The calm after the storm – Dr Omar Bin Sulaiman

Omar Bin SulaimanDr Omar bin Sulaiman was brought in to DIFC to re-establish order after a turbulent period early last year, and now everything’s running smoothly, he tells Matthew Brown

Omar bin Sulaiman is an important player in Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum’s team of plan executors.

A former CEO of Dubai Internet .City, one of the emirate’s first attempts at creating an industrial cluster, he was brought in to take over at Dubai International Financial Centre after a traumatic few months last year which saw the departure of a number of leading figures from both DIFC and its regulator, the Dubai Financial Services Authority.

The top two men at the DFSA, Philip Thorpe and Ian Hay Davidson were fired by the chairman Anis Al Jallaf and chief executive Naser Nabulsi after complaining of a conflict of interest in awarding of land deals. Jallaf managed to keep his job, but in September last year bin Sulaiman came in above him, as the project’s first director general.

A few months into his tenure and Nabulsi was on his way, vacating a position that six months later still remains vacant. Bin Sulainan’s appointment is a vital one to complete the process of confidence building that has been going on since last year. Another major step was the appointment of David Knott as CEO of the DFSA, an experienced international regulator who has vowed to maintain world-class standards at the Authority.

It is much more important that bin Sulaiman finds the right person eventually than he finds someone quickly, but surely it cannot be good to have no chief executive for six months?

Not according to bin Sulaiman. “It has empowered the second tier of management, without any negative effect on the performance of DIFC,” he says with typical optimism.

In fact he has an uncanny ability to put a positive spin on almost anything, whether it be the poaching of DFSA staff by Philip Thorpe, now heading the regulator at Qatar Finance Centre in Doha – “it’s a good

Advertisement for us that we are being headhunted from” – or the rise of competitors in both Bahrain and Qatar – “a lot of companies operating here will benefit from the presence of other financial centers in the region”.

It is not difficult to see why bin Sulaiman was brought in to DIFC – he is a supreme diplomat, and utterly convincing when describing the vision of his boss, Sheikh Mohammed.

Bin Sulaiman has had plenty of eulogizing practice while selling the concept of the Middle East’s first hi-tech hub to the likes of Microsoft and Oracle at Internet City.

There have been a lot of raised eyebrows over DIFC’s inclusion of so many hotels and residential projects within what is billed as a financial district, but bin Sulaiman insists that these are essential components in a successful cluster.

“It is our plan to create a city within a city” he says. “The majority of people will live and work in the same place.” “People who come to stay here need a hotel. We have looked at projects worldwide, at what makes a city Centre good, and what makes it hectic. There will be 50,000 people living and working here; we are providing them with all the amenities they need.”

He adds that if making money was the big plan then they would not have built any hotels at all, because-the yield is higher on offices.

The vision appears to be there, but the real test will be the arrival of world-class financial institutions, or not, who want to operate in this world-class regulatory environment. Companies are trickling in at a fair pace. There are nearly 50 of them registered altogether, around 20 of whom will be providing financial services of some sort under the watchful eye of the DFSA.

Some global banks, including Credit Suisse and Merrill Lynch have put their toes in the water with private banking operations, but bin Sulaiman denies that DIFC is destined to be home only to operations aimed at mining the rich seam of private wealth in the region. He points to the fact that Barclays Capital has applied, and a reinsurance company, Alliance International, but in reality there will have to be a much more commitment from the investment banking community before DIFC can be considered a success.

DIFC has a while before it will be judged on these criteria, but a more pressing test is the launch of the Dubai International Financial Exchange (DIFX) on 24 September this year.

With local capital markets soaring it will be interesting to see if a local company would put itself through the rigours of examination by the likes of David Knott at the DFSA? Nevertheless, bin Sulaiman believes that access to global capital will provide big enough motivation. If it doesn’t, at least e’ll have some great new hotels in Dubai.

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