Dubai is well known for its short but explosive rise to fame as one of the most sought after destinations in the Middle East. Home to many different cultures that span a wide stratum of society, the emirate’s success story can be directly attributed to the prominent business men and women who have contributed to the growth of the country and the enrichment of society in this fast paced city. Here, we look at some of these influential personalities who hail from a variety of backgrounds and some who have resided in the UAE almost since the country was born.
1. Vidya Chabbria
Chairperson at The Jumbo Group
Founded by husband Manu Chhabria, also known as the ‘takeover tycoon’, The Jumbo Group began with a single store in Dubai in 1974. Jumbo Electronics got its big break a year later, when Manu signed a deal with Sony Corporation, becoming its sole distributor in the Gulf. Since her husband’s death in 2002, Vidya Chhabria has been the brains behind the Jumbo Group’s international operations in over 50 countries across the world. It is the largest distributor of Sony’s products in the world today. Starting with a capital base of AED 50,000 in 1974, Jumbo has grown into a USD 2 billion conglomerate and also caters to the hospitality, education, healthcare and finance sectors.
2. J.C. Butler
Co-founder of Dubizzle.com
Perhaps one of the Middle East region’s most popular online classifieds website, Dubizzle was co-founded by 24 year old J.C. Butler together with his partner Sim Whatley from their shared living room ‘headquarters’. On a trip to Dubai in 2005, J.C. Butler and his co-founder, Sim Whatley, noticed the lack of a community service where people in Dubai could find anything from furniture to apartments to a job. They filled this gap by founding a classifieds website that brought together buyers and sellers of goods and services in the Dubai market. By 2007, the two founders had rented their first office space and hired their first employees. Nearly nine years later, Dubizzle is the largest local site in the UAE and one of the largest in the Middle East and North African regions with over 200 employees worldwide.
3. Paul Kenny
Founder and CEO of Cobone.com
Cobone.com is one of the leading eCommerce companies in the MENA (Middle-East & North Africa) region and has revolutionized the concept of online shopping by bringing the best promotions and deals to people from across the region. Customers can purchase the best products and services at the lowest possible prices, including dining, activities, beauty and spa, auto and travel deals on Cobone. Founded by the young Irish entrepreneur Paul Kenny in 2010, Cobone racks up over $600,000 per month on electronics deals alone and offers its customers over 700 deals. In 2012, Paul won the Middle East entrepreneur of the year and the Ernst & Young Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year, highlighting his achievements at such an early stage in his career.
4. Sunny Varkey
Founder of GEMS
Sunny Varkey took over the family business at the tender age of 20 and is the man behind the world’s largest kindergarten to grade 12 private education company. GEMS education started off with a single school, which opened its doors in 1969. Today it has its presence in 19 countries across the world, operating over a 100 schools that provide quality education to over 130,000 students. In 2010, Sunny further reinforced his commitment to and belief in the power of education by starting the Varkey GEMS Foundation, which is the philanthropic arm of GEMS Education. The Varkey GEMS foundation aims to provide education to underprivileged children across the world through partnerships with several other foundations including UNESCO, The Clinton Global Initiative, The Tony Blair Faith Foundation and Dubai Cares.
5. Tony Jashanmal
Founder and Owner of the Jashanmal Group
The Jashanmal Group is one of the most popular and recognized business franchises in the country today. Headed by Tony Jashanmal, the company originated in Iraq in 1919 and quickly expanded across the Middle East, opening its first store in Dubai in 1956. Tony oversees the retail and wholesale trading of high-end luxury goods and services and the franchise has also expanded into the media sector through the direct distribution of magazines and books in the region. The Jashanmal Group partners with some of the most globally renowned retail and merchandizing brands including Burberry of London, Calvin Klein, Davidoff and LK Bennett.
6. Danish Farhan
Founder of Xische & Co.
Xische was envisioned by its founder Danish Farhan as the first-of-its kind hybrid consultancy service in the Middle East. Combining management consultancy with branding and strategy, Xische aims to solve everyday business challenges by providing services which include brand development, brand identity, website development, digital campaigning and social media to name a few. Since its formation in 2001, Xische has built up an admirable client base of companies from all across the globe.
7. Maha Al Ghunaim
Chairperson at Global Investment House
Global Investment House, one of the largest Investment Companies in the Middle East and the first Kuwaiti company to list on the London Stock Exchange in 2008, was founded by American educated Maha Al Ghunaimi in 1998. Headquartered in Kuwait, GIH plays a key role in promoting investment opportunities across the MENA region offering integrated investment solutions to its clients in brokerage, asset management and investment banking services. Regarded as an authority in the Arab world of banking and finance, Maha has received global recognition, being listed ‘Among the 100 most influential women in the City’ by Financial News in September of 2009 and ‘The 100 Most Powerful Women in the World’ by Forbes Magazine in 2006, 2007 and 2008.
8. Maryam Matar
Founder of the UAE Genetic Diseases Association
Maryam Matar is well recognized across the emirate for her passion and dedication to public service. Maryam holds the distinction of being the first Emirati (local to the UAE) woman to hold the position of Director General in the Government of Dubai. After working in several public health positions, Maryam launched a series of outreach programs such as ‘UAE Free of Thalassemia by 2012’. She is also the executive director of two non-profit organizations – the ‘UAE Down’s Syndrome Association’ and the ‘UAE Genetic Diseases Association’.
9. Yussuffali Ma
Founder of The LuLu Group International
Managing Director of the Emke LuLu Group, headquartered in the capital Abu Dhabi, Mr. Yussuffali Ma is a well known international businessman in the Gulf region. Most popular for the its LuLu brand of hypermarkets, supermarkets and department stores, the Emke LuLu Group employs over 31,000 employees from 29 different countries and boasts a global annual turnover of USD 5.1 billion. In 2005, Mr. Yussuffali was the first expatriate to be elected to the Abu Dhabi chamber of Commerce and Industries board in recognition of his contribution to the emirate. Apart from his business acumen, Mr. Yussuffali is also a generous donor and is well known for his work in helping Indians residing in the UAE.