservative (when I was) growing up, but living in California during that anti-Vietnam War period really changed my views of the world at the time.

Over the years, I've come to find American politics less and less endearing. So when I left there in 1980, I wanted my family to grow up in Australia. While saying that, I love the fact that just about anything is possible in the US. On a personal level, Americans are very friendly and I have numerous friends there.

In 1998, I split up with my wife of 25 years, Annmarie. We had been living in Brisbane, which is relatively small and laidback. It was a great place to raise a family, but people had known us as a couple and I decided to get away, so I went back to New York for a couple of years.

It did me a world of good because I had been in the sugar business in Brisbane for 11 years and my New York stint helped me to rebrand myself into the markets. But I couldn't stay in the States and missed my family more than I thought I would, so I returned to Australia in 2000.

Me and Australia:
Although I was born in Melbourne, we moved to Sydney when I was 3.

I grew up near Manly Beach and there was a lot of virgin bushland near the harbour. As a young child, I had hundreds of acres of virgin bush to explore and play around with my sister, Pam. I loved wandering around and had quite a sense of mischief.

As a teenager, I once tried to get into a dance room in one of the hotels. I hadn't been allowed in, so I was trying to climb in ? when I got a tap on the shoulder from the local constabulary!

I think if you're Australian, that (sense of identity) is always very important to you. One of the great things about Australia is that it's very egalitarian. It's a very informal place and Australians deal with people as they find them.

If you grow up there and then you move to a more hierarchical place, it's not so easy, even if you're successful there. When I was in New York, a 'shoe-shine boy' used to come around the office and I found that difficult to deal with, which was a small aspect of my Australian (character).

In Australia, you can make friends with people from all walks of life very easily. However, nowadays I don't think it's as open to immigrants as I would like it to be. I think that's a mistake both morally and economically.

I'd like to retire to Australia eventually and I've bought a 600-acre farm near Euroa, 150 km from Melbourne. I have relatives in that area, which is so beautiful that you could call it the Provence of Australia. It's close to the Australian Alps. I intend to spend a lot of time there when I retire.

What's the most important thing in your life?
Right now, it's the DMCC - for better or worse. I very much believe in what we're trying to do. Day-to-day, it's a great challenge. There's so much going on that it would be difficult not to be swept up in it all. But I hope my feet are on the ground enough that I don't find myself left with nothing one day.

That's one of the reasons why my farm in Australia is very important to me. Farming is very intellectually challenging, and I'm someone who always has to have a project.

Stocks are often regarded as more glamorous than commodities. What are your thoughts?
Oh, I find commodities more glamorous because they're all about getting your hands dirty. The business is connected to the harsh realities of mining, agriculture and shipping and they all have a certain romance about them.

It's also very exciting because it's so physical.

In the sugar business, I spent a lot of time talking to farmers and getting on and off vessels, watching sugar being unloaded.

Now in the DMCC we have the Dubai Tea Trade Centre to support the development of Dubai as a tea trading hub. I could take you down to our warehouse facility in Jebel Ali. We are actually very close to the physical (and tangible) end of the market and I like that.

Are commodities a great investment in times of high inflation?
There are good vehicles if investors are interested but it's still not a sure-fire way of making money. There are commodity funds that the public can invest in, instead of exposing themselves to the vagaries of individual industries, but you have to realise it's a risk.

Is it difficult to interest people in commodities like sugar and rice when gold and diamonds are so much more glamorous?
Sugar is an interesting commodity; it has increased dramatically in the last few years. There are plenty of people who will tell you sugar is a very glamorous commodity; it's a very volatile and exciting market and the same can be said about many commodities.

They form a fundamental part of our lives. You're talking about things people use and consume in their daily lives and that adds to the excitement and relevance.

What's the worst thing you could say about yourself?
I'm a perfectionist, and that's one of the reasons I gave up golf. I couldn't cope with the fact that I couldn't play as well as I would have liked to. I impose high standards on myself and I hold others to similar standards, so I can be a bit impatient.