It’s all quiet luxury, nothing ostentatious. With wood panelling, velvet furnishings and arresting artwork, a well-stocked library, a snooker room and any number of quiet corners to unwind in, grab a quiet cigar, or if you must, talk a little business.
In short, Dubai’s premier business club looks exactly how you’d expect it to. Like Guy Guillemard says on a tour for Emirates Business: “It’s exactly like home.”
Not that there’s anything old-fashioned about this 4,000-square-metre hideaway in the Dubai International Financial Centre’s Gate Village. Rather, the subdued interiors offer a fresh, contemporary take on the classic member’s club.
But there’s more to a club than its fit-out. In the internet era, particularly, when e-mails seem to have replaced every single step of the business relationship but the actual signing on the dotted line, the meet-and-greet seems paradoxically to have become more important than ever, as quality time really does become that, and networking is an end in itself.
People join clubs today for the same reason they joined them 50 years ago, to be part of an exclusive membership that creates natural networking opportunities,” says Guillemard, Chief Executive of Signature Clubs International, which owns and runs the Capital Club. “A club is a very special environment to entertain the people most important to you, whether from a business or personal point of view.”
Since its launch in late 2006, it has attracted almost 1,000 male and female members, including some of the region’s most senior leaders in business, finance and government, making it the perfect networking opportunity. Among those on its board of governors are UAE Minister of Foreign Trade Sheikha Lubna Al Qassimi, DIFC Governor Dr Omar bin Sulaiman, Majid Saif Al Ghurair, Tawhid Abdullah, Saeed Al Fahim, Maurice Flanagan, Saeed Al Muntafiq and Joseph Ghossoub.
Formally inaugurated earlier this month, the club aims to offer the utmost in service, exclusivity and privacy, housing restaurants, lounges, private meeting rooms, a wellness area and guest rooms. In addition, members can use reciprocal facilities at 250 clubs in 50 countries.
“The objective of the Capital Club is not only to serve the growing executive community of DIFC but also to be the premier private business club of the region,” says Dr Omar bin Sulaiman, who is also the Chairman of the Capital Club. “I am confident we now have a business club on par with the finest in the world, and linked to other top clubs around the globe. By harnessing the power of networking and community, the club will add considerable value to the regional business sector.”
Indeed, the club has a very active events committee, says Guillemard. Over the past 18 months, it has hosted exclusive events with high-powered international experts and organised seminars on global investment opportunities, on branding and on the building of private and corporate art collections.
“I don’t want to say it’s all business,” says Guillemard. “It’s not. It’s also about fun. It’s about helping senior people feel relaxed.” He tells of the research involved in setting up the club, describing consultations with company owners and brainstorming sessions with the club’s board of governors, who, he says, has been actively involved in club design and policy.
“The feedback was very marked: Guy, they said, make this club comfortable, laidback and it will be more successful than if it’s formal, British and old-school. It’s absolutely working in that manner, people come here all the time to unwind. They don’t have to wear a tie, there’s no need to wear a jacket,” he says. “Obviously we don’t encourage them to come in shorts, but they’re coming here for personal pleasure or bringing a friend to relax, and after a hard day at the office you don’t want to be buttoned down, you’d rather be comfortable and cool.”
But how far can a CEO truly let his hair down at the Capital Club? Do Dubai’s movers and shakers really party hard? Despite the prodding, Guillemard is the soul of discretion. “We haven’t had our limits tested yet,” is all he will say.
Guillemard is an old Dubai hand, comfortable working here and clearly responsive to our sensitivities. He first came to the UAE in 1979, to open and manage the Dubai World Trade Centre, where he was involved in opening a family club at the DWTC Apartments. That got him interested in the process of starting, launching and managing clubs. He was since involved in the Trade Centre Apartments Club, the World Trade Club Dubai and the Emirates Golf Club, Dubai.
After stints consulting with leading clubs in the UK and France, and in Asia in the early 1990s, where he says he led the expansion of the CCA Group’s portfolio from eight operating clubs to 32 in 16 countries, he returned to Dubai in 2004, convinced the city needed a premier business club. “I felt that though much had changed in Dubai since 1979, with all these incredible hotels and residential and commercial developments, in the world of clubs, little had changed, and the community really lacked a natural meeting place for top people.”
With business partner Russell Matcham, he set out to establish a regional Middle Eastern club company. And with the backing of Abraaj, he hopes the success of the Capital Club Dubai will be a springboard for regional expansion of his portfolio. A Bahrain club, at the top of the Bahrain Financial Harbour, will open by the end of the year, while plans are in place for launches in Jebel Ali, Istanbul and Amman. Other possible venues are Abu Dhabi, Karachi, Cairo and Mumbai, and Guillemard is also looking to Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The investment for each, he says, without offering any figures, will vary with the club’s size and status.
"I’d be disappointed if we did not open at least one or two new clubs a year now, moving forward,” he says. “But with clubs you must be patient. You must get the right people and you must find the right locations. This can be difficult in a market that is booming, such as Abu Dhabi, where today you will struggle to find a house or 500 sq ft of office space, let alone 30,000 sq ft in a prime location for a club.”
How do I become a member?
Membership to the Capital Club Dubai is by invitation only, says Signature Clubs International’s Guy Guillemard. Members are encouraged to nominate others, but these must be approved by a committee.
“Members, we find, care passionately about who can be a member, so they tend to nominate senior and suitable people,” he says.
And yes, they do turn away hopefuls. “It’s not a question of merely having the money. Without sounding haughty, you have to be accepted and felt appropriate to be a member of the Capital Club Dubai.”
This means the club has what he calls a very compatible and senior membership. More than 50 per cent of members are CEOs, managing directors and senior partners, about 24 per cent are chairmen or presidents.
While the club now has just about 950 members, it has been planned in line with Dubai’s extraordinary growth, and designed to reach a membership of 2,000 in a few years.