June 25th, 2010
02:55 PM GMT
(London, England) Ascot is literally a festival of colors – especially under clear skies as we enjoyed during the start of the racing fixture. Women want to outsmart their counterparts by balancing style with uniqueness as they unveil their latest hats. Men sport their top hat and tails and add their creative touches with bright neck wear.
Ahead of the first race, we pause on the recommendation of one polite usher. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip pass by in their carriage, and the latter acknowledges the person I am with a tip of his hat accompanied by a warm smile.
I am walking to the winner’s paddock as a guest of H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Ruler of Dubai and Prime Minister of the UAE, and his wife Princess Haya. Both are avid equestrians and had 27 horses running at Royal Ascot under the Godolphin stable. His son Crown Prince Hamdan’s Philly Rainfall won the Jersey Stakes setting a course record. The family is together to collect the first trophy of the week.
My stroll with H.H. and the broader entourage including his trainer Saeed bin Surror and his manager Simon Crisford was a case of déjà vu. The previous year my wife and I were invited to the venue by a friend on the final day of racing and saw the Dubai Royal Family from a distance in the saddling paddock, nearly six months before the debt challenges of Dubai set in.
The tour around Royal Ascot followed a twenty minute interview in his private box above the finish line, the first such interview since the restructuring was completed at Dubai World.
We had a frank exchange about the concerns the International Monetary Fund has about a “persisting” recession in Dubai. “We didn’t create the recession, it happened,” says Sheikh Mohammed, “And I don’t call it a recession, I call it a challenge. And when things go wrong, a true leader comes through.”
Asked whether he sees growth in Dubai in 2010, I receive a one word response: “Yes.”
The Ruler of Dubai is in the midst of an intense race – even if some within the Emirate may not see it that way – to rebuild investor confidence. On the eve of Eid, Dubai hit the pause button on Dubai World’s debt, then spent the next quarter working out a structure between what are deemed corporate entities and the holdings of the government and its Ruler. Bankers believe a bottom has been reached, but the $6.2 billion loss of Dubai Holding Commercial Operations Group was not a real confidence builder.
Businessmen I spoke with worry about the forming of a potential continuous downward cycle on property prices. The recent stability will loosen up borrowing, which will lead to a restarting of unfinished projects and more capacity will come onto an already full property market.
As the interview progresses, I asked the Ruler of Dubai if neighboring Abu Dhabi will stand by him. “Abu Dhabi will always stand with any emirate and Dubai with any emirate.” Will additional external support be needed from Abu Dhabi? He responds by saying he is “not worried about the companies” and that the relationship “is very good between the emirates.”
But it is clear from our time in the interview and then our discussion while touring the grounds afterward that Sheikh Mohammed is eager to keep focused on the sectors that built “Brand Dubai” – trade, tourism and financial services.
Our interview came a week after Emirates Airlines ordered another $11.5 billion in new planes and a week before cargo services started at Dubai World Central Al Maktoum International. The Dubai Ruler told us that there are more plane orders to come in July at the Farnborough Air Show.
Asked why he placed a similar size order two months after 9/11, which matches his most recent strategy he replied, “You have to grab the opportunity.”
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