UPWARD SLOPE

UAE, Dubai 2013 | TOURISM & RETAIL | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Iyad Malas, CEO of Majid Al Futtaim Holding, on the company's legacy in the local economy and its retail and hospitality arm.

Iyad Malas
BIOGRAPHY
Prior to his current role, Iyad Malas was based in New Delhi as the Regional Director for South Asia for the International Finance Corporation (IFC), an organization which he joined in 1987, and where he held a number of positions, including Regional Financial Markets Manager for Central Asia, Middle East, and North Africa. Between 2000 and 2004, Malas worked in Egypt, first as the CEO of Fleming CIIC and then as the Chief Operating Officer and Head of Asset Management at Egyptian investment bank, EFG-Hermes. He was appointed to his current role as CEO of Majid Al Futtaim Holding in July 2009.

How has Majid Al Futtaim contributed to the development and wealth of Dubai?

Majid Al Futtaim was the first group to introduce the modern shopping mall experience to the UAE, starting with our first opening, Deira City Centre, in 1995. The company also introduced the first hypermarket in the Middle East. At that time, the predecessor of Carrefour was Continent. Carrefour is now present in 19 countries in Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. In addition to these, Majid Al Futtaim also opened the first modern cinema, leading the company to buy VOX Cinemas. Majid Al Futtaim brought in a number of brands for the first time to the UAE and also introduced the concept of leisure entertainment with Magic Planet, which was our gaming and leisure entertainment concept. Majid Al Futtaim made an even bigger impact with the Mall of the Emirates, which featured the region's first indoor ski slope. We have been developing this trend of bringing not only shopping, but also entertainment and food under one roof. We have continued to deliver the comprehensive offering envisioned by the company's founder, Majid Al Futtaim, for more than 20 years now. Indeed, our developments have been major contributors to Dubai's success as an international hub for business and tourism.

Do you transfer your success from one mall to another?

In each market, we must study both the specific need and market capacity. We do not replicate the same features in every mall. In Bahrain, for example, we have a waterpark on the roof of the mall, and in Mirdif City Centre we offer indoor soccer and skydiving with the iFLY concept. There are many new concepts at each of our malls, and we constantly work to bring in fresh ideas. A few years ago, casual dining was much less important. Today, it is an integral part of what shopping malls have to offer.

How different is the management of each mall?

We study the local demand and size of each market. What the mall offers depends on the needs of the catchment area. For example, our malls in Egypt tend to be more anchored around hypermarkets at the center and smaller shops surrounding that; however, Dubai draws shoppers from all over the world, and many have come to experience the sophisticated shopping experience the city offers. The Mall of the Emirates tends to draw tourists seeking high-end products, while Mirdif targets the local community more.

“We have been developing this trend of bringing not only shopping, but also entertainment and food under one roof."

Majid Al Futtaim Holding acquired full ownership of the Carrefour Franchise in the region in May 2013. What is the significance of this move?

Nothing will change from an operational point of view, although we have acquired the rights to financial control over the business as part of the agreement. Previously, Majid Al Futtaim had the rights to hypermarkets and supermarkets, but now it has gained the rights to alternative concepts, such as convenience stores and discount shops. The group has also acquired the rights to additional countries, which we can explore in the future—beyond the 19 countries we are already operating in.

How important is the hospitality arm for Majid Al Futtaim Holding, and how do you foresee it developing within the group?

The hospitality arm of the group is tied to the retail arm. We are primarily a retail group, so our business is very focused on that through different offerings. Again, we were one of the innovators by combining a shopping mall with a hotel. We started that with Deira City Centre and what was then the Sofitel. The driver of these malls was tourism, so the idea of being able to stay in the mall where you plan to do your shopping was unique and attractive. All of our hotels are either attached or across the street from our shopping malls. The high-end four- or five-star hotels tend to be attached to the mall, and some of the three- or four-star establishments, such as the Ibis, tend to be situated across the road. The dining experience was something relatively new for malls.