Dubai Holding.. The $30 Billion Global Conglomerate

06 Sep 2022
Dubai Holding

“We did not have a budget or capital, but we needed to establish a large corporation. It was a huge risk, either we live up to the task and succeed, or we would fail from the first try. But we did not even have the option of failing. I recall asking the government for a loan but that was not possible. From a desert devoid of urbanization or competing elements, this company had to find its way into the light. Who would be willing to lend us money?”

“We prepared reports and research and reached out to several banks. At the time, we were negotiating accomplishments and commitments that would be made in the future. We had nothing but dreams that were fueled by a clear vision. This story needed an ending. Only one bank, HSBC, agreed to lend us $200 million.”  And this is how Mohammad Al Gergawi, the the first Chairman of Dubai Holding, described the story of the launch of the billion dollar company. It was simple and driven by “will.” Yes, the secret is in the “will” because if it exists, it can achieve marvels. Let us go back twenty years, when Dubai was experiencing a defining moment in its history and building the groundwork for a new era of leadership through innovative and daring projects, thanks to the vision of its leader, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid. During that time, no other leader would have dared to consider or venture into such projects.

The Origins of Dubai Holding

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai at the time, announced the launch of the Dubai Internet City project at a press conference in October 1999. His Highness shocked consultants, specialists, leaders, and neighboring countries with this unconventional idea. And a year later in February 2000, his Highness launched a new project, the Dubai Technology, Electronic Commerce, and Media Free Zone, shortly after. The question is: why is Dubai launching such large-scale initiatives, and is it ready to support and develop them?

Dubai Holding & Mohammad Al Gergawi

Mohammad Al Gergawi during a meeting with representatives of technology companies to build Dubai Internet City

It is not a secret that these projects were risky, but they were studied and calculated over a long period of time. Meanwhile, Sheikh Mohammed was working on a larger project that would serve as an umbrella for all existing and future projects, as he was seeing the future economy dominated by information, technology, and ideas.

In February 2000, at the “Oracle in the Middle East” conference and in accordance with His Highness’ directives, HE, the director of the Dubai Technology, Electronic Commerce and Media Free Zone, announced the establishment of a holding company to be responsible for managing the Dubai Technology, Electronic Commerce and Media Free Zone, which includes several companies operating in the information technology sector with the participation of the private sector.

One of the most important objectives of the project, he said at the time, was to develop and implement an effective strategy to adopt the creative young people and their new ideas in the field of advanced technology through an incubation system. This system will attract young people from all over the country and the region to be able to develop their new ideas, giving them the chance to succeed for their own benefit and for the region. When the company was established, work on the first phase of the project had begun. Plans and strategies continued to be implemented on the other phases until Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum launched Dubai Holding Company in 2004  with the aim of managing major projects that had been established since 1999, such as the Dubai Internet City project, Dubai Media City and Knowledge Village. The company’s long-term aims included transforming Dubai into a global business hub and a global tourism destination, as well as developing a diverse, sustainable, and future economy through initiatives focusing on non-oil sectors. And His Highness appointed H.E. Al Gergawi as the company’s chairman.

Dubai Holding - Microsoft - Mohammad Abdullah Al Gergawi

Mohammad Al Gergawi and Microsoft CEO laying the foundation stone for Microsoft

Since its inception in 2004, Dubai Holding has overseen the development of several companies under its umbrella such as Dubai Internet City, Dubai Media City, Dubai Healthcare City, Jumeirah Beach Residence Real Estate Project, Dubai Land Entertainment Project, Dubai City for Humanitarian Services, Dubai Knowledge Village, the Arab Radio Network (ARN) and “BE Hosting” for electronic hosting services, Dubai Outsourcing Zone, Empower Energy, Samacom Technology, as well as other businesses.

In one of His Highness’s remarkable statements, he said with confidence that Dubai Holding will become a world-class organization, both in terms of the total size of its operations and the diversity of the sectors in which it is active, as if he saw the company’s presence and strong operational performance in the business world today.

The multi-billion dollar company started with a loan, rented offices, used furniture, and a plot of land outside Dubai’s urban area. The beginning was full of challenges. We worked long hours and met with partners, experts, consultants, engineers, and others for long periods,” continued Al Gergawi

Dubai Holding was not established to be a real estate company, rather, it has created new business models, expanded into new activities and sectors, and launched high-quality initiatives in a variety of sectors, all while using the experience and talents of its many various units. In addition to managing and operating existing projects at the time.

From the outset, Sheikh Mohammed instructed us not to work as government officials but as entrepreneurs, and he wanted it to be operated in the spirit of entrepreneurs, the attitude of risk, anticipation, and continuous inventiveness. So, as a team, we were instructed by His Highness: “I do not want it to be a government initiative, but a commercial one. I would rather seek a commercial loan than rely on the government’s budget to pay for it”. According to His Highness, “I do not want it to be a traditional investment project, but rather an investment initiative from the Middle East region to the Middle East.”

During the time when DH was established, the country’s economy was transitioning from a regional to a worldwide competition, and it was our doorway to a competitive economy that bets on innovation and the future revolutions of the world.

In fact, Dubai Holding launched and implemented massive projects in a variety of fields, including investments and financial services, health care, biotechnology, tourism, media, technology, real estate development, industrial, and energy, and has overseen the strategic directions of several major companies.

Outstanding accomplishments

Since its establishment, Dubai Holding has helped achieve part of Sheikh Mohammed’s vision of transforming the nature of projects and the face of business by laying down the foundation for a knowledge-based economy. It also added new industries and business parks and has made a significant contribution to the diversification of the country’s economy. It has also been successful in establishing media, content, advanced technologies, education, knowledge, design, and advanced research, as well as real estate landmarks in Dubai and a leading hospitality brand. These complexes aided in drawing professionals from numerous disciplines to work and reside in Dubai, hence establishing Dubai as a talent hotspot and boosting the city’s economy.

Dubai Holding - Mohammed bin Rashid

Mohammad Al Gergawi briefs Mohammed bin Rashid on Marasi Drive project in Business Bay

The projects in the Dubai Holding portfolio, which have a strong presence in 12 sectors, have developed into a group of international companies, including: Jumeirah Group, Dubai Properties, Tecom Group, which includes 10 specialized economic complexes, Dubai Asset Management, Dubai Retail, and The Arab Media Group (AMG).

Today, the group’s operations span 21 countries and are managed by a team of 22,000 employees working in various sectors, with the company’s assets totaling more than 130 billion dirhams in various sectors.

What is the secret to all this success? “The trust that His Highness Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum has placed in him and the teams in Dubai Holding since its establishment has been the main factor in the company’s success, and the vision His Highness drew for the work team has changed the nature of economic projects in Dubai and the UAE”, states Al Gergawi who announced the end of his duty as Chairman of the company in 2017 for full-time government work.

Dubai has grown from a city with one television station to an international media center with more than 2,000 media organizations and 33,000 media professionals working, living, producing, and creating from Dubai Media City, thanks to the efforts of the team and the vision and follow-up of a leader who loves development. Dubai’s media achievements earned it the title of “Dubai, the Capital of Arab Media for the years 2020 and 2021,” and the city became the capital of Arab Content, allowing it to expand its economy into new sectors.

As for Dubai Internet City, it includes more than 1,600 technology companies and 32,000 technology specialists, while the scientific complex has 3,800 biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry specialists. There are more than 25,000 students and 400 academic programs in the Knowledge Village and Dubai Academic City. The Jumeirah Group owns more than 20 hotel destinations and has established a global Emirati brand in the hospitality sector, with urban achievements such as Business Bay, which has become Dubai’s new business artery. As for the real estate sector, “Dubai Properties Group”, is the Emirate’s leading developer and manager of integrated real estate projects in Dubai, which supports the long-term urban renaissance. The “Arab Media Group”, which is implementing a strategic plan aimed at developing new family entertainment destinations and promoting the growth of the digital media sectors.

Dubai Holding

Mohammed bin Rashid attends a presentation for a project by Dubai Holding 

In 2017, Dubai Holding launched Dubai Holding for Future Investments, or DHx to assist in the growth and development of innovative entrepreneurial ventures in the Middle East and North Africa, and beyond.

Dubai Holding global partnerships

Due to its big success in developing smart cities projects, Dubai Holding through its subsidiary “Smart City,” supervised several smart cities projects worldwide, such as “Smart City Malta” in 2007, “Smart City Korea” and “Smart City Kochi,” in 2016 in collaboration with the governments of South Korea and India.


These projects are in line with the Dubai Holding’s goals of establishing a global network of innovative business parks and incubators for science, technology, and knowledge economy in various regions around the world.

Creating Positive Change

Due to today’s rapid technological advancements, it was vital to look ahead to the next step.

I met with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid and told him that several years after its launch, Dubai Holding had achieved its aims and established the UAE’s position regionally and worldwide, and I asked His Highness “What is next? What are your aspirations and how do you plan to get there?” His Highness answered: “It is time to bring about change and competition in these industries that are under the company’s control. As we move forward, our focus will be on innovation, breaking new ground, and creating new products and services that we can sell to others.

 “We want Dubai as the capital of innovation and constructive transformation in these industries”

Dubai Holding

Mohammed bin Rashid listens to an explanation about Dubai Holding project by Mohammad Al Gergawi

Dubai Holding was a risk, yet it helped place Dubai on the economic map. Yes, it was a risk, but it helped Dubai become a global model that other countries and individuals want to emulate. Yes, it was a risk, but with His Highness’s other risks, it changed the face of Dubai and the face of economic developments, causing more than half of the Arab youth to see the UAE as a country where aspirations and opportunities can be achieved.

When the idea and vision are the most significant factors, the risks become economic projects with unimaginable success. Yes, the UAE has transformed into a place of promising dreams, a source of opportunities that nurture dreams and ambitions, and a true role model.