Family Fortunes

Determined to leave the family nest and make it alone, they did just that and in the process are now in the middle of building a colossal regional empire. James Bennett sits down for a chat with the telepathically connected Galadari brothers, Ilyas and Mustafa, and soon discovers why securing a meeting with the successful siblings is one of the hardest tasks in the Middle East

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By  James Bennett Published  September 7, 2006

|~||~||~|Hopefully we can meet again sometime? I enjoyed our chat very much,” I enquire tentatively towards the close of our interview looking forward to another meeting with the Galadari brothers. “The only thing,” says Ilyas, the eldest sibling worriedly, “is that whenever you want to make a time, we are only available at nine o’clock in the morning. “No, nine thirty,” giggles Mustafa, the younger of the two national entrepreneurs, dispersing his infectious laugh across the plush boardroom. The brothers then look each other squarely in the eyes for a split second and suddenly, without exchanging a single word, agree a compromise that anytime between 9am and 9.30am would be best. This goes to show that the connection between brothers can be one of two things. It either brings about conflict and jealousy, or brings two people together. The latter speaks perfectly for the Galadari’s. “One, we are brothers, two we are best friends,” says Ilyas, the principal conversation generator and the more dominant of the duo. “This has been happening ever since we were young. We have been very close since then and we understand each other perfectly. In a way our thinking is 99% the same,” he says sneaking a quick peek at Mustafa to see if he has reacted to his little joke. “They say that two brains are better than one and that has been proven everywhere in the world,” adds Galadari senior plainly and simply. And he’s far from wrong. DRIVING FORCES Part of a family of five brothers, including the younger Rashid, owner of real estate arm Galadari Investment Office, Ilyas and Mustafa, chairman and vice chairman respectively, are the founders and driving forces behind their self-titled group of diverse businesses. Founded in 1998 and started with the UAE’s largest cold storage complex holding 5000-plus metric tonnes of goods including vast quantities of Baskin & Robbins ice-cream (licensed to the group in the Middle East), the brotherly portfolio has become a veritable empire containing nine major units. This includes Ilyas and Mustafa Management, Metro Taxi, Galadari driving centre, Metro auto repair, IMG jewellers, Ilyas and Mustafa cold stores, Kitchens and Beyond, Leathero Upholstery and exclusive yacht business Sunseeker Middle East. The dominance of the two brothers in UAE business circles, however, isn’t anywhere close to stopping with their most ambitious project to date currently their main source of intense focus as well as that of the media’s — the gigantic 20 million square foot City of Arabia. “I swear we are jumping from room to room at the moment”, says Ilyas describing how frantic they both are. Following in their late father’s footsteps, one of the founders of modern Dubai’s business world, the brothers are continually looking to expand their interests and achieve as much as they can in their lifetimes. And the City of Arabia is their biggest challenge yet. Part of the enormous Dubailand project set on the outskirts of Dubai, the brotherly couple have invested a whopping US $1.1 billion (AED 4.04 billion) to oversee the management and development of one of the emirate’s most ambitious schemes to date. To explain its size would take up twice the length of this article, but in essence, the ‘City’ will hold one of the world’s largest ever malls (Mall of Arabia); a dinosaur theme park (Restless Planet); a four kilometre walkway (Wadi Walk) in the middle of the desert surrounded by shops, outdoor cafés and apartments; and 34 exclusive commercial and residential towers — all linked to the Dubai Light Railway project which is being built simultaneously. BUSINESS “BABIES” But with a recent dispute by taxi drivers at Metro Taxi over payment methods and wage structures hitting the headlines, do they ever think that they are simply concentrating on the big prize instead of focusing on all their smaller assets? The main orator, Ilyas, refuses to accept that he or his brother ever neglect one of their ‘babies’, as he labels them, and retorts by saying that the pair dedicate a day of the week to each one. “For example, Thursday we kept it for Metro Taxi and the Galadari garden centre and there are days we keep for cold storage,” he says. Mustafa then interjects and echoes what his older sibling has just said, “…we have kept a day for every business.” He then promptly avoids being interrupted and continues, for once drowning out Ilyas’s attempt to speak. “Of course the majority of our time is being spent on the City, and…” Ilyas again joins in and, in unison, the brothers give thanks to God that “everything is doing well”. It’s hard to keep up. “We have good management,” continues Mustafa, “so we don’t have to be there everyday. Once a week they come to us, inform us and show us what is happening.” Ilyas then jumps back in and re-asserts his authority on proceedings. “In a way we are giving time to everybody and we are not neglecting anything. That’s the main thing. You can’t neglect any business small or big. If one goes bad then the rest follow it. You always have to make sure that everything is running on a stable level.” This gentle form of interjection and competitive bickering continues throughout, but you can tell this is just how the pair operate — they don’t try and prevent one another from achieving goals, instead they help each along the way. Mustafa, for example, may not do all the talking but you can tell that if he was taken out of the frame, Ilyas would soon miss an irreplaceable jigsaw piece of why the business has done so well. In simple terms the Galadari’s almost telepathic way of thinking enables them to compliment each other perfectly. “Sometimes we go to a meeting, he can think of something and I can do the same, then we are joined together, it becomes a very solid thing,” says Ilyas. “It is pure gold,” laughs Mustafa. The connection started from a young age, and, according to the brothers, originating from a strong family unit has guided them to where they are today. But life has permanently changed since the early days, they add. “We have so much more responsibility today. Back then we only had five people working for us, now we have over 2,000, and this doesn’t even include the City of Arabia. If you count this it will be over 20,000,” says Ilyas. “Before it was ‘the company works or it doesn’t’, it’s not like that anymore. Now it has to work, we have to work, we have to do this and put a lot of heart into the company,” he adds. Mustafa, however, says that once they made their first million dirhams, the rest came flooding in. “Making your first million dirhams is always the hardest, and then it goes on to 100 million and then it goes to a billion. Before we had a smaller management team, now it’s a much bigger responsibility. We are making one of the world’s largest projects, we are making a project worth around ten plus billion dirhams — it’s not a joke anymore.” Certain aspects, however, haven’t changed over the years. The younger sibling says that their management style has always remained the same. “The beauty about us is that you can knock on our door on anytime and the decision making process has always stayed constant. We always make decisions together at the same time. You don’t have to wait ten days, a month or a year to get our decision. We decide once and we stick to it. Ilyas adds that wealth and fortune have not changed them as people either. If anything, he says, they have become “even better”. “If you ask someone in Dubai who has known us for years, they will say we have always had the same way of working, the same style, the same way of going out with them, we are not going to change. “But I feel we have become even better. Money does not change us. It is there so why should we change, because we have more money? In this world it doesn’t work that way, but everybody thinks it does.” GOING IT ALONE Despite having a board of directors and a key management team they rely on, the theme of family is clearly both inescapable and crucial when talking to the two brothers. And there’s one thing they’ve learnt since watching their father when growing up. “The biggest mistake we’ve made and learnt from has been depending on others,” says Ilyas firmly. “You learn this with your family business. When you are a child, you see a guy there with your father, how you trust your people, but also how you get tricked. You see what happens and that’s how we learned.” Mustafa agrees and adds that if you are to be successful, you often have to depend on yourself and move out of the family unit on your own. “You should never stay at home and think that things will come to you. You have to go there and do it yourself.” Risk and failure are all part of the rich pattern of business life, according to the brothers and going it alone was their way of proving that they had it in them to succeed. However, the family unit will always remain core to their future plans. “They [regional businesses] should involve their children straight away. They cannot harm themselves by doing this. Of course you can’t place them as managing directors straight away, but let them start somewhere so that they can progress. Our father said, ‘go do it yourself,’” he says laughing. “Seriously, he always said to me, ‘I made the money, money didn’t make me so I can make it again’. This is a very good lesson.” The brothers know they have a lot to be thankful for and reiterate that their late father, the remaining members of the Galadari family as well as the UAE’s rulers have all allowed them to prosper and to continue to be as ambitious as they were when they first began. If things carry on as they are however, I don’t think they will be able to stick to our 9.30am slot for long.||**||

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