Hamad Buamim, President & CEO, Dubai Chamber of Commerce & Industry

Creating synergies for Dubai’s knowledge-based economy

The Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry has over 160,000 members, and Hamad Buamim is the Chamber’s President and CEO, working to represent, support and protect their business interests in Dubai, a post he has held since 2006.

Hamad Buamim serves as the Deputy Chairman of the World Chambers Federation — ICC, based in Paris. He is also the Chairman of National General Insurance (PJSC), member of the Board of Directors of the UAE Central Bank, Union Properties and Dubai World.

Educated in the USA, he graduated with Magna Cum Laude from the University of Southern California (UCLA) — Los Angeles in 1996 with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering. In 2002, he obtained an MBA with Honors in Finance from the University of Missouri — Kansas City. Prior to joining Dubai Chamber, he was Chairman of Emirates Financial Services and Emirates NBD Capital and Board Member of Emirates NBD Bank and Network International.

Hamad has spearheaded the expansion of Dubai Chamber services, and oversaw the opening of its international branches in Baku, Azerbaijan in 2012 and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia in 2013, and added an office in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2014. In recent years the Chamber has increased ties with Africa as well as encouraged the development of the Islamic economy, organising the Global Islamic Economy Summit and Africa Global Business Forum in 2013 and 2014, and the World Islamic Economic Forum in 2014, which attracted more than 3,500 global Muslim political and economic leaders and delegates from 140 countries.

With the UAE further enhancing its ranking to number 22 in World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report 2015 that lists 189 countries, the Dubai Chamber is playing a crucial role in strengthening the facilitation of business in the Emirate, offering a host of services such as dispute resolution (mediation and arbitration), issuing certificates of origin and ATA Carnets, and legal services. It also organizes training programs for entrepreneurs, provides credit rating services, business matching services, access to updated research and numerous reports, and other services that boost the investment environment in Dubai.

Hamad Buamim talks to LEADERS Middle East about the economic growth of Dubai, including the outlook for 2015.

Dubai has witnessed very positive growth rates over the last few years, after successfully navigating through the world financial crises of 2008–2009. How would you describe the elements that have kept Dubai’s economy so strong?

Dubai’s economic focus continues to be one of diversification and it has started shifting towards becoming a knowledge-based economy. It has maintained growth and added new industry sectors to its economy while focusing on traditional high-value-added sectors of trade, tourism, logistics and financial services. These pillars are supported by others including retail, construction and real estate.

With regards to high value sectors, last year Dubai’s non-oil trade grew by about 8% from 2012 to exceed AED1.32 trillion ($359 billion), which was a rise of AED94 billion on the previous year. India topped Dubai’s major trade partners with a total trade volume of AED137 billion, with China second (AED135 billion) and the US third (AED86 billion).

The tourism sector saw a 10% increase in tourist numbers to 11 million, with the number of passengers travelling through Dubai International Airport rising by 15.2% to 66.4 million passengers. Dubai has been named a top destination to visit in 2014 by both the New York Times and Trip Advisor. Dubai’s Tourism Vision 2020 strategy is a bold plan to double the tourism revenue in seven years, which is going to drive new business opportunities. Aviation continued to be the strongest driver in the logistics sector, especially with the opening of the Al Maktoum International Airport to passengers last October.

Meanwhile, the finance sector performed well, with a total trading volume of 127.2 billion shares and bonds on Dubai Financial Market. In equities, the DFM General Index rose 107.7% during the year, making it the second best performing exchange globally, and the FTSE NASDAQ Dubai UAE 20 index was up 86.6%.

Dubai is regarded as a top destination for investment and trade. What has made Dubai so attractive?

Dubai has many advantages for business, including excellent infrastructure, world-class logistics and a business climate that is tax free and supports and protects investors. Dubai has excellent air, land and sea connectivity, not only to GCC but Middle Eastern, Indian and African markets. Dubai businesses also benefit from strong Government support and new initiatives which are strengthening protection for investors and increasing the ease of doing business.

The Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry has grown into one of the most influential chambers in the region. What is the role that the Dubai Chamber plays in bringing the business community of Dubai and the rest of the world closer together?

Dubai has a vision to become one of the world’s best destinations for business and leisure and has launched its Dubai Plan 2021 to facilitate this step. Dubai Chamber is aligned to this vision which has also helped us flourish as an organisation. There are a number of ways Dubai Chamber brings the world’s business communities together with the emirate’s vision. One is Dubai Chamber’s partnership with the International Chamber of Commerce. I sit as the Deputy Chair of the ICC’s World Chambers Federation and we collaborate on several events and initiatives.

We also have good partnerships with various organisations around the world. For example, Hamburg Chamber of Commerce is a long-term partner, with whom we regularly organise the Dubai-Hamburg Business Forum and will continue to do so in the years ahead.

In addition, we are also focusing on our own international expansion in key emerging markets. At present we have three branch offices in Azerbaijan, Ethiopia and Kurdistan and are about to open our fourth office in Ghana. Ghana is Dubai’s 34th largest trading partner, with non-oil trade rising to AED8.9 billion in 2013, which is a 4.7% growth in comparison to 2012. Dubai Chamber’s office will be based in the capital Accra and serve as a gateway for UAE investments in Ghana and neighbouring West African countries. We are also considering Mozambique’s potential as Africa is a major focus for Dubai Chamber moving forward given its incredible potential for business and investment. Through these offices we engage and connect with the local business community and seek to increase cooperation, partnership and two-way trade and investment.

What is the role that leadership plays in all spheres of society in the UAE?

Leadership is vital to the future progress and development of the country. For the UAE, we are fortunate to have wise leaders who have a clear vision of our future progress and achievements. For 2015, the Cabinet has decreed that it will be the Year of Innovation in a plan to make the UAE a world innovative leader. This is an incredibly insightful strategy that will help support federal government efforts, attract national skills, increase distinguished research as well as boost efforts to build a national workforce who are able to lead our country towards a bright future.

For business, the important role of leadership is indisputable. It is generally accepted that great leaders create successful businesses and weak leaders create companies fraught with problems. However, the situation in today’s corporate climate is far more complex than this suggests. Sustainability and good corporate governance is important as it has the potential to affect all aspects of a company’s operations. It helps boost staff morale, improves a company’s reputation and reduces operational costs. Increasingly, sustainability-related issues are having a material impact on businesses and this is making them take notice.

A vast majority of CEOs now recognise that expectations with regards to sustainability are increasing. Pressure to act is mounting. It is coming from stakeholders, employees, customers, governments, investors, the media, and society in general. What we are seeing is that the companies, who are taking the initiative and acting assertively now, are gaining considerable benefits in terms of operational efficiency, improved reputation and cost savings. Changing perceptions and habits which are entrenched within an organisation has got to come from the top. It requires a clear vision, realistic goals and determination to succeed.

How optimistic are you for the future of Dubai for 2015?

The Dubai Plan 2021 is a clear and detailed road map that targets people’s happiness and welfare by developing all sectors of the economy. It covers six areas that will lead change namely: City of Happy, Creative and Empowered People; an Inclusive & Cohesive Society; the Preferred Place to Live, Work and Visit, a Smart and Sustainable City; a Pivotal Hub in the Global Economy, and a Pioneering and Excellent Government. 2015 will also be the Year of Innovation and this will be an important driver for the economy. Smart services and new technology will also play a big role next year as well as investments in research and development. I am optimistic that Dubai is in a favourable position to withstand any external pressure and that our economy will continue to grow, supported by trade, tourism, logistics and financial services. Other high value sectors that are expected to witness robust growth and lucrative investment opportunities include the social sectors such as education and health, and services sectors such as personal, professional and business services. This is in addition to the ITC, technology and other knowledge intensive sectors. The trade sector also continues to be buoyant, driving growth in Dubai’s economy. Dubai business leaders’ outlook for the trade sector in 2014 is the highest in last five years, according to our Traders Outlook Survey. It indicated that 60% of traders expect market demand to be at very good/good.