Oct. 30, 2018

 Mohammed Khammas

UAE, Dubai

Mohammed Khammas

CEO, Al Ahli Holding Group (AAHG)

TBY talks to Mohammed Khammas, CEO of Al Ahli Holding Group (AAHG), on the importance of e-commerce, migration from digital to reality, and building a unique ecosystem.


Mohammed Khammas is CEO at AAHG and manages the multi-billion dollar international conglomerate in over 20 countries with headquarters in the UAE. Anchored by the core purpose of creating and sharing human-centric experiences, AAHG has a diversified portfolio and is a market leader in the media, entertainment, retail, and fitness industry. Following the pioneering vision of his father, he has enhanced the 40-year legacy and family business through global strategic growth and established strong long-term alliances with the top names in the global entertainment industry, such as Marvel, Fox Studios, Disney, and Universal Studios. AAHG is the first Arab company to develop and sell a multi-million dollar game development company to Disney.

How do you expect e-commerce to evolve in the UAE over the coming years?

The largest players in the world are positioning themselves in the UAE; Amazon recently acquired souq.com and is now setting up shop logistically in Dubai South. Companies are shifting more toward e-commerce and investing heavily in their own platforms. Dubai typically has a learning curve followed by a spike. We do not have an easy S-curve that develops and grows over a period of time. We incubate, and today 2-3% of retail sales happen through e-commerce. The figure is likely to shoot up before plateauing. We will see a spike in 2018 and 2019. There will be a major transformation now that there are two generations more accustomed to e-commerce than other types of purchases. Primarily, makeup and clothes are already primarily moving into e-commerce, which is changing the retail landscape. Younger people now prefer to browse and shop on their phones rather than at malls, which will soon start to kick in economically, and repeated purchases will become more automated. High-end retail may be able to retain clients if the experience goes beyond just visiting the store. If not, they too will become part of the migration to digital. Physical purchases will never become completely obsolete, though the experience will start to become an important complement to purchases. A unique experience has to be embedded into their services.

Traditional media is facing headwinds as a result of on-demand services. How do you expect this trend to develop in the Middle East?

Currently, we are still catching on to the influx of content. Digital will mean more to companies such as Disney, Netflix, and Hulu; it will replace TV. The development of content itself will change, though not the medium; it will still be phones, tablets, computers, and TVs. The way content is presented has changed and media at large has become less expensive. Now, it all boils down to the most basic element of the story: storytelling and the creation of the content itself. Now there is also a reverse migration from digital to reality. People are using digital platforms to see Rome or Paris, for example. Digital media promotes real-life experiences for people to experience them first hand.

What is the philosophy behind the Entrepreneur and Media Hub that AAHG is Developing?

We are establishing NOMAD, a unique world-class pioneering project to facilitate and support the growth of local and international entrepreneurs and position the UAE as a leading light in global business innovation. It will significantly reduce the cost of operating in the UAE for start-ups representing the media, culinary arts, arts and design, and gaming and technology arenas. The biggest challenge for Dubai is that it is a young and expensive city, which does not make it an ideal place for start-ups, so we are effectively adding an additional landscape to the Emirate that does not exist yet. Our plan is to prototype the project in Dubai, allowing someone to live and run a business at affordable and globally competitive pricing. The participants will have their own apartments, offices, visas, and meals included in that cost. We are building a flexible ecosystem where the start-up does not have to employ everyone around them; they can still outsource services that are not key to the business. This ecosystem will cost a pre-determined amount, which will be valued by our participants because the costs of employing people for all of their requirements and day-to-day tasks would be significantly higher. We are also encouraging participants to be innovative by mixing with an international community from whose environment they will prosper.

Will this program complement or replace existing incubators or accelerators in the entrepreneurial sphere?

The project will be an incubator and an accelerator, co-existing within a purpose-built infrastructure in a unique eco-system, the first of its kind.