Q&A with the group CEO of TECOM Investments, who will be honoured at the Dubai Lynx International Festival of Creativity 2015 as the Advertising Person of the Year.
Well-deserved congratulations, on being chosen the Dubai Lynx Advertising Person of the Year 2015. You have won many accolades before. Where does this rank, coming from the region’s advertising (and media) festival?
I see this accolade as something really personal, given my involvement with Dubai Media City from so early on, and the enduring value of the partnership with the Dubai Lynx Festival of Creativity. To me though, this accolade is really a testament to the tireless energy of all of those who contribute on an ongoing basis to making this partnership such a core part of the region’s media industry.
You have risen through the ranks from Project Engineer in 2001 to Group CEO in 2013. Could you share with readers some of the foundations on which you have built your career?
My career has been based on two key pillars. Striving for excellence in everything that I seek to do, and helping others around me to do the same, and secondly to do something different to what might be expected. When I first joined TECOM Investments my decision was met with surprise. I could have chosen a very safe path, but instead I saw Dubai Media City in an embryonic state and immediately saw the potential. I am happy to say that my decision was vindicated as TECOM Investments has grown to become a major engine room of the Dubai economy.
Your message on the TECOM website says, ‘TECOM’s story is very much intertwined with Dubai’s story’. How has Brand Dubai evolved in your view?
In one word, innovation. Dubai is blessed because of its leadership, and its people. These two things combine to ensure that we never accept the status quo. There is always another opportunity on the horizon, and the ambition is always there to take it on and exceed expectation. Brand Dubai has evolved, because our society here has evolved too – we are always striving for the summit and that means innovation.
What are the major challenges to overcome for Dubai to rise further as the destination of choice for innovation majors?
I prefer to talk about opportunity. We have a significant bank of human capital in this market that is seeking to learn from others as well as to strike out on their own and stake their claim in the world. Providing this pool of talent with the chance to make a valuable contribution to society for the benefit of future generations is the key.
One of the many things you are credited with helping establish is the DIFF. How has it evolved over the years and what do you see as the next stage of growth for the festival?
The Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) is now in its 11th year, and was recently named one of the world’s top 10 international film festivals. DIFF has played a key role in the development of Dubai’s production industry, and brings together some of the world’s top talent, offering the best in Arab and inter-national cinema to audiences every year. We have supported the festival since its inception, which has grown from strength to strength. Looking ahead, I am confident that DIFF will continue to work towards the collective goal of establishing Dubai as a leading global film production hub.
Could you help us with an update on d3? Can Dubai become the world’s design capital?
d3 is at a very exciting stage in its development right now, and there are a number of announcements that we will be making in due course. To your second question, Dubai definitely has the potential to become the world’s design capital. We sit at a nexus point for people, trade and commerce. Design is so critical to just about every product and service that we consume; d3 will deliver the ideal environment for Dubai’s design industry to thrive.
What will be the rub off from d3 on cementing Dubai as a retail destination? Or any other industries?
Dubai is already a global retail centre as evidenced by the footfall across our world class shopping destinations. The potential impact on not just retail, but also other areas such as housing, manufacturing, design and talent, is significant. This is the key for us – we don’t want to just create silos – everything we create has to have a higher purpose and a wider impact.
Are you witnessing increased environmental consciousness on the part of businesses? Is it manifesting in their investment decisions?
Our support of the Gover-nment’s Smart City initiatives means that we are always looking at how to do things that will deliver the most benefit for future generations. We would also always encourage our partners to think about the environmental impact of their operations. For us, we want to build sustainable world class communities; a big part of this requires us to be sensitive to our environment – we look forward to talking about this more over the course of the year.
What would be your top three priorities, in order to incubate and nurture innovation in Dubai?
To provide access to investment and talent; to support the growth of a domestic market that gives innovators somewhere to sell their products, services and ideas; and thirdly, to tell the world so that the cycle can continually perpetuate itself.
In brief, what are the opportunities and challenges that Expo 2020 brings with it for Dubai?
EXPO 2020 will bring the eyes of the world to Dubai. It provides a major opportunity for trade and commerce, and with that it is imperative that Dubai is ready. This means everything from having enough hotel rooms to a commercial environment that is supportive for business to grow. The main challenge is ensuring that EXPO has a long lasting legacy for Dubai and the UAE, but as I mentioned, we are always looking for the next challenge, so this is but one more milestone on a long and upward trajectory.
Several of the industries that are housed within TECOM’s parks require a talent pipeline, and often lament the lack of it. Has the growth of training and educational institutions kept pace with the growth of industry?
Our industries are evolving and developing at such a pace that there will always be a lag between the two. The real indicator is whether or not you are constantly seeking to shrink this gap. This is something we are actively addressing through ensuring that the right conversations take place between industry and higher education. In addition, we need to invest in robust research to help inform us about future industry need. One example of this from our side is Workforce Planning Study commissioned by Dubai International Academic City (DIAC) and conducted by Deloitte. This has been invaluable in shaping our strategy for a high-quality futureproof talent pipeline, which will be a critical component for the realisation of Dubai as a global innovation hub.
(This article appears in the issue of Campaign Middle East dated 8 March 2015.)