Pushing the limits

If the hype is to be believed, the region’s first international property developer could pose a major threat to construction industry players from all corners of the globe. CEO Middle East meets Saeed Ahmed Saeed, chief executive of Limitless, as he unveils his plans for world domination

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By  Andrew Mernin Published  July 6, 2006

|~||~||~|If actions speak louder than words then it is easy to be dubious about a company that hails itself as a world dominating “super planner”, but then refuses to unveil any images or details of its maiden project. Take a closer look at the calibre of the team and the financial muscle behind the newly formed powerhouse, however, and something tells you there may be some truth behind the hype. “You can’t have a house without a kitchen,” says Saeed in cryptic mode as he explains why Limitless is so reluctant to release information about its city projects until all of the components, residential, commercial and retail, have been thoroughly mapped out. “By super planning we are talking about projects stretching over thousands of hectares, so we will be planning and developing cities the size of Paris or San Francisco from scratch,” he says. Wholly owned by Dubai World, Limitless is backed by a stealth team of developers including a number from the corridors of Nakheel, the construction giant behind Dubai’s ‘Palms’, The World and Ibn Battuta Mall projects. Codenamed ‘Project A’, the company’s initial US $12 billion (AED44 billion), 75 square metre (sq m) development remains shrouded in secrecy, and responding cagily, the face behind it gives nothing away. “You will not see any artists impressions for any of our projects, these are not dreams, this is reality,” he says. “We are not trying to come out with a colourful rendering of what we want to do because anyone can do that, it’s not the issue. The issue is how to come up with a project that meets a requirement, is needed in the market, and is sustainable.” As well as the Nakheel contingent, the Limitless team includes experts with international experience who have worked on such large-scale projects as London’s Canary Wharf and Berlin’s Sony Centre. For Saeed this could be of vital importance as the company takes its mega-construction bandwagon out of Dubai and onto the international road. “We have managed to attract talent from all over the world and we believe that those talents and brains are necessary for the success of what we are trying to do.” Hinting at mass development plans in Africa, Europe and Asia, Saeed accepts the difficulty of the task ahead. “There are many attractive markets in the world but access to those markets may not be as easy – but then, competing in Dubai was never easy either,” he says laughing. If people are sceptical about the Limitless masterplan, it is nothing new to Saeed. Recalling his days at Nakheel, he says: “When we started with the Palm Jumeirah (in Dubai), many people had doubts and said it was a dream and that it would never be built – but we built it and today it is a reality.” Amid several high-profile strikes by labourers in Dubai, the construction industry in the emirate has come under recent scrutiny from certain sections of the world’s media for its treatment of its immigrant workforce. According to Saeed however, this will not affect the success and reputation of Limitless in its international operations. “We will be an international company from day one, so we will be operating at international levels. Dubai has brought out a new labour law which we fully support and we will have no problem,” he says. “The whole world should be proud of what has been achieved in Dubai. Obviously there are areas by which you could do things in a different or a better way, those are the lessons that we have gained and we will be exporting these before our international operation.” Alongside the Limitless team of mega-construction experts, the group is well supported by a collection of multi-national partners. Established in London in 1885 and employing over 7,500 people, Bovis Lend Lease will assist Limitless in “adapting real estate requirements”, while EllisDon, a Canadian construction company with US $4 billion worth of developments built in recent years, will offer its building expertise. Saeed believes this group of partners, which also includes global branding agency Enterprise IG and management consulting giant A.T.Kearney, will be invaluable in realising the grand-scale Limitless masterplan. “We have been trying to attract all the talented clients that are needed for us to achieve our vision with the distinction that we need,” he says. Under the umbrella of Dubai World, Limitless will also have the backing of UAE construction giant Nakheel. “We are not a sister company, we are a separate company with our own vision, culture and targets, but we will work closely with Nakheel, which is probably the largest development company in the region and maybe the world.” As well as Project A, with its first showcase offices due to be commissioned by the second quarter of 2006, Limitless also has two joint projects with Nakheel in the pipeline. And for the man who led the start-up of Nakheel from its inception to becoming the region’s leading real estate development company, innovation is key to success. “For us to be successful we believe in one thing – we have to be different, so we are no longer talking about cost or timeframe, we are talking about how we can do things in an innovative way.” Saeed takes the experience gathered from his Nakheel days as his inspiration. “When you look at a project like the Palm, there have been many attempts to reclaim land, but none of them have really had that style or beauty. “Before the Palm, Dubai only had 60km of beach – once the trio of Palms and the World are complete, it will have 1500km of coastline.” Last month, Limitless announced plans to invest US $19.8 billion into a 25,000-hectare waterfront project in the Pakistani capital, Karachi, incorporating residential, commercial, recreational and entertainment facilities. Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, executive chairman of Dubai Ports, who previously signed two trade deals between Pakistan and the UAE in May, said that Limitless would develop the Pakistani real estate sector as it currently lacks units of high quality. He added: “Limitless will bridge the gap through its expertise in the sector (and) it will also develop real estate, entertainment and commercial projects in different regions in Pakistan.” But with Saeed declaring that the company are “going to go international”, Pakistan may just be the start for the fledgling entity as it conspires to take over the world’s construction industry. If Saeed’s quest for world domination goes to plan, the boundless ambition of Dubai’s construction industry could soon be evident across Asia, Africa and beyond.||**||

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