Al Habtoor Engineering and Enterprises was born just after the signing of the federation in 1971 and was one of the first companies to be founded under the new red, white, green and black flag or the new country.
“I believed it was the duty of the national people in this country to participate in the development of the United Arab Emirates and to assist in the planning and policy which was being set up by the President, HH Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan and his Vice President, the late Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, at that time,” remembers the Chairman, Khalaf A. Al Habtoor. “ We all had a duty to assist them in their arms and goals.”
“From that time, the company has participated in many major projects throughout the whole country and I am very proud of that. We have specialized in certain types of buildings – take hospitals for example, which are one of the most complicated projects to construct. We built the Rashid Hospital and Al Wasl Hospital in Dubai, as well as hospitals on the East Coast. In Abu Dhabi we built the UAE Officers Club, which is one of the largest shell structures in the world; bigger even than the Sydney Opera House in Australia.”
Al Habtoor began to diversify from the construction businesses during the 1970’s, at first concentrating on ventures to support the core enterprise, like marble and building equipment. Later the company turned to the other areas that it is now so well known for, including hotels and leisure, motor vehicles and quality education.
You might say the company’s has grown parallel to the development of the country and it has certainly grown been with the same spirit of optimism. That is something Habtoor puts down partly to the rulers.
“His Highness Sheikh Rashid was a great man. He always had a policy of encouraging people to do their work by competition so they learned and achieved what they wanted by hard knew that if he had granted them too much, they would come to rely on that. His policy was for people to work for what they wanted and when they did, he was very proud of them.”
“Rashid liked people who were independent, hard working and those who had respect for themselves. He used to rise very early and it was not unusual to be able to visit him at the Palace at 6:30 in the morning for a meeting. I remember one morning, it must have been around that time of day when the telephone rang, and my wife answered it and told me she thought it was Rashid. I covered the receiver while I drank some water, cleared my throat and made out that I had been awake for some time. But there was no fooling him, ‘You are a liar Khalaf!’ he told me!”
The business people of Dubai had the same respect for Sheikh Rashid as he did for them. Even before federation, Dubai was the merchant capital in the minds of the people of the region.
“Because of Rashid’s idea and his success in carrying them out, and of course because I of His Highness Sheikh Zayed’s support for us, I think the people of Dubai became the best ambassadors and representatives for the whole of the UAE.”
“Of course, the success of business continues now in Dubai, partly because the plan of the late Sheikh Rashid is still being implemented by other members of the ruling family. The rulers are adding to the plan and improving on it, but Rashid’s was the plan of a great and wise man.”
Habtoor believes the economy is the most important thing for the continued success of Dubai and the UAE.
“Economy comes first, second and third in the race for stability in a country. If there is stability in the UAE’s economy, then there is stability in the UAE. When people eat there are not so many problems – in politics, crime or cheating. That is why I think the rulers should take the advice of business people, like they did in the old days. The success of the UAE is based on the exchange of ideas between the rulers and the national business community.”
In the last two and a half years, the Al Habtoor Group has invested around half a billion dirhams in the UAE. And by the end of the century, if everything goes according to current research, the forecast is for an investment of around a billion dirhams.
Al Habtoor is involved in the prestigious Chicago Beach Resort Development in Jumeriah. It is the largest development of its kind in the Middle East and is expected to attract visitors from around the globe.
“One of the reasons for our success is the cosmopolitan nature of the country and its people. We have gained a lot of experience from Indian, Japanese, British and African people – in fact people from all over the world. Take my office for example, our team includes people of every nationality – and it can only add to our success.”
The future of the country lies with its national population – and the nest generation of patriots.
“I do not think it is enough to have a whole generation of university-educated engineers and doctors or people with business administration degrees,” explains Habtoor. “We also need people who are skilled as mechanics, carpenters, plumbers and engineers. This is what we have to tell our boys and girls.”
“It is more a question of talking diplomatically with the people who will follow us, to explain what the country needs. It is no good using a whip and it is important not to insult them. This is their country; it is where they were born, it is where their parents and grandparents were born and it s where their ancestors struggled to make the country what it has become today. And it is were their children and grandchildren will live and make their futures here.”