Hydra holds the reality TV Trump card - Emirates24|7

Hydra holds the reality TV Trump card


The Hydra Executives, the country’s first English language foray into reality television, will see 16 candidates vying for a grand prize of $1 million (Dh3.67m). The show – being filmed in a style reminiscent of the hit American series, The Apprentice – is set against the UAE’s real estate industry. The prize money will be used to fund the winner’s property-related business plan within the country.

Conceptualised and hosted by the CEO of Hydra Properties, Dr Sulaiman Al Fahim, production has already begun in Abu Dhabi and the show will air in September on the Showtime Arabia network.

In an exclusive interview with Emirates Business, Dr Fahim – the nation’s very own Donald Trump – said: “The Hydra Executives provides a very good opportunity for people to learn more about the UAE and its booming real estate market. Being a real estate developer myself, the show also gives me the unique opportunity of finding new talent.”

With edutainment being the reality show’s primary focus, Dr Fahim (pictured above) hopes to tap into the international pool of potential entrepreneurs and use their skills and resources into further developing Abu Dhabi’s real estate industry. He said: “The teams consist of very bright people; they have overcome many challenges and are doing a very good job. They have very swiftly adapted to their surroundings and I am very proud of all of them who have shown real entrepreneurial spirit.”

But all said and done, comparisons between US-based real estate magnate Trump and local property tycoon, Dr Fahim, are inevitable. While Trump immortalised the words, “You’re fired!” on his hit television show when The Apprentice first aired in 2004, Dr Fahim is not far behind with his The Hydra Executives catchphrase: “Impress me”.

Yet while Dr Fahim does not mind the association, he quickly pointed out the differences between the two concepts. He explained: “Mr Trump is a well renowned property developer and businessman; I like the comparison but the show is different, as The Hydra Executives is more focused on the real estate industry here.

“Also, I do not do the Donald Trump ‘you’re fired’ kind of thing.”

To stress the differences further, The Hydra Executives producer, Ziad Batal from All 4 Media, told Emirates Business that rather than adopting the concept of men challenging women, or Ivy League education versus community colleges, they hit upon the idea of a war between two countries – Team United States versus Team United Kingdom.

Batal added: “Historically, the two countries have always been rivals. When doing the initial research for the show, we filtered out the idea to potential candidates and they immediately rose to the challenge, with the Americans digging up their Revolutionary War victory against the British in the 1700s and the British picking up the gauntlet and saying that it was time to take back what once belonged to them.

“For people in the Middle East, it’s pure entertainment to watch two Western powers battling it out on Arab soil.”

With $5m production costs riding on the show, Batal, who was approached by Hydra Properties to produce the reality-based series, said in economic terms, they had to ensure the idea would draw in viewers.

“Our primary focus is to entertain viewers and in terms of distribution and audiences, the US is leading the field in this arena,” explained Batal. “We debated a few countries that would present a fitting challenge to Team USA and we finally settled for the UK.”

The process started just seven months ago, and within days, the producer had advertisements splashed across daily newspapers in both countries. He said: “During the first 10 days, we had over 2,000 entries from the US and nearly 1,500 from the UK. What followed next was the intricate process of narrowing this number down to eight challengers from each country.”

Dr Fahim, Batal, representatives from Hydra Properties and a local casting director from each country judged the candidates using a simple criteria: they should never have visited the UAE before; they would be willing to donate a chunk of their time and relocate to Abu Dhabi; and they would have a dream to make it big in the business world.

Dr Fahim added: “The candidates had to show skill, talent, wittiness and be very fast learners who could very quickly adapt to their surroundings. Plus, the love for real estate was essential.”

The entries included body trainers, architects, school teachers and even hairdressers. Each hopeful was grilled by the panel before the finalists were whittled down to eight members on each team. The US was represented by five women and three men, while the UK team featured an equal number of men and women. Batal said: “Both teams were then flown to Abu Dhabi on February 15 where they toured the country and understood the business landscape of the region through a two-week boot camp session prior to the actual challenge commencing.”

While details of the challenges are currently under wraps as shooting continues, Batal revealed that the competition would be similar to an assignment the teams were set during their training period.

“We sent each team to Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi on different days to show off their creativity and sell a Hydra property to customers. The teams were so enterprising that not only did they manage to make a sale but they also managed to rope in sponsors for themselves. The UK team managed to get radio air play and even raffle off a helicopter ride and the US team got the American Business Council to help them out.”

But like any reality television show, over a span of 16 weeks, the team members will be eliminated one by one to leave one final winner. “Of course, individuals who don’t make the cut will be asked to leave. But rather than asking them to pack up and leave the next day, we will provide them with a few weeks to look for a job in the UAE and settle down here if they wish to do so,” said Batal.

The winner will walk away with the grand prize of having his dream venture come to light. And if his or her project does require further investment, then Hydra will fill in the gap for the required funding added Batal.

With a only a few months remaining for the show to hit our screens, the question is whether Dr Fahim is experiencing a case of butterflies in his stomach. He said: “You will always get mixed reactions from audiences; there will always be the supporters and the cynics. However, it will be fun and entertaining so I am confident people will like it.”


PROFILE: Dr Sulaiman Al Fahim, CEO of Hydra Properties

Dr Sulaiman Al Fahim was voted as one of the 100 most powerful Arabs in 2006 by Arabian Business magazine. Talking about his power ranking within the region, the 30-year-old tells Emirates Business: “It takes a lot of commitment and dedication. I have been in business since the age of 18, and it is all about people and learning from your mistakes and constantly seeking excellence and perfection. It’s still a long road ahead.”

Better known for linking global challenges to business development, Dr Sulaiman has led Hydra Properties to become an icon in less than two years. Also holding last year’s Visionary Award at the Middle East CEO 2007 Awards, his mission is to build distinct globally comparable quality residential and commercial projects.