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31 May 2023

From near bankruptcy to Dubai’s largest free zone: DMCC’s journey beyond the brand

By Ahmed bin Sulayem

Four years ago, then new CEO at the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC), Malcolm Wall Morris, explained to the business: “Unless we change the way we do business, we change the culture of the business, we drive the growth of our business – then we are all going to have to go home, and we shall return what money we have to His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai, because we are not worthy of fulfilling his vision to create Dubai as a centre for the trade of commodities.”

DMCC embraced this challenge and turned it into an opportunity. Fast forward four years, and we are now the largest and fastest growing Free Zone in the region. We also sit, globally, among the top three for the trade of gold, diamonds and tea.

Who would have thought from four years ago, when we were almost bankrupt and with less than 3,000 member companies, that we would reach to where we are today.

What we have collectively achieved in four years is that we have trebled the size of the DMCC business – adding an average of 200 companies every single month and around 1,500 visas every month – an incredible achievement.

We have been very focussed on attracting business to DMCC and Dubai – but looking forward, I have along with the Board, set a very ambitious target for DMCC, of building the world’s tallest commercial tower, ‘The Burj 2020’, that needs to be delivered 6 years from now. That will create room for another 8,000 companies and another 30,000-40,000 people – so, effectively, we are going to double the business again, and by 2020.

The difference today compared with four years ago, however, is that we are now the largest and fastest growing free zone in the UAE with no rivals, so why change? We’re already number one, so why change? Tough question perhaps, but the answer is simple: if we don’t change, if we don’t create a culture of an organisation that can double itself in the next six years, we will no longer be number one – we may not even exist.

It’s a big ask, it’s different from last time, but it is essential.

Central to that change is that we know where and how we can improve. We realised that we are good at attracting customers but not so good at retaining that business, and not very good at enhancing that business. We looked at the Royal Decree, signed by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai (then Crown Prince) in the creation of DMCC, and realised that our role in Dubai is to bring as much impact on Dubai’s economy as we can – the impact on GDP and the impact on FDI [foreign direct investment].

We believe that doubling our business will make a significant impact on the economy, but to achieve this, we have to focus on our customers to ensure they can succeed and grow.

This is what we call our Attract, Retain, Enhance strategy that will ensure we make as big an impact on Dubai’s GDP as possible.

So, what better way of signalling this change, that drive, new direction, new culture and growth – than a re-branding exercise.


The author is Executive Chairman, Dubai Multi Commodities Centre