Tecom has been reshaped from a confusing sprawl to a focused corporate entity and its empire, under new chief executive Amina Al Rostamani, is growing fast.
Tecom chief executive at the heart of a quiet revolution in Dubai
Amina Al Rostamani is leading a quiet revolution at the heart of Dubai's business community, and doing it with a style that has become distinctly hers in the 12 years she has spent at one of the emirate's most successful ventures.
While the spotlight may have been on the headline-grabbing growth at Emirates Airline, or the raft of new construction projects announced in Dubai over the past few months, she has been remoulding Tecom, a unit of Dubai Holding, where she was recently appointed as the chief executive.
"I'm very honoured to be chief executive. It was planned as a natural succession, and I wanted to reposition the company to reflect changes in the market," she says. She had previously been the head of the business parks division of Tecom, but her elevation to the top job was accompanied by a reorganisation of the corporate structure and the appointment of several new senior executives.
Tecom, something of a confusing sprawl under the old system, has emerged as a focused corporate entity under four industry clusters: information technology, media, education and science.
"We realised last year that our business partners were looking to expand, things were looking brighter again, so it was natural for us to reshape the company to look for growth," she says.
More recently, with typical Al Rostamani style, Tecom was also handed responsibility for the planned Dubai Design District, known as d3, intended to make the emirate a hub for the design, fashion and luxury industries. Her business empire is growing fast.
"There are lots of opportunities, with new office space all the time in Dubai Media City and Dubai Internet City. Occupancy is at 95 per cent and things are looking brighter and better. We've added space at Studio City for production and broadcasting, and the education cluster is seeing steady growth. Tecom took on 800 new companies in 2012," she says proudly.
Tecom is the most successful example of the free-zone strategy introduced in Dubai more than a decade ago, aimed at encouraging regional and international companies to base their operations in the UAE by giving them industry-specific zones for their operations.
But it has also been a successful play on the property market, especially in the boom years ahead of the global financial crisis of 2009. The crash, when it came, inevitably affected Tecom just like the rest of the property market, but, says Ms Al Rostamani, the effects were not so severe.
"When the crisis happened, it didn't really affect the pricing or the structure. Our customers always have been selective in terms of pricing and quality, and we were able to offer them lots of attractions as a one-stop-shop.
"What always differentiated us was the fact our product was attuned to what the business partners wanted. Even at the height of the crisis we were 80 to 90 per cent occupied, compared to less than 50 per cent elsewhere. Internet City and Media City offered a real value proposition compared to others," she explains.
She describes the recent improvement in the general property market in Dubai as a "very positive development".
As part of the Dubai Holding conglomerate, Tecom has had to shoulder its share of the financial responsibilities of the parent group, which has been in restructuring talks with creditors for more than two years. But Ms Al Rostamani does not feel the parent's problems have been a distraction.
"It's a challenge, not a problem. Tecom is an important pillar for Dubai Holding, a major vertical. There is an integrated approach in the company and mutual support by the verticals, and not just Tecom. We came through and were successful," she says.
Some financial professionals have speculated that Tecom's success as a cash-generating unit might lead to it being spun off outside Dubai Holding, perhaps even floated on a stock market with its own listing, but she plays down such talk. "Of course, it's up to the shareholder, but I don't really think anything like that is likely to happen," she says.
The big project at the moment is d3. "It's a natural expansion to what we've been doing in Dubai for years. There is a strong potential for design and fashion in the emirate, and the potential to be a global player, competition for Milan, London and Paris. All the intelligence indicates strong growth in luxury and fashion, and it fits logically into the tourism strategy. Around 40 per cent of luxury brand sales come from tourism. But we must make sure we deliver on that potential," she says.
As a woman in the male-dominated environment of UAE business, Ms Al Rostamani is aware that she has an extra responsibility as a role model.
"I've been very lucky because His Highness [Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai] is very supportive of women in business. I enjoy interacting with other young women and hope they can see me as somebody to look up to," she says.