Dubai

Dubai’s Transformers

Business success stories in Dubai reflect a long tradition of entrepreneurs capitalising on new sources of economic growth in construction, education and consumer goods


For over 50 years Dubai’s growing prosperity has relied on the ability of the emirate’s entrepreneurs to grasp the opportunities offered by economic growth.

Despite the dramatic transformation of Dubai over that half a century, the interplay between growth and opportunity has not changed.

Enjoying its status as a major trading and financial hub, Dubai is attracting foreign investment and business people who value its location, infrastructure, ICT connectedness and Free Zones. 

If anything, Dubai’s diversified economic structure now offers opportunities that better reflect how the digital economy is reshaping business.

Two American entrepreneurs, Sim Whatley and J.C. Butler, founded Dubizzle.com, the Middle East’s largest online classified site, in Dubai.

Visiting the emirate in 2005 the pair noticed the need for a classified advertising capability, and Dubizzle, founded in 2007, is now present in 14 markets across the Middle East.

Another example is the Jabbar Internet Group, the creators of the Middle East’s biggest e-commerce platform, Souq.com. Jabbar has also established itself in Dubai Internet City, where it invests in new technology companies such as BKAM?, Sukar and vyu.

New growth through innovation and technology is another addition to a list of opportunities created by Dubai’s economy—and there have been many over the years.

As oil wealth began to filter through Dubai in the mid-1970s and expatriate workers flocked to build the city, demand began to rise for consumer goods, accommodation and education; and entrepreneurs responded.

Based in Dubai, GEMS Education was started by entrepreneur, Sunny Varkey and has now become the world’s largest provider of schools.

Varkey understood that expatriate families in Dubai from India and Great Britain wanted to educate their children in English language schools, and he responded accordingly.

Increasing disposable income also created other opportunities in consumer goods.

Jumbo Electronics, founded in 1974 in Dubai by entrepreneur Manohar Chabbria, secured exclusive rights to distribute Sony products in the Gulf and set itself on the path to supply Dubai households with modern consumer items.

Chabbria built his company into a retail electronics giant and ultimately a US$2.5 billion transnational conglomerate, known as the Jumbo Group.

Another consumer company that saw strategic opportunity in a growing Dubai is the high-end retailer Jashanmal. Founded in Iraq in 1919, Jashanmal’s success benefited from the spread of oil wealth across the Middle East, according to Tony Jashanmal, the company’s group director.

It opened in Dubai in 1956 and is now headquartered in the emirate.

Jashanmal now has over 150 stores in the Middle East supplying clothes, shoes, luggage, books and other consumer items.

Similarly, as Dubai’s skyscrapers and infrastructure projects got underway, a new class of entrepreneurs benefited from the new urban landscape.

Property development giant Emaar is now a publicly-listed company and has expanded into Africa, Asia, North America and the Middle East.

Emaar developed the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall, as well as other well-known Dubai real estate landmarks such as the Dubai Marina.

Founded in 1997 by Mohammed Alabar, Emaar is developing Dubai’s first Opera House and also expanding into international markets.

Another example is Al Habtoor Group, a Dubai conglomerate involved in construction, hotels, engineering, cars, and education, which was founded in 1970 by its chairman, Khalaf Al Habtoor.

These success stories of an earlier stage of development reflect future possibilities, especially in digital technology.

Dubai’s unique mix of location, Free Zone incentives, strategic innovation policy and overall prosperity will continue to inspire entrepreneurs to take their businesses to the next level of technology.

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