Al Habtoor Group 45th Anniversary Gala
Speech by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor, Chairman, Al Habtoor Group
Tuesday January 13, 2015
Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim. Wa alaikum assalam wa rahmatu Allah.
Good evening and welcome. Your Excellencies, members of the media, ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you for accepting my invitation to share this important occasion with me. And thanks to all my friends who flew-in especially for the event. I am very proud to celebrate the Al Habtoor Group’s 45th anniversary with you. You have all played an important part in our growth, and I am honoured to stand before you.
You just saw a video of children dreaming about what they want to be when they grow up. When I was younger, I had a dream. My dream was very simple. It was to provide my family with food and to put a roof over their heads.
When I think about the old days, when I used to earn 250 Indian rupees a month, I thank God for the blessing of giving me prosperity. And that I was born in this blessed country.
Do you want to know how I achieved my dreams? By strong belief in God and that I can accomplish anything I want. By surrounding myself with positive people. I don’t leave things for tomorrow, I do them today. I live in the present, and plan for the future. This is the secret of my success.
But, with God’s blessing, I have exceeded even my wildest dreams. It is true that my determination to succeed has played a part too. Do not get me wrong, my dreams did not turn into reality at the click of a finger. No! I had many failures first. If you read my autobiography, you would know how many times I failed. It is those failures that made me succeed. They made me stronger and more motivated.
They made me into the person I am today.
I believe the secret to success is a combination of factors: Determination. Ambition. And discipline! But I cannot forget that the trigger for all this was my father, Ahmad bin Mohammed Al Habtoor. My father was a simple man who loved camels and poetry, but I learned a lot from him. He encouraged me to meet His Highness Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum and I loved and respected him for that. He was my mentor. He pushed me hard to succeed.
I never liked to visit the Majlis. But my father encouraged me. He said to me: “you should always visit Sheikh Rashid. You will learn a lot from him!” And I did! We became very close. I was inspired by his positivity, his energy and his vision.
Today I have other dreams. I dream about a better future for the world. I dream about peace, harmony, tolerance and security. We need to protect the world for our children and grandchildren. Unlike western politicians, we put action to our words.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) shares its success with the rest of the world by giving generously to those less fortunate. The UAE was recently ranked first by a Paris based Development Assistance Committee of the OECD for being the largest donor in the world for official development assistance. The UAE’s contribution to supporting international efforts and humanitarian response to global crises now totals almost 20 billion dirhams – well above the United Nation’s target.
The UAE is pro-active in helping make the world a better place, by securing the lives of millions of people, and by establishing international peace and security, and helping to create better opportunities and a brighter future for people in developing countries.
If other governments are NOT doing anything to make our world a better place, then it is left to individuals. I am lucky enough to be in a position to do something pro-active. In 2013, I decided to set-up a new foundation. I gave it a 20 per cent share in my company. It is the Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor Foundation.
The mission of my foundation is peace and prosperity. Decades before it was formalised, my target was to make a difference, and thank God, we have. The Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor Foundation is now coordinating with some of the world’s top universities to help come up with solutions to global issues on peace and prosperity.
Our objectives include trying to find a realistic solution to the Middle East peace plan, and with the help of many international organisations, we hope to make some progress. I am also leading an initiative to combat global poverty through the Foundation. It is still a work in progress but the plan is to be able to alleviate the hardship of millions around the world. These are my dreams today.
And now, I dream about the future of my company. Today we celebrate the Al Habtoor Group’s 45th anniversary; 45 years of excellence; 45 years of success. I am very proud to stand before you today, on the spot where the Metropolitan Hotel once was. Back then it was our entry into something new – the UAE hospitality sector. And look at what we have achieved since then. This just shows you that anything is possible. You set your goal and you do everything you can to fulfil your dreams.
When I first opened the Metropolitan Hotel back in 1979, it was in middle of sand dunes and sabkha. People doubted me at first. They thought I was crazy. Today, it is becoming Al Habtoor City - in the heart of Dubai, and sitting on the banks of Dubai Water Canal.
Let me take you back almost four decades, to when HH Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum woke me up to the biggest surprise of my life then. His Highness telephoned my house around 5:30 in the morning. My wife picked up and told me that Sheikh Rashid was on the phone. I cleared my throat and pretended I was fully awake, but Sheikh Rashid was not fooled.
He said to me: “Khalaf, get up. Why are you sleeping so late?! Wake up, I want to show you something”.
And he did! He brought me here, to this plot. He said: "Khalaf I want you to build a hotel here"
It was not easy building the Metropolitan Hotel. I had no funds, and it was in the middle of nowhere.
I am sure most of you remember what this area was like. But with the years, the Metropolitan Hotel became the centre of the city and a popular destination with its varied outlets.
I tell you this story, because this plot where you are sitting now, has been transformed into a plot where each inch costs millions of dirhams. I chose to celebrate our 45th year here to let you know that we are reinforcing our projects like I am reinforcing the future of our group, growing with my country.
The UAE economy is strong, and growing, as are we. We are committed to the UAE and we believe in the vision of our leaders. This is where the growth is, and here are the facts:
In 2014, the UAE economy grew to 1.5 trillion dirhams. That’s a 4.8 per cent growth from the previous year. Our economy is five times bigger that it was 10 years ago, and more than 236 times what it was 43 years ago. And the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is predicting 3.8 per cent growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) this year.
The UAE has transformed from being an oil-based economy to a much more diversified economy. Today almost 70 per cent of our economy comes from non-oil sectors. This highlights that our leaders have succeeded in implementing a smart strategy of diversification. The UAE has also become an important hub connecting the East to the West.
The Al Habtoor Group is growing with the UAE, and we are proud of it. We has always recorded strong growth. In the past three years, our total revenue growth was 37 per cent. Our total net worth, over the same period, jumped 20 per cent. In the next five years, we are expecting revenue growth of 161 per cent. We are anticipating our net worth growth for the coming five years to be 85 per cent.
We are always thinking about success, and participating in the growth of the UAE. I thank God for our leaders. Without them, without their planning, we would not be here flourishing as we are today. It is very difficult to keep up with the speed of HH Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan and HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum in regards to improvement and standards of living.
I am working at full speed in order to be parallel to the growth of my country, as I have committed since day one. It is great to work with leaders like Sheikh Khalifa and Sheikh Mohammed. Their commitment to excellence gives us the fuel and the encouragement to do more, and make the future happen now, rather than after 10 years. We need the government and the government needs us. Together we prosper.
The success of our country depends on us too. Each and every one of us has a role to play. We must not stand back and wonder, “Why is the government not doing this - or providing that?” Instead, we must ask ourselves, what have we done for our country today, and what can we do to make it better? This is our duty, our right, and our privilege. We are partners. We share the responsibility to ensure the growth, safety and security.
The UAE is the safe haven. This is the real land of opportunity. I always encourage people to invest here.
Because we are a nation that only looks forward! We do not look back.
Going back to the Al Habtoor Group. I am proud of all our units. We are experiencing growth throughout.
But, this is not time to sit-back and relax. We need to keep our energy and continue to drive our people to succeed and stay ahead of the competition. This is not easy, and I cannot do it alone.
I have a strong army behind me, my directors and all my employees are my generals. They all work under my instruction and direction with strong work ethics and a positive spirit.
Ladies and gentlemen, my friends, my colleagues, I wouldn’t be standing here today if it was not for the employees of my company. I have thousands of people working for me, and a lot of them believe that they are working for me. But I like to correct them! I am working for them. It is my responsibility to help provide for them, to worry about them, make sure they have jobs and secure futures. I cannot rest, thinking and planning, worrying about their future. I sometimes cannot sleep.
Everyone knows that work is my number one priority. There is no such thing as retirement in my dictionary. It doesn’t exist, and should not exist. I believe that retirement is the graveyard.
At the Al Habtoor Group, we have 45 years of solid growth behind us. We have a bright future.
And I have many more plans.
I want to end my speech reminding you that anything is possible as long as you are prepared to work for it. The UAE is a prime example of how hard work and determination pay off. Just 43 years ago, the country was sand and desert, and just look at it today. It is the best country in the world.
Ladies and gentlemen, the UAE is the land of opportunity – and I am living proof of that.
I will not settle for anything but being number one. We will be number one, not only in the UAE or the region, but we will also compete on a global level. This is my promise to you.