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McLoughlin with the first batch of DDF staff. Of the 100 staff from this batch, many stayed on and worked for decades. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: As Dubai Duty Free (DDF) celebrates its 37th anniversary on December 20, a picture of the first batch of its staff hired way back in 1983 has come to the fore.

Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice-Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free, and his team travelled to Mumbai (then Bombay) and to Manila to look for young Indians and Filipinos for customer service jobs. And they were among the first batch of people hired.

Of the 100 staff from this batch, many stayed on and worked for decades. They are still referred to as the “pioneers” by DDF. Back in the day, Dubai airport had aspirations to become a major aviation hub and was planning to replace shops run by local merchants with large-scale retail operations.

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When the Dubai Government contracted the Irish airport authority, Aer Rianta, to establish DDF in the summer of 1983, a 10-member team was sent from Ireland to undertake the task. Headed by McLoughlin, the current executive vice-chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free, the team had just six months to design, build and set up operations. The recruitment and training of 100 staff had to be undertaken within that time, and as a result of a good deal of hard work by all, the objectives were met within the deadline.

With the task at hand complete, McLoughlin was asked by the then Director General of Dubai Civil Aviation, Mohi-Din BinHendi, to remain at the helm of the fledgling business as general manager.

Clear agenda

DDF had a clear agenda in place — to provide travellers with a wide range of quality products, first class service and value for money, all within a retail environment. These guiding principles still hold true and 37 years later, the operation, which recorded first-year sales of $20 million, is now a $2 billion business.

The success of DDF’s operations enabled the management to recruit more staff, enhance store designs, improve customer service and expand the product range.

Currently, DDF occupies over 40,000 square metres of retail space at Dubai International and Al Maktoum International Airport. DDF currently employs 47 different nationalities.