TBY talks to Nabil A. Habayeb, President & CEO of the Middle East & North Africa for General Electric, on infrastructure development, energy efficiency, and green technology in Dubai.

Nabil A. Habayeb
Nabil Habayeb graduated from Syracuse University with an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering, before joining GE Power Systems’ Field Engineering Programme in 1982. He worked in various regions as a sales manager and customer service manager for GE before being named General Manager for Africa, India and the Middle East (AIM) Region in 1997. He has also lived and worked in Saudi Arabia and New York, before being based in Dubai, where he is responsible for developing and expanding the growth of GE’s different business lines across the region.

What is the background of GE's operations in the region, and what role does Dubai play in the region?

GE has been in the region for over 80 years. We started operations by supporting the oil and gas sector in power generation. People know us as what we used to be, an appliance company. There is a lot that the Middle East region has had to offer, particularly Dubai. Over the years we have found new ways to strengthen our relationships and partnerships. Just look at the region's growth—over the last 30 years, Dubai has transformed dramatically. Though it has limited natural resources, the city wanted to monetize these resources for infrastructure development. First, Dubai built a very strong infrastructure network to help improve people's lives with electricity, clean water, and transportation systems. Second, Dubai used this monetization to build a good healthcare and education system. Third, Dubai knew that its energy resources were limited, and it wanted to diversify its economy industrially. Finally, Dubai wanted to stimulate tourism by offering many support systems. GE also has strong business functions as an oil and gas company, and we were in a position to help monetize the region's natural resources. We're a power generation company, a water company, and a transportation company with aviation and even rail. We're also a healthcare company. Basically, GE is an industrial company. Until recently we were also in the media sector with NBC Universal, and we are now in partnership with Comcast. Dubai's vision and what GE has to offer matches perfectly. That's why we increased our presence to suit the region's needs. Today's leaders see us as a partner that can help them achieve goals in every sector. They see us as a part of their vision, just as they have seen a GE refrigerator as a reliable and integral part of the home. We recently set up our headquarters in Dubai so that we could better cover the Middle East, North Africa, Turkey, and Pakistan.

Although GE has been in the region for 80 years, the market is still considered to have huge growth potential. What changes have you witnessed in your seven years in this position?

The first time I came to Dubai was in 1976. I came to visit my father who was working here. I remember the four-hour journey from Abu Dhabi to Dubai. Today, if you take the same road, it boasts multiple lanes each way and the journey takes just an hour and 15 minutes. It has been very fascinating to see the infrastructure grow. The education and healthcare systems have also seen great improvements. Dubai has become a hub for people to fly from Latin America to Japan due to the strength of the national airlines. I was among 30 international business representatives who were invited to His Highness' palace. He sat down with us and asked us what help we needed to grow, and what issues we were facing. This, over the years, has helped to break down bureaucracy and get things moving more quickly. The fundamentals continue to be important in Dubai, and that will keep it going strong.

You've been very involved in infrastructure development from the ground up. What is in progress now that's exciting for you?

Power generation and the industrialization of Dubai offer exciting opportunities. We have three facilities for water, oil and gas, and energy. We also have a wastewater treatment facility. All these facilities use advanced GE equipment. Not only are we participating in power generation, but we're also providing clean and environmentally efficient water. We re-use the water, both for industry and waste. We are improving the health of the people and the quality and cost of health care. In the aviation sector, Emirates is among GE's largest customers. We lease aircraft, sell engines, and we have built a training facility. We have been working very closely with the Dubai Executive Council in the energy sector to make operations more efficient.