As the Al Habtoor Group ratchets up its Emiratisation program into full gear, Joanna Andrews caught up with Mohammed Fadhel Al Mazrooei, the young and dynamic Managing Director of the Group. At just 39 years of age, Mazrooei is not only a high flyer, but he is also the longestserving non-family Emirati in the well-known conglomerate.
Growing up Mohammed Fadhel Al Mazrooei wanted to be a captain of a ship - like most boys his age. Today he is Managing Director of one of the best-known and respected conglomerates in the UAE - surpassing even his wildest dreams.
Al Mazrooei has risen through the ranks of the diversified Group to be one of the highest-ranking Emiratis in the company - behind the Chairman, Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor and CEO and Vice Chairman Mohammed Al Habtoor. Al Mazrooei says the journey to the top has been “exciting and exhilarating”. He started his career at the Group in the late 1990’s when he was a trainee at the Metropolitan Hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road, before becoming a PRO and Government Relation Officer. Fourteen years later, he plays a vital role in the Group.
The old adage ‘blood is thicker than water’ is of paramount importance to all leading UAE businessmen, like Al Habtoor Group Chairman Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor. However, unlike most family businesses in the Emirates that keep family in the top ranks, the Al Habtoor Group has long believed in empowering its staff, and rewarding and promoting employees who excel – like Al Mazrooei.
Before joining the Al Habtoor Group he worked for Abu Dhabi Investment Authority – ADIA. But the selfproclaimed “Jumeriah boy” couldn’t be kept away from the shores of Dubai for long so he packed his bags and left Abu Dhabi to work in his family’s ship building business in Jumeirah.
The 39-year-old wasn’t always destined for success, at least according to his father who fired him after just one month on the job. “I wasn’t committed back then,” Al Mazrooei admits. It wasn’t until the Al Habtoor’s took him under their wing that he rose to the challenge of the hardworking private sector. “I was lucky to be given the opportunity to work at the Al Habtoor Group, so I jumped at the chance,” he says. “Everyone had heard of the Al Habtoor Group. It was a big company.”
Al Mazrooei says he was attracted to the private sector mainly because of Al Habtoor and his reputation. “I am lucky enough to consider our Chairman as my mentor. He has helped make me the man I am today and I want to learn more about his views and continue to grow under his direction. He is the master of this type of business, if you learn from him you will win.”
He is quick to admit that working for Al Habtoor comes with many challenges. “Our Chairman’s standards are extremely high, everything has to be perfect. Every day is a challenge at the Al Habtoor Group, but that’s what makes it exciting; you don’t know what is around the corner. Every job we do is of such a large scale.”
Al Mazrooei says that in his early days he was quite a rarity as very few Emirati were employed in the private sector. “At the start of the millennium there were just two non-family member locals working here. The Al Habtoor Group has long been a pioneer in many fields,” he says with pride. The company, even today, is not dissimilar to the United Nations – with a multi-cultural workforce.
Al Mazrooei, a proud Emirati, says there is a misconception about Emirati’s. “We are hard working people. Look at how far the UAE has grown in a short space of time. It is down to the vision and hard work of our leaders and businessmen like Khalaf Al Habtoor. They have made our country what it is today.” He pauses for breath. “This is why I can never live anywhere else. I can’t find a better place than Dubai. It is in my blood. My blood is here.”
In Al Mazrooei’s lifetime, Dubai was turned from a desert to a megacity. He gets nostalgic for the past for a few moments and reminisces, “When I think back to when I was growing up, I am amazed at the change in my country. My grandfather was a fisherman. My most memorable time as a child was when I was fishing; there were no buildings, just open space and very clear water. I would rush home from school every day to sit and watch my grandfather working on the boats for hours.”
“When I was young, most Emiratis seeking employment wouldn’t even think about entering the private sector. It was natural to seek out a career in the public sector. But things have evolved,” he adds.
“The young professional Emiratis today are well-educated and their mentality is different. They are now attracted to the private sector – and companies like the Al Habtoor Group can benefit from this change in mentality.”
But how does he feel about more competition from locals entering the Group as it cranks up its Emiratisation drive? “If someone is better than me, then I don’t mind, as long as he or she gives the Group more than what I can deliver.” So what’s next for Al Mazrooei? With a long history at the Group behind him and a bright career ahead of him, he concludes, “As we continue to grow there will always be exciting, new opportunities no matter what my designation may be.”
Maybe he got his childhood wish after all, navigating his way through the various Al Habtoor Group units to become the captain of a multinational organisation with clear direction and leadership.