'I believe in Dubai ...it's stunning'

In April 2008, few would have envied Nasser Bin Hassan Al Shaikh's appointment as Chairman of Deyaar Development.

After the then CEO Zack Shahin's resignation amid corruption allegations, Al Shaikh was left with the task of finding a successor to reaffirm investor confidence.

Markus Giebel would be that man.

In the UAE for four years prior to Al Shaikh's search, Giebel had already made his millions. As Vice-President of Fortune 500 company Corning, Giebel milked the telecom boom in the US with fibre optic solutions.

By the time he sold his stake in 2005 and hit Dubai's shores, he had amassed 25 patents – he now has close to 40 – for his designs and had raised a fortune.

"We enjoyed a 50 per cent market share in the US," he told Emirates Business.

"We made more money than we ever knew what to do with. We got very rich, very quickly. Then the bubble burst, we lost 30 per cent of our customers, and crawled back to a steady six per cent growth. That bores me, so I left," said the 41-year-old German.

"In an upswing, where everything is hot, you can reinvent the market which is very rewarding and exciting. When you go downwards it is also very rewarding, because you have to work hard to sustain and minimise the fall. What is not rewarding is if it goes sideways – if you have five to seven per cent growth rate, that is the most boring time."

It is precisely this straight talking that defines his leadership. He minces no words. His confidence erases arrogance. He wears his wealth subtly. If his words hid some truths, you'd never know. He keeps them simple, leaving no room for doubt.

Tracing his journey to Dubai, Giebel said: "I came to Dubai to visit a few friends and we ended up launching an investment bank called Vedera Capital, and that was the beautiful days of Dubai. It was just one way – up. It was beautiful."

A qualified mechanical engineer who went on to an MBA, Giebel admitted his foray into real estate surprised him too.

"I've founded many companies, but I would never have imagined leading a real estate company," he said. "This is why you should never plan ahead. Let things just happen, that is the beauty of life."

Giebel treats the business of real estate is the same way as if he were selling Pepsi or cars: "Any product is the same. The product is not very important unless it's a niche product like computer chips.

"For most products, if you're a good leader and a good strategist, it doesn't matter what you have. You rely on your people and set the stage and direction. It doesn't matter what the product is," he said.

As he shifts into his CEO role, his passion for leadership becomes increasingly evident. He thrives on it.

"Yes, I enjoy the leadership," he said, with an amusingly boyish smile. "It's most important in these bad times to offer leadership, not only to your people but also the market. The people working with me are the key to my leadership. You can have the best strategy, outlook and budget, but if you don't have the people to translate it, there is no point."

Giebel's strategy and experience have given Deyaar a unique advantage.

At a time when developers are scrambling for survival solutions, Deyaar unfolded its strategy this week to general applause. Transparent, direct and effective, the $1 billion (Dh3.67bn) plan to ease the burden on its commitments and 7,000 customers was, if anything, a Giebel trademark.

"Our competitive advantage is that we have seen downturns before and can therefore manage them better. If you have a good strategy, and one you believe in, there's no reason not to communicate it. In a time of crisis, you should communicate more than you ever were before," he said. Deyaar has had no layoffs to date, and intends to enter the international market next year.

On Dubai and the global crisis, Giebel said: "Dubai is pretty well-positioned. I believe in it and that is why I'm here. We had many, many years of the most outstanding growth anyone has ever seen in the world. Somebody has done something very right here. What has happened here in Dubai is stunning, it's beautiful. Now nothing grows for ever, that we all know. So we just have to adjust again.

"We believe 2009 is the year of the downturn, and nothing significant will happen, 2010 is the year of the bottom and the end of 2010 and early 2011 you'll see economies start to move again. This crisis developed over years, so you can't solve it in six months. That's just impossible." Giebel suspects Dubai will continue to generate positive challenges for the foreseeable future.

"I'm going to have a long stay here, because I don't see the boring problem of five or seven per cent growth ever coming here. It will always offer exciting swings."

A remarkable career has, however, failed to draw complete praise from his mother. "I'm not married and have no kids and my mom is not very happy about that," he said.

"It depends on how satisfied you are with your own life. There comes a time when these things change, for me it will come just a little bit later because I do intend on settling down.

"I won't plan it, because if you try to plan it you make mistakes."

For the moment, he's content taking two-year-old Denmark, his Labrador, on Hummer trips to the desert. Denmark? "When I got him, I had a good friend of mine Dennis who said we'll take care of the dog together since I don't have much time.

"Dennis and Markus shortened to Denmark for the dog. The problem is that Dennis is nowhere to be found, and now I take care of the dog whose name is Denmark."


Bio

Prior to his appointment at Deyaar, Giebel served as Chief Executive Officer of Dubai-based Vedera Capital where he was responsible for managing multiple real estate projects worth several billion dollars, both in the region and worldwide. He also founded Marasi, a Shariah-compliant real estate fund, in addition to leading several merger and acquisitions and private placement transactions for the firm.

Giebel previously served as the Vice-President for Europe and the Middle East at Corning, a Fortune 500 company.

Through his career, Giebel has collected several awards and distinctions, including the Business Award from the German Ministry of Economic Affairs.

Today, he holds close to 40 patents, an MBA from Switzerland Business School and a Master's degree in Mechanical Engineering from University of Munich in Germany. One of his inventions, Optifit, a fibre optic node assembly, continues to enjoy a 50 per cent market share.


Lifestyle CV

Hobbies

"I love snowboarding and wind surfing. One week a year I go helicopter skiing in Canada, which is something nobody can take away from me. I also enjoy volleyball, and swim 15 minutes every morning."

Cars

"For business meetings, I drive a regular BMW 7 series. Once in a while I take my Ferrari out. And if the weather is great, I take my Bentley convertible for a spin."

Personal investments

"I have invested my wealth in real estate, life insurance and alternative investments in the UAE and abroad."

Weakness

"I have many weaknesses which I don't think I should mention. But my biggest weakness is I'm not good at languages. It's very hard for me to learn new languages. I speak English and German, and studied Latin for eight years. But please don't ask me to speak in Latin."

 

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