Shehab Gargash believes the Middle East must step up to the challenges ahead. He talks to The National about the recent unrest in parts of the Arab world, his plans to sell shares to the public in the financial services firm he founded, and the future of Dubai's economy.
This has been an extraordinary year in parts of the Middle East and North Africa with dramatic events unfolding in Tunisia and Egypt. What's your perspective on this?
I have a very open mind on what's going on. I believe as the world and region becomes integrated it was inevitable that questions were going to be asked and the status quo had to be changed. But I believe socially the Arab world has a lot of catching up to do.
How do you envisage business will change in the Arab world, following the uprisings?
I think one probable outcome of the uprisings will be a social reconfiguring and an economic liberalisation across the Middle East. Business people will be on a fairer playing ground. It would be a shame to see all this raw energy of the last few months fizzle away with no tangible results.
How will the Middle East get to that stage?
The way business will be done in the Arab world 20 years from now is going to be significantly different from what is happening today. To get to this point will need complete realignment on the way people think about doing business here. Hitting your head against the wall, in the hope of results, is not a good strategy. But being economically liberal, and preventing unnecessary obstacles from blocking business decisions, will open up our regional economy.
Moving on to domestic issues, tell me about Daman, the financial services firm you founded 13 years ago. How did the idea for the company come about?
The capital markets sector was underdeveloped, compared to the rest of the UAE economy, and it was inevitable that it needed to catch up at some point. Now we have asset management, brokerage and venture capital under three arms.
What is the next phase for the company?
We have come through difficult tests in the last few years [such as the economic downturn]. I believe if you have eyes that are sharp enough and toes that are nimble enough you can actually adapt to the changes that are happening. You should be able to prosper in what I believe will be a better Middle East than the current one.
So what are your plans for the future of the company?
We will do an IPO [initial public offering] of the company by the end of 2012. We're half-way down that route now.
Can you give us some more information on the IPO, such as where Daman will be listed?
It will be one of the UAE exchanges but it's too early to go into the details.
* Farah Halime