While Europe was flailing in the midst of a Recession, the United Arab Emirates has been making economic waves globally. It’s an area of the world made up of the seven Emirates – namely Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Dubai, Fujaraih, Ras al-Khaimah, Umm al-Qaiwain and Ajman. The UAE borders Qatar to the west, Oman to the East and North, and Saudi Arabia to the south; the largest and probably most well-known emirate is Abu Dhabi. A large portion of the UAE is a desert, and the rest of the country is made up of rocky mountains and plains.
The UAE has been gaining attention and recognition for its large annual trade surplus, high per capita income and an open economy. In recent years, it’s seen a transformation into a modern nation with an enviable economy – helped significantly by oil resources. Over the years the government, investors and residents have tried to diversify their economic activities to reduce their reliance on oil and gas output, though, and as a result the UAE is growing to be an industrial hub, a commercial real estate dream and even a popular spot for luxury tourism. The country’s tourist industry has increased thanks to its world-class facilities, beaches, intriguing traditional culture and a stable political environment.
Skilled Western workers like teachers and doctors are even relocating to the UAE with the lure of much higher salaries than they’d receive in their home country. The UAE’s Gross Domestic Product was approximately $360 billion in 2011 and it’s got an oil reserve of about 97.8 billion barrels. The government is channelling a huge part of its expenditure to infrastructure expansion and job creation to attract private investors and the population is increasing at a rapid rate.
A rich history and culture pervades the Emirates, and the cultural symbols of the people of UAE are the falcon, Arabian horse, coffeepot, date palm, camel and pearling boat. These represent a community that struggled with harsh, unforgiving climatic conditions but now enjoys huge prosperity. Given the huge resources in the UAE, the leading Emirati business people have frankly mystifying wealth. We’ve taken a look at the five richest people in the UAE, to truly contextualise the huge wealth in this fascinating part of the world.
5. ABDUL AZIZ AL GHURAIR – $2.9B
Abdul Aziz was born on 2nd November 1954 in the UAE. The billionaire attended California State Polytechnic University and is married with 5 children. 59-year old Al Ghurair is the Chief Executive Officer of Mashreq, a leading commercial bank in the UAE. Mashreq bank was founded in the 1960s by Abdul’s father, Abdulla bin Ahmad Al Ghurair, when the UAE was experiencing a rapid economic growth fuelled by the discovery of vast oil reserves. Since then, the firm has expanded into a conglomerate with interests in publishing, real estate, construction, food and petrochemical sectors. Other than presiding over the bank, Abdul also owns a capital group, the Arab Business Angels Network, which focuses on Arab business start-ups. Abdul has 50% stake in Libya’s largest oil refinery. This impressive businessman has served as the speaker at the UAE’s national assembly. During the recent financial crisis, Abdul’s earnings from Mashreq reduced when the bank was hit by bad real estate loans but his earnings have since bounced back. With a net worth of approximately $2.9 billion, Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair is part of the UAE’s billionaire club and the 4th richest person in the Emirates.
4. ABDULLA BIN AHMAD AL GHURAIR – $3.1B
Abdulla bin Ahmad al Ghurair is the 3rd richest person in UAE and the president and chairman of Mashreq Bank PSC. Abdulla and his brother Saif are part of a prominent business family in United Arab Emirates. Al Ghurair’s wealth dates back to 1967 when he founded Mashreq bank during UAE’s period of rapid economic growth. Mashreq Bank PSC is run by Al Ghurair’s family – his son comes in at number 4 on our UAE rich list. While he is the chairman, his son is the CEO and Sultan Al Ghurair sits on the board of the bank. Despite some blips on real-estate loans, Mashreq saw a 25% increase in profits in 2012. In case being president of Mashreq doesn’t offer enough financial security for this billionaire, Al Ghurair moonlights as the owner of a conglomerate which has invested in food, retail and construction industries. The Al Ghurair Group secures the family’s wealth and commands significant respect in the business world. It divided into two industrial groups in 1990s; one industrial group, the Saif Ahmad Al Ghurair Group, is led and owned by Saif Ahmad while the other (Abdulla Al Ghurair Group) is owned and run by Abdulla.
3. MAJID AL FUTTAIM – $3.6B
Majid Al Futtaim has a net worth of about $3.6 billion. While quite a bit of this wealth comes from an inheritance, his other sources of wealth include retail and commercial real estate properties. The billionaire is the estranged brother to business mogul Abdulla Al Futtaim. Majid founded Majid Al Futtaim Holdings in 1992 and the company operates retail, leisure establishments and shopping malls in major towns in North Africa and the Middle East. Generally, his firm operates in about 12 countries around the world. Al Futtaim’s firm has 3 subsidiaries which operate 11 hotels and 16 shopping malls, run about 48 Carrefour supermarkets and 50 hypermarkets across 12 countries, and develops and operates entertainment and leisure establishments such as Ski Dubai, Magic Planet, VOX Cinema and iFly. It also owns a finance firm, a fashion retail business and has a joint undertaking with Dalkia. That’s a lot of pies to have a finger in! After the economic downturn, the group boosted Al Futtaim’s fortune by $2.5 billion. Al Futtaim plans to expand his investments in Cairo and he recently offered to buy the Mansour Brothers’ Metro supermarket chain for $250-$300 million.
2. SHEIKH MOHAMMED BIN RASHID AL MAKTOUM – $18B
The first of two major political players on our list, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum is the Prime Minister and the Vice President of the UAE. He has an extraordinary 23 children with whom to share his fortune. He’s been involved in both philanthropy and controversy, from raising money to educate children in poor areas to being accused of encouraging the abduction of young boys to involve them in camel racing (a charge that was later dropped). Bin Rashid al Maktoum has expensive interests to match his bank account, including yachts and thoroughbred horses.
1. SHEIKH KHALIFA BIN ZAYED AL-NAHAYAN – $15-$23B
65-year old Sheikh Khalifa al-Nahayan is the richest person in UAE- and, fittingly, the President. Sheikh Khalifa has an estimated net worth of between $15-$23 billion. The billionaire was appointed President of United Arab Emirates after the death of his father in 2004 and as the leader of Abu Dhabi – the richest emirate and one of the world’s richest monarchs – he controls an estimated 97.8 billion barrels of oil reserves and operates the 2nd largest sovereign wealth fund in the world (the fund has assets worth $627 billion). The oldest son of Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahayan, Sheikh Khalifa owns a 30-acre estate in Seychelles. Although he controls huge reserves of oil, not all his fortune comes from this precious resource. Like most of the businessmen on our list, he must be acutely aware that oil is a finite resource because Sheikh Khalifa has diversified his investments in various sectors of the economy. His family is believed to have a collective fortune of about $150 billion.
Note: The list is based on publicly available data and estimates, and doesn’t account for other wealthy individuals who have net worths greater than some of the people listed here. Given that financials of some wealthy families in the UAE, including royals, is not disclosed, we couldn’t estimate their net worth and correctly list them in this ranking. For that purpose we decided to omit them so as to not falsely estimate their Net Worth.