Hussain Sajwani – Founder and Chairman of DAMAC Properties

I consider every moment, success and failure a part of who I have become today.

Hussain Sajwani is the founder and Chairman of global property development company DAMAC Properties. He is a graduate from the University of Washington, having studied Economics and Industrial Engineering.

He started his catering venture in 1982, and it has grown to become a market leader managing more than 200 projects and serving over 150,000 meals daily in a number of markets including the Middle East, Africa and the CIS.

He was also one of the pioneers of the property market expansion in Dubai and in 2002, he identified the market opportunity and established DAMAC Properties, which was grown to be one of the largest property development companies in the Middle East. The company’s footprint extends across global cities such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Amman, Beirut, Jeddah, Riyadh and London and to date has delivered over 17,900 homes with a development portfolio of over 44,000 units at various stages of planning and progress.

The extraordinary growth of DAMAC can be attributed to the vision and entrepreneurial skills of Hussain. Listed among the 100 most globally influential Arabs, he has proven capability to transfer business vision into corporate reality and to provide leadership that is necessary to maintain continuity and growth.

As an astute businessman and investor, Hussain also has a proven track record of successful forays in the global equity and capital markets. He currently holds investment portfolios of securities in a number of regional and global markets

Where did the idea for DAMAC Properties come from?

Growing up, I would often spend time after school helping in the family business. This started from a very young age and the experience was instrumental in nurturing my entrepreneurial spirit. As a risk taker, and while studying in university in the US, I sold time-share apartments. This would later serve as capital to start my own business. After two years in my job after graduation, I realised how I could make more money working for myself. That’s when I started my own catering business which became a success and grew regionally. My interest in real estate continued to grow, and at first, I developed small hotels, and this then funded my bigger plans to develop towers in the most prime areas of Dubai.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

My typical day revolves around meeting with members of my management team and ensuring I am updated on the various aspects of the business. Another integral part of my day is meeting business partners and members of the business community. Nurturing and expanding my network of contacts is crucial to my business. I also ensure to spend valuable time with my family as this goes a long way in keeping a balanced life.

How do you bring ideas to life?

My inspiration is to look at Dubai for example and imagine how it will be in 10 or 20 years from now. I would like to say I take calculated risks and if I believe something has potential I will put a great amount of effort into making it happen. The fear of failure must be put aside and this has helped me to realise a lot of successes over the years.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I would have to say it is the ever-evolving world of digital marketing and social media. I am intrigued by social media, by how it has changed from when it started and what it has become. I like the idea that a dynamic communication landscape has been created and dialogue between businesses and their consumers, governments and their people, and companies and their employees, takes place round-the-clock. The power of this tool is limitless and this now constitutes a major part of our marketing efforts.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I like to travel and expand my horizons. This gives me the opportunity to see things from another perspective. I also like to read about history and civilizations as there are a lot of lessons that can be learned.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

After graduating from university I worked for two years in the finance department of a large company. I was involved in processing payments for contracts and I soon realised there was a lot of money to be made if I had my own company in the services industry. I left that job after two years and started my own venture and it was the best decision I ever made. One lesson which that experience taught me is that the time was not wasted. It took that experience for me to realise what I like and disliked and helped me to carve my path with determination. I also learned that time is precious and should not be wasted. A day that goes by is lost forever, if it wasn’t well-spent.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I consider every moment, success and failure a part of who I have become today. I have learned many lessons, some good and some bad, but together they have put me where I am today. I’ve made tough decisions which at the time were not easy to take but, looking back now, those same decisions and actions propelled my business and paved the way for more success.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I like to learn new things and new skills as it allows me to re-invent myself. I also set new challenges to overcome and this helps me to evolve and bring new dimension to my businesses.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

My property development company has grown beyond Dubai and to other countries in the Middle East and also the UK. We have to 2,000 employees and it would not have grown this quickly, with strong foundations and in just 15 years, if I did not believe in empowering my team and giving them the bandwidth to do what they do best.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I would advise one to invest in real estate, especially in established global cities that have a bright future. Despite the short-term ups and downs, real estate in such locations will always reap good valuations in future and what is attainable today may be unaffordable in future as prime positions become scarcer. I always say, don’t wait on real estate as properties in good locations most certainly go up in value.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

It was for a book of photography of the city of Dubai and how it looked 50 years ago. From time to time, I look through it and am reminded of how far we have come. I firmly believe we need to be reminded of where we have been to know where we are going.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

I have all major newsfeeds set up to receive the latest news to my phone. Whether I am at my office, home, or on the go, I need to have access to the latest news and knowing what is happening globally, regionally and in the local community. This is the first thing I look at in the mornings and check throughout the day.

What is your favorite quote?

“Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.” This was articulated by Jack Welch, ex-Chairman and CEO of GE.

From the person who was at the helm one of the world’s largest products and services conglomerates, steering it to become one of the most respected and robust companies today, I choose to abide by this guiding principle on a daily basis, in everything that I do, in business or in my person life.

Key Learnings

  • I consider every moment, success and failure a part of who I have become today.
  • I like to learn new things and new skills as it allows me to re-invent myself. I also set new challenges to overcome and this helps me to evolve and bring new dimension to my businesses.