It has been 30 years since the ‘Father of ’ bin Saeed Al Maktoum bid us farewell. His passing on the 7th of October 1990 hit me hard. That day was only the second time in my life that I cried; the first was when I lost my beloved father.
I was privileged to know well and be counted among his inner circle. From the first day we met, he became my mentor and my inspiration. His capacity for hard work was phenomenal. He had no time for slackers or for people who slept late in the mornings and for him ‘late’ was anything beyond 5 am. Rarely have I met anyone with his strong sense of self-discipline, a trait I have striven throughout my life to emulate. He was a family man who lived his life according to God’s laws.
In truth, without his encouragement and the example he set, which I have faithfully followed, I would not be the man I am today. I must also credit him for giving me the opportunity to build my very first hotel, the Metropolitan, on what was then the Abu Dhabi Road.
was wise, generous and patient, all the qualities a true leader should possess. He loved in the days when there was only a single road, a hospital, a few basic schools and little else. He was a simple man who felt just at home in the desert as he did in his palaces.
Most of all he loved his people and would often stroll around town after the Fajr prayers greeting everyone in his path. Citizens and foreign residents were also welcomed at his majlis held four times daily where they were free to speak their mind. He was a man of the people in every sense, and his mission was to serve their interests.
Upon his accession following the death of his father Sheikh Saeed in 1958, was determined to fulfil his long-held vision. His dream was to see expand as an important trading hub, but it was being thwarted by silt in the waters of the Creek which did not permit large vessels from entering.
Not to be dissuaded, he turned to the British company William Halcrow and Partners to provide a feasibility study on dredging the Creek. It could be done, but the cost was staggering. secured loans which were repaid with customs duties and taxes on wealthy merchants. This was the Sheikh’s first major triumph as ruler, one that set the scene for a series of others that never failed to amaze and astonish.
I was always impressed by his self-confidence and belief in his own judgment, even when all around him were opposed to new ideas. He knew what he had to do and no matter how difficult the decisions he had to make, he went ahead ignoring the naysayers – and his instincts were always proved to be correct.
There were those who shook their heads in disbelief when he decided to construct , a deep water harbour, that was inaugurated in 1972 and were just as negative when in 1979 he inaugurated a mega dry dock as well as the first high-rise – the 38-storey World Trade Centre. He proved his detractors wrong. His philosophy was ‘build it and they will come’ and come they did in droves.
Having the courage to do the seemingly impossible is one of ’s legacies handed to his sons. Under the leadership of his son Sheikh , Vice President and Prime Minister of the and Ruler of , was the first emirate in the Gulf to create a thriving tourist industry fuelled by an expanded airport, the birth of ’s own airline not to mention advertising campaigns and international sports sponsorships.
One of ’s greatest achievements, in partnership with the Ruler of Abu Dhabi Sheikh, the late bin Sultan Al Nahyan, another giant among men, was the formation of the United Arab whose flag was first unfurled on the 2nd of December 1971.
It was no easy feat to persuade the autonomous rulers of five other emirates to trust one another sufficiently to join a new federation. Negotiations took time, and there were occasions when it looked like a lost cause. But thanks to their level-headed approach and perseverance against all odds, the United Arab was born and with it ’s place on the global map.
It is a great pity that never got to see his vision manifested in all its glory. Thanks to this exceptional human being the foundations of are rock solid. He stood for enterprise, hard work, innovation and respect for the other without discrimination based on race, religion or class. He steered through the competing pulls of modernization and age-old traditions. And he taught us to hold our heads high and feel proud of our Emirati culture.
We owe him so much, but he did not seek our gratitude; all he wanted was our happiness. There is not a week that goes by when I do not think of him remembering the good times and the sometimes-hard times passed through. taught us that a positive attitude is our greatest weapon of all, for that is the power that can smash any glass ceiling no matter how high.