Billionaire developer Hussain Sajwani on the past, present, and future of DAMAC

Hussain Sajwani, majority owner of property development firm DAMAC, has experienced first-hand the highs and lows of dealing in commercial real estate. Drawing on the entrepreneurial lessons of his father, the mogul had built an empire of real estate holdings in Dubai only to witness a spectacular crash in value in 2008. Sajwani has persisted, however, and the lofty ambitions of his youth remain.

 

Sajwani founded DAMAC at a critical inflection point in Dubai’s real-estate history – in 2002 just months after the emirate permitted foreigners to buy property in the country. Using free cash flow from his existing ventures – a ceramics factory, a regional catering firm, and an insurance company, Sajwani was able to snap up property and begin developments across Dubai and the region, including in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan.

 

When Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008 and the financial markets were roiling around the world, DAMAC and its owner were exposed. Once Sajwani received word of soft sales figures, he went to work to contain the crisis in which property values crashed 50%. His company suffered with public perception as he slashed overhead – including many of the firm’s workers and contractors. However, in his savvy, Sajwani didn’t panic and sell his most prized assets – including ten buildings in Business Bay. He also used a war chest of over AED1bn to continue purshasing assets at a time when other competitors couldn’t afford to.

 

Having been better prepared for the downturn than other developers, DAMAC and Sajwani have capitalized impressively on the recovery. His company now brokers in developments in AED billions. The comeback was capped off with an offering of shares on the London Stock Exchange in a raise of over $375M. That is not to say Sajwani is winding down his involvement; on the contrary, Sajwani retains over 70% ownership in the Company and has his sights now set on Europe. His vision of the future includes DAMAC towers in iconic cities across the world, including in Asia and North America.

 

As a child, Sajwani marvelled at his father who travelled to India, Pakistan, and as far away as China to secure inventory for his shop. The visions of global commerce have never left him – and don’t expect them to anytime soon.

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