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15 April 2024

How to build a global empire

For Mohi-Din BinHendi the things that drive him in life are success and challenges – money is not the ultimate goal. (SATISH KUMAR) 

By Safura Rahimi

Mohi-Din BinHendi knows first-hand the damage the global financial turmoil can inflict.

The President of BinHendi Enterprises has seen the luxury group he spent more than 30 years building up being buffeted by the fallout from the US credit crunch. Tightening bank lending has choked financing for his expansion plans while the company's retail section has suffered a 20 per cent drop in sales. To weather the storm, BinHendi plans to close unprofitable businesses and cut jobs.

Yet despite all this, the mogul remains optimistic and believes a return to healthy trading will come "sooner rather than later".

"When we look at the retail business in Dubai and the rest of the UAE we find that we're not as badly affected as places like New York and other big cities in America and Europe," he told Emirates Business. "This region has a very optimistic and positive leadership, which is trying to do its best for the economy, though the economy around the world has gone into a fall, thanks to Wall Street."

His company has suspended a few construction projects because of the lack of finance from banks. "As soon as banks reassess their strategy and their partnerships with the local merchants, we will come to know whether we'll continue with these projects or not," he said. "We're definitely looking at businesses that aren't making a profit, those businesses will have to close."

The conglomerate is behind some of the biggest high-end names in fashion retail such as Hugo Boss, Brioni, Zilli, Porsche Design, Ulysse Nardin, and Jacob & Co. In addition it owns hospitality, trading, real estate, media and construction businesses in the Gulf and India.

BinHendi set up his company in 1973 with the Pierre Cardin brand, the country's first exclusive fashion boutique. In 1979, he was appointed director-general of the Department of Civil Aviation, a job he held until 1998. He worked with Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of the Department of Civil Aviation and Chief Executive and Chairman of the Emirates Group, on the transformation of Dubai International Airport into an aviation hub. He said his greatest achievement was being part of the team that created the efficient airport.

"When people used to tell me we have a fantastic airport and that it's the best in the Middle East, I used to get really upset – I wanted it to be one of the best in the world," said BinHendi.

"And that's what it's like with my business. I always went for the higher end of the market, the top-end brands. Why not? All the opportunities were there. Anyone who doesn't aim for the best is making a big mistake. If you aim for the moon at least if you don't get the moon you'll get one of the stars."

In the past decade he has transformed his 30-employee firm into a 3,600-strong empire. He has carved out a reputation in UAE retail circles for bringing sought-after international brands to the Emirates. But he regards himself as an ideas man and it is his creative streak that led to the launch of original casual dining concepts such as Japengo, which is franchised all over the world.

"I don't just wait for things to happen, I go and do them and make them happen. That's the difference between a successful person and a person who waits for things to come to him. Nothing comes to you unless you take the first step," he said.

BinHendi said the things that drive him are success – "I'm a success freak, I'm not a money freak" – and challenges.

"Don't get me wrong, money is important. It's the dynamo of life, it makes you sail smoothly in life. But that's not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is to have success," he said.

A typical working day is filled with "meetings, meetings and meetings after meetings", he said with a chuckle.

"Retirement is not a term we use in the Arab world, we don't believe in it. As long as you can see, you can work; if your senses are intact, you can lead," he said. "One should work as long as one can. You should give your experience to the rank below you because experience and guts come with age."

Despite his gruelling schedule BinHendi finds time to slow down and unwind, mainly in Dibba on the East Coast or in southern Oman, which he said is an ideal spot to indulge in his passion – fishing. He once spent more than two hours fighting a 400kg marlin in the Indian Ocean across Salalah. The marlin lost – I'm shown a photo of him grinning next to the 15ft fish.

"I'm a sea-lover, I love the ocean. I sail, I dive, I snorkel, I fish. It's not a hobby, it's a passion. The ocean has endless connections for me, I can spend days on the ocean."

And when he gets away from it all on the waves and reflects on his life he has no regrets about anything.

"I think if I was born again, I would do the same things again. Absolutely the same." he said.

BinHendi has the energy and outlook of someone much younger. His casual patter is dotted with American expressions and playful asides. But he said he did not have a role model who inspired him when he was growing up. With his phenomenal success maybe he did not need one.

Lifestyle CV

Hobbies: Fishing and boating on the UAE's East Coast

Favourite places in Dubai: Jumeirah and the fish market near the Gold Souk in Deira

Indulgences: Boats – he has three – and fishing equipment

Last book read: The Snowball: Warren Buffet and the Business of Life by Alice Schroeder

Drives: A white Bentley Continental GT

Most expensive purchase: Aside from land, his 120ft yacht

Would most like to live: In Dibba. "Life there is beautiful."

Holiday destination: Dubai, Dibba or Oman. "I'd also like to go to China or Australia and drive around to different towns."