An upcoming mall in Dubai will allow customers to drive through it in electric cars. This was revealed by Mohammed Alabbar, the founder of Emaar and Noon.

Speaking at the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival (SEF) 2024, he also revealed that the mall would be located in Dubai Creek Harbor. “We are trying something exciting,” he said. “This will be the first time cars can enter a mall so it will be very unique. We did not come up with this ourselves, we learnt it from somewhere.”

Alabbar also revealed that the development will have a beautiful tower, albeit smaller than the Burj Khalifa. “We have just approved the tower and we are starting construction now,” he said. “In elegance, it reminds you of Marilyn Monroe.”

In a session titled ‘towering success: what it takes to build a business empire’, Alabbar got candid about his observations and mistakes he had made. With over 200 distinguished speakers from 15 countries, SEF 2024 brings together some of the most influential entrepreneurs in the region.

Dubai Creek Harbor

Alabbar explained why the company decided to scrap its plans to build a kilometre-long tower at the location. “We realised we made a mistake,” he said. “We build these towers because we make money out of the apartments that look at the tower. We don’t make any money from the tower. Like how everyone in Paris wants an apartment overlooking the Eiffel Tower. Our buildings are only 50-storey tall so why do we have to build a tower that is one kilometre tall?”

He said the first look of the tower will be out in the next couple of months and that the company considered the Creek tower as the ‘female’ version of Burj Khalifa. The Dubai Creek Harbor project will be sprawled over six million square metres and is expected to become the ‘new downtown’.

The 66-year-old also spoke about how his life had changed since Emaar became a publicly listed company. “If you have a listed company, you have tell people every 90 days what you have done, it is a big challenge,” he said. “You can’t hide. These days, if I go visit a city and news gets out about it, a letter from the stock market comes asking me what I am doing there, what investment I will do and what the feasibility is like.”

However, he said he enjoyed the challenge because it gave him discipline. “There are a lot of processes and safety because you are dealing with public money,” he said. “It really teaches you great discipline. I think it makes you a better person because everything has to be planned.”

Selling hotels was a stupid mistake

Alabbar was also candid about the mistakes he made during his career, one of which was selling Emaar’s hotels. In 2018, Emaar Hospitality sold five of its hotels, including the flagship Address Dubai Mall and Address Boulevard, to Abu Dhabi National Hotels (ADNH).

“We thought we will be very smart and cash out,” he said. “It was a stupid mistake. It was wrong because we are not a normal hotel operator. We put our hotels in the middle of our development because a good hotel adds value to your real estate development. Any building next to a hotel does 30 per cent better. The owner then has the right to terminate us (from managing the hotel). They decided to go with someone cheaper and with lower quality.”

ADNH chose to rebrand the five hotels as Kempinskis and Marriotts earlier this year.

Importance of leadership

Alabbar also gave a glimpse of how we did research for his projects and highlighted the importance of leadership. “I had a gentlemen talking to me about something we might do in Lithuania,” he said. “I asked for the name of the city and called my office. I asked them to find the top four hotels in the city and figure out the website traffic for these hotels in the last three years and find where it is coming from. Data is so easily available but it is about leadership. Who is running the show, what is the leadership like. That is really what matters.”

He also attributed his success to his team. “Everywhere I went, there were amazing people around me,” he said. “I learnt from them and did most of the work. I was there to guide them and they also guided me. Entrepreneurs have to be humble and realize that they really cannot do it all alone. Make sure you find amazing people to stick around you.”

He said he often asks people he meets just one question. “Who is the one wise person you call when you are in trouble,” he said. “And a lot of times, I ask for that person’s number. I think we should seek smart people because that is what brings value to our achievements.”

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