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Merchant Family Series: United Arab Emirates’ Al-Futtaim family

  • May 2013
  • 12 pages
  • Cross-border Information
Report ID: 1187524


Table of Contents

Al-Futtaim is one of the biggest names in Dubai and, increasingly, the wider Middle East’s retail, automotive and property development sectors. World-class brands, retailers, car manufacturers and property developers in the Middle East will almost certainly find themselves a competitor or partner of a Futtaim business.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, two Al-Futtaim brothers, Hamad and Mohammed Bin Majid, obtained the right to act as the local representative of some of Japan’s most coveted brands, including Toyota, Honda, National-Panasonic, Hitachi and Casio. During this time, they also began to win lucrative public works contracts, notably for the iconic Maktoum Bridge and industrial facilities for Dubai Aluminium Company (Dubal).

Al-Futtaim-owned shopping malls were among the Gulf’s first and this part of the business continues to expand. Majid Al-Futtaim Properties expects to complete new malls in Egypt and Lebanon during 2013.

Today, a bisected Al-Futtaim family operates two independent portfolios, each one controlled by a son of one of the founders:

• Hamad’s son, Abdullah, operates a portfolio that retains the collection of famous Japanese brands that his father and uncle began and has partnerships with major retailers, including the UK’s Marks & Spencer and Sweden’s IKEA.
• Underpinned by a key regional partnership with Carrefour of France, Mohammed’s son, Majid, is behind some of the largest shopping malls in Dubai, and now the wider region, from Egypt to the Caspian.

The ruling branch of the Al-Maktoum family – which still rules Dubai today – did not have as firm a grip on power during the 1950s as it does now. Leading Dubai merchant families including the Al-Futtaim and the Al-Ghurair opposed and weakened the branch, disliked its British backers and appeared to support Arab nationalism. Opposition was channelled through the so-called National Front, a quasi-political reformist movement led at times by Hamad Bin Majid Al-Futtaim. His National Front activities would lead to exile in Saudi Arabia.

UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) records indicate that for much of the 1950s – when Dubai was still part of the Trucial States, the British protectorate established in 1853 – the Al-Futtaim was at loggerheads with a London-backed branch of the Al-Maktoum. The Al-Futtaim supported a different branch of the Al-Maktoum which opposed the British and sympathised with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia was at the time embroiled in a dispute with British-backed Abu Dhabi over oil-rich territory at Buraimi, on the Saudi Arabia-Abu Dhabi border.

But the discovery of oil in Dubai in the 1960s improved the prospects for the ruling Al-Maktoum, providing them wealth to secure their power and make Dubai a brand-conscious hotbed of consumerism. As Dubai residents grew richer, and the dream of Arab nationalism began to fade, the Al-Futtaim became one of a handful of families whose reformist political thinking was mellowed by awards of lucrative brand monopolies and public works contracts.

This 12-page report takes a close look at the family and:

• examines where it came from and where it is going;
• considers its historical roots and the sources of its significant wealth;
• presents its major assets, providing profiles of its businesses and biographies of its key personalities.

The report also highlights the risks and opportunities associated with the Al-Futtaim. It explains how politics and business combined to create an immense family fortune. It reveals, for example, how the family played a key role in infrastructure projects that have defined Dubai (such as the Maktoum Bridge), and continues to be involved in mega-projects today.

Dissecting the two huge Al-Futtaim business portfolios – looking not just at assets, but at the processes and dynamics driving the businesses forward – the report gives insights valuable not only to those who do business in Dubai, but also to anyone interested in the socioeconomic structure of the emirate, and the ways of doing business in the Gulf.

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