DUBAI: Few know that even as he runs the city with a business-like precision, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and the Ruler of Dubai, is not immune to the hard work put in by his staff.
Which is why he doesn’t hesitate to treat them to an impromptu Chinese meal ahead of a crucial meeting.
The Sheikh CEO is a carefully crafted tale of Sheikh Mohammed’s enterprising approach to running Dubai. It's an engaging narrative about his penchant for risk-taking, even when the chips are stacked against him.
Through his book, Dr Yasar Jarrar, a former member of The Executive Office of His Highness, paints a story of a man and his vision that has transformed Dubai into the global city it is today.
Perhaps the most telling line in the book describes a core principle that Sheikh Mohammed imbibes while running the emirate. The diktat is clear: economy should take the front seat, politics comes second.
Yet, even as a reader revels in his leadership traits, Dr Jarrar brings a personalised touch to his words, narrating endearing stories about Sheikh Mohammed, who looks towards the future of his country, yet keep up the old traditions of his ancestors by hosting a majlis (informal meeting) at Zabeel Palace every Tuesday to keep an ear to the ground.
The Sheikh CEO is certainly a loving ode to an enterprising leader, but Dr Jarrar also weaves in a telling lesson or two about the visionary that is Sheikh Mohammed.
Here are six insightful tales from his book:
1. Burj Khalifa was not meant to be the world’s tallest tower
The city is synonymous for being home to the world’s tallest tower, but according to Dr Jarrar, the original plan for the Burj Khalifa capped the building at a mere 90 floors — a far cry from the 163 floors that stand tall in the centre of Downtown Dubai today.
Dr Jarrar quotes Mohammed Al Abbar, Chairman of Emaar Properties, which spearheaded the project, who recalls visiting Sheikh Mohammed during those early years to negotiate a land-for-shares deal with Dubai Government. The book describes Sheikh Mohammed quizzing Al Abbar on the plan for the tower and comparing them to the tallest towers in the world.
When he discovered that the Dubai tower would be nowhere close to reaching the dizzying heights that Burj Khalifa commands today, Sheikh Mohammed refused the deal and dispatched Al Abbar to return to the drawing board and come up with a new plan. Weeks later, the Emaar head returned with a drawing of a tower that he described as “20 per cent taller than anything on the planet.”
With that, Sheikh Mohammed responded with a smile, and said: “I think we can do this land swap.”
2. The Gulf Air stand-off
The Sheikh CEO describes Sheikh Mohammed as a forward-thinking ruler who realised early on in his public career that healthy competition would encourage a robust economy and pave the way for free trade.
Dr Jarrar quotes Sheikh Mohammed in the book who recalls a story from 1985, a time when the Bahrain-based Gulf Air monopolised air traffic in the region.
Gulf Air was using Dubai International Airport as a hub and sought to put an end to the open-skies policy.
“They wanted to protect their market share and even set us a deadline of a few weeks to comply,” the book quotes Sheikh Mohammed as saying.
Without wasting a moment, Sheikh Mohammed refused the request. He facilitated renting two aeroplanes from Pakistan and created an airline that we now know as Emirates, a global aviation leader operating the largest fleet of both Airbus 380s and Boeing 777s.
3. 'If you build it, they will come'
The ever-popular line from ‘Field of Dreams’ is a testament to Dubai’s growth and the emergence of freezones, such as Dubai Internet City (DIC) and Dubai Media City (DMC).
The book describes Sheikh Mohammed’s constitution to ‘act fast’ when making decisions, a learning that has been passed down to him by his father, the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum.
Dr Jarrar cites Mohammed Al Gergawi, the UAE Minister of Cabinet Affairs and Future and the Chairman of the Executive Office, who narrates a story about the origins of DIC.
“Sheikh Mohammed took me for a ride in his car and we drove down to the Dubai-Abu Dhabi Road near Jebel Ali, part of which was a sabka [salt flats],” Al Gergawi is quoted as saying.
Sheikh Mohammed looked out over the land and told Al Gergawi: “We want you to build an area focused on technology and media.”
And the project would not be funded by public money. To achieve the inevitable, the project leaders secured a business loan of $200 million from HSBC.
Today, DIC and DMC are home to some of the biggest names in the business. DIC hosts 1,600 companies including nameplate tech brands, while DMC hosts 1,300 companies, including top media firms.
4. Dubai Metro almost didn’t happen
According to Dr Jarrar, taking risks is how Sheikh Mohammed plans visionary projects for his beloved city. The Dubai Metro, which today serves as the lifeline of the city’s public transport system, was a project that almost didn’t happen.
The book describes the Executive Council opposing the project, calling it a "white elephant" (a useless or troublesome possession), and pointing to the fact that the city’s residents were simply not accustomed to the public transport culture.
The project’s huge pricetag — Dh19 billion — was also brought up as a potential hurdle.
Sheikh Mohammed reportedly heard both sides of the story. Ultimately, he took the risk by instructing the Roads and Transport Authority of Dubai to commence the Dubai Metro project at the fastest pace possible.
Today, Dubai Metro is more than 10 years old, having transported more than 1.5 billion passengers since its launch in 2009.
5. Airport wait time reduced
Perhaps the most endearing anecdote in The Sheikh CEO is Dr Jarrar’s revelation of how actively Sheikh Mohammed follows up on complaints made by the public.
When the Dubai ruler heard about passengers being forced to wait close to 45 minutes to receive their baggage, he hopped into his car one night and drove down to the airport himself to witness this.
Dr Jarrar narrates that Sheikh Mohammed actively spoke to passengers waiting at baggage claim and gave the airport eight weeks to halve this time. When the deadline was up, Sheikh Mohammed once again trekked back to the airport to check whether this had been achieved.
Realising the goal had not been met as yet, he gave the authorities another eight weeks to achieve success or face consequences.
Three members from the Executive Office, including Dr Jarrar himself, were assigned to the airport with stopwatches for daily checks to ensure passengers were not inconvenienced any further. By the end of the 16 weeks, the luggage wait had been reduced to less than 25 minutes.
6. Mohammed Al Gergawi was discovered through a mystery shopper
We’ve all heard the stories, but The Sheikh CEO confirms that Sheikh Mohammed often employs mystery shoppers to ensure government services are up to par and any problematic areas are actively addressed.
The book describes that in the 90s, the mystery shoppers started reporting back on a young man in his 20s who would often go out his way to assist people visiting the Department of Economic Development.
The young man’s name was Mohammed Al Gergawi and Sheikh Mohammed was actively listening.
A few years later, when Al Gergawi was offered a job in the private sector, Sheikh Mohammed heard of this and decided to offer the young man the position of Deputy Director of the Department of Economic Development.
Today, he remains an integral member of Sheikh Mohammed’s core team.
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Grab a copy of 'The Sheikh CEO' at the Gulf News store for Dh79. Or call 600 587234