The DMCC boss is “indebted to his father and idol, the ruler of Dubai, for taking a chance with him in 2001 when he was 23 years old”.
Ahmed bin Sulayem, Executive Chairman and CEO of DMCC. — Photo by Neeraj Murali
Ahmed bin Sulayem, Executive Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Dubai Multi Commodities Center (DMCC), believes in the words of Canadian ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky: “I run where the puck will be, not where it is has been.”
This conviction benefits the dynamic gentleman from the Emirates.
From an inception with just 28 member companies in 2003, the DMCC has grown into one of the world’s leading free trade zones in 2022, encompassing over 21,000 member companies from 180 countries around the world and employing over 65,000 people.
Bin Sulayem is synonymous with the master development of the DMCC Free Zone in Jumeirah Lakes Towers (JLT), a 200-hectare business and residential community in south Dubai where over 100,000 people of various nationalities live and work in 87 adjacent towers that contribute Highly anticipated neighborhood Uptown Dubai – currently under construction – under his supervision.
But cut to mid-2001, where Providence directed his career leap.
Ahmed bin Sulayem, Executive Chairman and CEO of DMCC, with renowned clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson.
Born in Philadelphia in the United States of America (USA) and raised in an illustrious Emirati family in Dubai – he lived in Al Mamzar and spent his weekends on the family farm in Al Khawaneej – Bin Sulayem was ready to pursue his studies in the US, if the life-changing attacks of 9/11 had not changed the course of the Arab world.
The alumnus of Dubai’s Rashid School for Boys had a business degree from California State University in San Bernardino, USA, and is “considering postgraduate studies in what was then the e-commerce trend.”
However, Bin Sulayem said: “Fate had other ideas for me. The DMCC was still a work in progress in the summer of 2001 and I was ready to go back to school for my graduate degree in the fall. As luck would have it, my plans went haywire. 9/11 struck and the global narrative for the Arab world changed forever.”
The USA’s loss was Dubai’s gain
Bin Sulayem’s plan to remain in his native Dubai could not have been more favourable.
Along with his community members, he gave impetus to the creation of DMCC, which was a non-starter.
“In 2001, my father and idol, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai, gave me a chance and I took advantage of that opportunity that year. To this day, I feel like I didn’t do a drop in the bucket to pay off the debt. Why? It’s very simple, even now I would never open the door to my 23 year old self in 2001 and that my friends is the difference between my leadership and His Highness’ attitude. He took a chance and a risk with me, I would never do that, even today I would never do that. To say I love him and owe him is a massive understatement,” he said.
But his distinguished career path over the years demonstrates His Highness’s reputation as a talent scout for nurturing second-generation leaders and talent for the growth and development of Dubai as the jewel in the crown of the Arab World.
Ahmed Bin Sulayem presents Jordan Peterson with a copy of Sheikh Mohammed’s book My Vision.
These formative years were spent by bin Sulayem and his core team persuading a cross-section of businesses, including diamonds, jewelers, gold refiners, food and beverage stores, restaurants and JLT community spots, to dedicate their futures to the DMCC.
“The list is varied, that is our innate strength. From Costa Coffee to Emirates Gold and the International Gemological Institute (IGI) to Kcal, Raed Baker’s Liali Jewellery, Pepsi, Rosy Blue, SBMH Group, SCAFA, Taché Diamonds and Total who have trusted us since our inception,” said Bin Sulayam out of respect for his early supporters.
In the precincts of Almas Tower, a 68-story business skyscraper in JLT that opened in January 2009, Bin Sulayem, a folk person who can touch anyone and everyone with his easygoing charm, his success story has become folklore. He is always surrounded by his admirers – from Emiratis to nationalities of all origins who call Dubai and the United Arab Emirates their second home.
“DMCC had just 400 members when Almas Tower sold out to end users within seven hours of its launch. Businesses have chosen us on the back of a global recession. This is a tribute to DMCC’s strong foundation and His Highness’ vision where a financial meltdown that had taken the world by storm didn’t affect us at all. We repaid the $200 million (Dh734.60) loan on time and our year-on-year growth has been phenomenal and even the challenges posed by Covid-19 have not been able to impact our work,” he recalled.
The data showed that 2,485 companies were registered with DMCC last year, and judging by the trend in the first three quarters, the corresponding figure is expected to be over 2,600 this year – a new record showing the emergence of the free zone as a one-stop destination for global investments.
Bin Sulayem is a generous man who showers praise on everyone and everyone, especially those, including many Indian business houses, who have helped DMCC grow over the years.
He highlights Chaim Even-Zohar, editor and editor of the Diamond Intelligence Briefs and one of the diamond industry’s leading analysts for his guidance in making DMCC the leading center for the sector.
For example, in 2022, the DMCC was named Global Free Zone of the Year by The fDi of the Financial Times Magazine, for a record eighth consecutive year.
The UAE was also officially appointed Chair of the Kimberley Process in November 2015, becoming the first and only Arab country. Shortly thereafter, the UAE Ministry of Economy appointed bin Sulayem as the Kimberley Process country chair for 2016.
Bin Sulayem is exuberant about blockchain and new-age economies like non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and the Metaverse spearheaded by Dubai government strategy, most recently Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed al Maktoum’s 2022 Metaverse strategy.
The DMCC launched its own Crypto Center – “a value-added system for the sector” – in May 2021 – which has already seen tremendous growth. Today the center is home to over 460 companies and is a key concentration of the new DMCC members. The world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, Binance, also has its headquarters in the DMCC.
The DMCC chief is banking heavily on diamonds, coffee, gold, oil and gas, and renewable energies to power the free trade zone in the years to come. Working simultaneously on multiple projects amidst Dubai’s futuristic leap while enjoying a late lunch at Bait Maryam, the passionately run ‘home’ offering a warm welcome and delicious, lovingly prepared Levantine home cooking and has been awarded a Michelin One . Star earlier this year and one of his favorite restaurants in JLT.
Bin Sulayem has a special relationship with his friend Koksal Baba, an internet sensation from Turkey. Baba used to be a professional boxer; and people recognize him from his YouTube videos about Turkish life. Since opening the account in 2015, he has more than a million YouTube subscribers.
A healthy work-life balance
Trying to find time to relax with a healthy work-life balance is difficult amid the myriad of projects going on at the DMCC. But that’s not due to a lack of effort. In addition to many hobbies, bin Sulayem is a self-confessed gaming addict and sports enthusiast – he admits to basketball, has a diving license and surfs “in a big way”.
In his spare time, which is “rare in the midst of a hectic travel schedule around the world,” he plays with pet parrots – Raffi and Dona – an Amazon and Gray parrot, respectively.
Bin Sulayem hits the spot with Raffi and Dona to be in harmony with nature and at peace with oneself.
Water is the new oil
Bin Sulayem is working on several landmark projects such as a new DMCC water center. “There can be no better asset than water where Dubai can emerge as the next hub for this precious natural resource, from redistribution services from Lake Victoria in Tanzania to importing Norwegian freshwater and sustainable packaging technology in line with Dubai Can’s ambitions. We can emerge as a co-working space for a large aqua index and a water coin is a definite possibility in the near future,” he said.
He is indebted to Yaacov Shirazi, founder of Aqua Index Exchange, who recognized the need and potential of integrating public water trading into a global market and whose impact on it cannot be underestimated.
As the DMCC aims to open new trade corridors for water with strategic partners such as the world’s top exporters in the US, China, France, Norway and Turkey to ensure long-term security of supply for this precious commodity.
And that’s the genius of a man who, as Wayne Gretzky alluded, “always ready to act early and seize opportunities ahead of other markets.”
Further and up
- 2001: Bin Sulayem joins DMCC
- 2002: Becomes COO of DMCC
- 2007: Becomes Executive Chairman of DMCC
- 2019: Becomes CEO of DMCC