A great team player and progressive thinking business leader, Ahmed Sultan Bin Sulayem's cutting-edge vision has powered Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC) into a world leading free zone. And the young executive is getting ready to take the centre to the next level.
Few people had heard of DMCC, or Ahmed Sultan Bin Sulayem, when he was appointed to lead the organization and tasked with creating a world-class commodities centre for the Gulf emirate. Eighteen years on as the centre achieves unprecedented growth from a start-up of 28 member companies in 2003 to a world leading free zone in 2020 with over 18,000 member companies from 180 countries. Also as the Executive Chairman of DMCC, Bin Sulayem has played a key role in establishing and positioning DMCC as a major commodities trade hub in the region. Under his leadership, DMCC has introduced a number of value-added products and services; including the establishment of the Dubai Diamond Exchange (DDE), the only diamond exchange in the Arab World affiliated to the World Federation of Diamond Bourses; Dubai Tea Trading Centre (DTTC), which offers a range of value-added facilities to the global tea trade and has contributed to the UAE becoming the world's largest re-exporter of tea. The forward thinking boss is looking to take DMCC to the next phase of its evolution as it prepares to bring the world’s leading blockchain and cryptographic technologies’ ecosystem to Dubai after the recently signed agreement with Swiss Government-supported Crypto Valley in Davos.
PLEASURES Magazine (https://PleasuresMagazine.com.ng) talks to the 42 years old Ahmed Sultan Bin Sulayem, on the progress of DMCC in recent years, trade opportunities, and why the centre is the right choice for everyone in the industry.
Who is Mr Ahmed Sultan Bin Sulayem?
I am the Executive Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of DMCC. I joined DMCC as CEO soon after DMCC was formed in 2002, having previously worked as Director at ASTECO, the largest realty company in Dubai.
With the support of an incredible team, I am extremely proud to have been a part of DMCC’s growth journey – from a startup of 28 member companies in 2003 to a world leading free zone in 2020 with over 18,000 member companies from 180 countries, employing over 60,000 people.
I currently also serve as the Chairman of the Dubai Diamond Exchange (DDE) and the Dubai Gold and Commodities Exchange, a DMCC joint venture initiative to set up the first electronic derivatives and commodities exchange in the region.
Shortly after the Kimberley Process officially appointed the UAE as the first and only Arab country to Chair the Kimberley Process in November 2015, the UAE Ministry of Economy officially appointed me as the UAE’s Chair of the Kimberley Process for 2016. That was a tremendous honour and an experience like no other.
You have made quite a mark in the commodity market in Dubai, what would you say were your success factors, what helped you rise and stay diligent in such a delicate industry?
Made for Trade, DMCC encourages businesses to trade in Dubai and beyond by ensuring a seamless experience in setting up and registering companies – we place our member companies and community at the heart of everything we do and this is without doubt the main aspect behind our success.
Over the years, our due diligence process has built a brand with reputation that companies within the Free Zone have been able to leverage, as they carry it with them when they go out there and do business with others. Our approach is unique – we listen, we adapt, and we support our members every step of the way. This is how we built our success story!
How would you describe the commodity market in the UAE today compared to when you first joined?
Commodity trade has always played an important role in the UAE’s economic growth and has been a key focus in the Emirate’s strategy, especially when it came to diversification. Looking at aspects of our past, the UAE was centred on fishing and pearl trading and grew on the back of this trading legacy.
While the commodities industry has always been a key pillar in the structure of our economy, it has undergone major transformation and development over the years. The rising curve in trade volumes is an indicator of this.
In less than two decades, DMCC has played a significant role in positioning Dubai as a leading trade hub for commodities. We have succeeded in connecting producers to consumers by creating physical, financial, and digital commodity marketplaces
For example, let us consider the growth in Dubai’s diamond trade. 20 years ago, there was virtually no diamond business in Dubai. In 2003, just one year after DMCC was established, the annual total trade of rough and cut diamonds was worth $3.6 billion. By 2019, and against all odds, that figure had grown significantly to $23 billion, ranking the Emirate among the world’s top three diamond trading hubs.
Turning to precious metals, Dubai is referred to as the City of Gold. Gold regularly tops the list of non-oil commodities trade – in fact it marked 15.7% of total (non-oil commodities) trade in H1 2020.
The UAE is the world’s largest re-exporter of tea and Dubai is building its status to become a global hub for trade of specialty coffee.
DMCC BUSINESS MODELCould you provide an overview of Dubai Multi Commodities Centre?
DMCC is one of the most interconnected Free Zones located in the heart of Dubai at the centre of global trade. It is a Government of Dubai authority established in 2002 to attract, enable and promote trade through the Emirate. Over the years, we have created an ecosystem for businesses to succeed and today we are the proud home of over 18,000 member companies and a community of 100,000 people.
Many factors have contributed to our current position including world-class infrastructure, state-of-the-art facilities, a wide range of products, value added services and a seamless customer journey and a robust legal and regulatory framework.
As a result, we have been named Global Free Zone of the Year by the Financial Times’ fDi magazine for a record six consecutive year.
Since our establishment in 2002, we have launched a range of facilities, services and platforms to support the trading of a wide range of commodities in Dubai, namely diamonds, precious stones, gold, base metals, tea, coffee and spices.
The Dubai Diamond Exchange, the world’s largest diamond tender facility, is where we hold our diamond tenders, including natural and laboratory-grown diamonds.
Through the DMCC Tea and Coffee Centres located in the Jebel Ali Free Zone, we offer a suite of services for the entire value chain. Following the visit of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum to the DMCC Tea and Coffee Centres, we announced our intention to expand the capacity of both facilities with the ambition to triple output. This stemmed from increasing demand from commodity traders to use DMCC facilities to connect with regional and international markets to gain competitive advantage.
We also plan to replicate the successful business model behind our tea and coffee operation by building a new infrastructure and logistics centre in JAFZA to attract, facilitate and promote the trade of cacao, pepper, chilies and spices. This is as well coupled with the flexibly to explore and expand to other agro commodities including cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, cumin, cloves, ginger, sesame seeds and cashew nuts.
Our DMCC Tradeflow platform is a flexible and customised online platform to register possession and ownership of commodities stored in UAE-based facilities. Established in 2004, DMCC Tradeflow is a unique platform launched to address a gap in the regional trade finance market and has witnessed a year-on-year increase of transactions.
DMCC has seen an incredible growth since you came on-board. What has been the most challenging aspect of growing it and what has been the most exciting development?
From the outset, our goal has been to transform Dubai into a global hub for trade – a challenging ambition in itself, but I have to say an equally exciting one that I knew would be achievable through hard work and dedication.
As Executive Chairman and Chief Executive officer, I oversee all activities at DMCC, whether it be growing our Free Zone, attracting FDI to Dubai, launching new products, service and facilities that drive commodity trade through Dubai.
Each and every milestone and achievement in DMCC’s journey is very exciting to me – there is no better feeling than seeing our hard work and efforts come to life. From the launch of the DMCC Tea and Coffee Centres, the inauguration of the Dubai Diamond Exchange, the reveal of the world’s largest D-coloured diamond, breaking a Guinness World Record, the successful launch of three editions of our flagship thought leadership report, the Future of Trade, being names Global Free Zone of the Year for six consecutive years, hosting a coffee auction with the world’s most valuable coffee on offer, and the list goes on – there are too many to choose from and all are close to my heart.
What features make the DMCC Free Zone a strong ecosystem for international companies that want to grow their business in this region?
Located at the heart of Dubai, DMCC sits at a strategic geographic crossroads, connecting East and West, North and South, providing a natural bridge between producers, manufacturers and consumers.
We have created an ecosystem enabling any business to thrive by offering world-class infrastructure, state-of-the-art facilities, a wide range of products, value added services and a robust legal and regulatory framework. Our members have access to a community of 18,000 companies coupled with networking and training opportunities and significant financial and business support.
In line with our commitment to increasing the ease of doing business, DMCC offers a seamless set up process that is fully digitalised and supported by dedicated teams, fast, and efficient on-boarding, and flexible setup options and solutions. DMCC also has representative offices across several geographies, with multilingual staff, to further facilitate the process. DMCC’s Employee Protection Insurance Programme also increases protection for member company staff whilst providing cost-saving benefits to businesses.
What role do DMCC policies play within the country's overall economic development?
By enabling and promoting trade through Dubai, we are supporting the UAE’s efforts in becoming a competitive knowledge-based and diversified economy. Over the years, we have created an ecosystem for businesses to succeed, one where the ease of doing business is unmatched.
- Let me give you some examples of our significant impact across key sectors:
- Diamonds – We have successfully positioned Dubai among the top 3 diamond trading hubs globally.
- Gold – DMCC has created one of the leading physical gold markets, positioning Dubai as a global hub for the gold supply chain.
- Tea – We have facilitated the trade of over 320 million kgs of tea since 2005 when our DMCC Tea Centre was inaugurated.
- Coffee – We are positioning Dubai as the new global hub for specialty coffee through the DMCC Coffee Centre, which supports the coffee industry from crop to cup. Since its launch in February 2019, the Coffee Centre has handled the equivalent of 25 million cups of coffee.
- Property – We are the master developer of the thriving Jumeirah Lakes Towers community where 100,000 people live and work. We are also developing the much-anticipated Uptown Dubai district.
With trade and entrepreneurship being in our DNA, we have positioned the UAE as a leading global hub for trade. Together with our members, we are proudly contributing over 10% to Dubai’s GDP. In the coming period, our efforts will remain focused on further enhancing the Emirate’s attractiveness for foreign investment.
In a simple narration, who are the clients of DMCC and your potential clients?
DMCC is home to 18,000 member companies from around the globe, from top multinationals to SMEs and entrepreneurs. Our members operate across an array of sectors from commodities such as diamonds, gold, tea and coffee to consultancy, banks, consumer goods and even motorcycles.
DMCC has successfully created a robust ecosystem for any business, of any size, from anywhere in the world, to thrive and succeed in Dubai and beyond.
Why DMCC is the right choice for everyone in the industry?
Ease of doing business is what has attracted companies of all sizes and from all markets to Dubai and DMCC. In fact, DMCC has been recognised for that by being named Global Free Zone of the Year by the Financial Times’ fDi magazine for a record six consecutive year.
We have achieved this by making the setup, compliance and expansion process as seamless as possible for our members to trade efficiently and with confidence. We have successfully developed some of the most dynamic, innovative market conditions and infrastructure to facilitate trade through Dubai and we offer a range of licences and office solutions to suit all businesses – making us the Free Zone of choice.
How do you envision the future?
The past few months have confirmed what we have been seeing and saying for some time – the future is digital. This year, we have seen the critical role that technology plays in our everyday lives, from enabling businesses to sustain their operations or children to continue their education.
At DMCC, we have invested in digital solutions for many years because we recognised early on that it is the key to success. We were the first to introduce 5G across our Jumeirah Lakes Towers (JLT) community, and we have many more exciting initiatives on the horizon. In fact, it has enabled us to remain resilient in the current climate and ensured our operations were uninterrupted and efficient while shifting to remote working.
As part of this, we signed an MoU with Swiss Government-supported Crypto Valley in Davos earlier this year, which will bring the world’s leading blockchain and cryptographic technologies’ ecosystem to Dubai. We have also signed a strategic partnership agreement with Innoway to usher in a new wave of innovation – a Chinese platform that has successfully incubated over 3,400 startups and raised a total of AED 4.7 billion.
We will continue to place digital technology at the forefront of our growth strategy, as I emphasis again – the future is certainly digital across almost every aspect of our personal and professional journey.
What keeps you and your team motivated?
Innovating and outperforming have always been my greatest motivators. The feeling of accomplishment that comes with overcoming challenges and receiving countless accolades, year after year, encourages me to continue to push the boundaries of what is possible. One of the things I enjoy the most is how a conversation leads to an idea which then comes to life and is a great success.
One thing for sure and that is that the success of any business is directly linked to the success of its employees. For DMCC, our employees are without doubt our most valuable asset and the backbone of our business. Therefore, we know for a fact that the greatest investment we can make is in our people. Employee empowerment is a philosophy that I have personally embedded in our culture. Each and every single employee is a key partner in our success journey – and thus they have a strong motivation to deliver and achieve.
What’s the next five years looking like for DMCC?
At DMCC, we are always on the lookout for opportunities that combine innovation and excellence to ensure sustainable growth.
At the heart of our growth strategy is the use of technology to disrupt and connect new markets, industries and customers. That will continue to be a focus.
We will continue to build on positioning Dubai as a global hub for specialty coffee and look to introduce new commodities as I mentioned earlier.
I would also say be on the lookout as Uptown Dubai progresses.
How can DMCC partner with entrepreneurs in Africa? As there is gold, diamond and even cocoa in the continent.
Many of the most promising and dynamic emerging markets of the future are in Africa. Given its proximity and infrastructure, Dubai offers markets in Africa a unique opportunity to maximise their economic potential through commodities trading by accessing global markets through DMCC.
Africa is home to some of the largest coffee producing countries in the world – with our coffee centre and the set to open cocoa centre, we see tremendous opportunities for collaboration. And of course, this applies to gold, precious stones and diamonds too.
How has COVID-19 affected business in general in the region?
The impact of COVID-19 has been unlike anything the world has witnessed in recent history. While the impact of COVID-19 is unprecedented, overcoming seemingly insurmountable challenges is something that Dubai knows how to do very well.
Our visionary leadership has always pushed the boundaries of what is possible through its progressive outlook, its willingness to engage with the world and importantly, its bold ambition. And as a result, we already started seeing significant signs of recovery in the UAE.
DMCC had a remarkably strong year in 2019, with major accomplishments across the entire organisation. This momentum was carried forward into and throughout 2020, allowing us to face the current challenges from a position of strength, ultimately helping us persevere. So far in 2020, we have registered over 1,750 new companies, a figure on par with previous years – testament to our resilience and the continued appeal of our Free Zone. It will be this tenacity and desire to succeed that will see us through whatever comes next.
What are your strategic priorities going forward into 2021?
Some of our 2021 strategic priorities that I can currently share include:
o Tripling the output and capacity of our Tea and Coffee Centres
o Expanding the laboratory-grown diamond sector in Dubai
o Exploring new commodities including cacao, pepper, chillies and spices and meat
o Expanding key offerings across our JLT community
o Developing strategic relationships in our target markets, including China and Israe
But we must recognise that we are in a dynamic and fluid situation, one that is rapidly changing and evolving. As such, we continue to assess the circumstances and market conditions as they evolve to make sound business decisions and set strategic priorities through 2021.
In the meantime, we will continue to support our employees, our members and all our stakeholders as much as possible to ensure they are able to continue to operate efficiently. And most importantly, we will continue to direct our efforts towards accelerating our digital-first strategy to connect markets and attract the type of businesses that will boost the next wave of economic growth in Dubai.
What is DMCC doing in giving back to the community?
At DMCC, we believe that it is our social and economic responsibility to support the wider community in both good times and bad, and this is exactly what we had been doing and will always continue to do.
A very recent example is our huge efforts to support the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. DMCC recognised a responsibility to do more for its community of over 100,000 people than just carry on business as usual. That is why we launched our largest ever commercial campaign to support our existing member companies and new businesses looking to setup in our Free Zone – the Business Support Package. This included a range of discounts and waivers to ensure that companies have the tools and resources to navigate the current climate. In light of the positive market response, we have subsequently extended this support package several times, and it will now run until 31 December 2020.
DMCC also facilitated an arrangement between Careem NOW and JLT restaurants to support restaurants within the community by encouraging Dubai residents to order food from these outlets. By supporting JLT restaurants during the challenging market conditions, we were able to build on our continuous efforts to support Dubai’s community.
We always remain focused on offering everyone in our community the best experience and all the support they need – whether they are a resident, an employee, a visitor or a business.
What advice would you give young entrepreneurs who aspire to your kind of success?
Find your passion and chase it. The most successful startups are founded by those who are passionate about what they do. When you base your ideas off something you truly love, you will be more focused and motivated. Better yet, you will bring in your own knowledge and personal experience – key ingredients that can help you succeed.
The “what is your five-year plan” question in a job interview might not be a comfortable experience for many, but to be a successful entrepreneur, you always need to plan ahead to succeed and stay ahead of the curve. By placing key actions on a timeline, you will improve your focus towards achieving a clear vision and objective.
Should the government play a role in encouraging entrepreneurship?
Startups and SMEs form the backbone of the economy and are among the most important stakeholders at DMCC. Entrepreneurs boost economic growth by increasing healthy competition and introducing innovative technologies, products and services. For these reasons, it is very important that governments as well as private and public sector organisations promote and support entrepreneurship for the benefit of the wider community.
Since we were established in 2002, we have maintained a thriving ecosystem for startups and SMEs. It is also worth emphasising the role that the UAE Government already plays in supporting entrepreneurship, including the increasing incentives designed for them. By continuously supporting entrepreneurship and providing an ecosystem that fosters innovation, we will continue to attract businesses and entrepreneurs to Dubai and DMCC.
Your final word to that young boy in Mumbai, what is your message to the young lady in Kigali, the young Francis who aspired to become Mr. Ahmed Sultan Bin Sulayem in Lagos?
There is no such thing as an overnight success. Even the multimillion-dollar startups that seem to pop up out of nowhere were the result of countless hours of hard work before they started making headlines. Becoming a successful entrepreneur requires an intense level of dedication to your dream to make it happen.
No one is born as a seasoned entrepreneur – we all learn by making mistakes. You will undoubtedly encounter many obstacles and setbacks on your path to success. But those who are able to see the opportunity that lies beyond the challenge are the ones who are able to move forward and succeed.
Your final word to potential clients and partners of DMCC worldwide?
At DMCC, we believe that our members’ and partners’ success is our success. At the heart of our mission, is our commitment to being an indispensable and trusted partner to our stakeholders. This commitment means ensuring that they are supported every step of the way, to further strengthen our long-term relationship. I am confident that by working together, many good things will come.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Pleasures Magazine.
Almas Tower Jumeirah Lakes Towers
PO Box 48800 Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Tel: +971 (0) 4 424 9600
Fax: +971 4 390 3987
Ahmed Bin Sulayem, Executive Chairman and CEO, DMCC