As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Abdallah Mouneimne, Joint Managing Director, Dubai Investment Properties LLC. Mr. Mouneimne joined Arkiteknik International in 1993 as an Architect and is now on the Board of Directors for Dubai Investment Properties LLC. He has brought a higher standard of professionalism to DIP after joining the board and his business acumen & vision have inspired the company with greater enthusiasm to serve its purpose.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
My story started in the United Arab Emirates back in the early 1990s after graduating from the school of Architecture and taking up a junior Architect job in a consultant office. I progressed through the years in the field of architecture and today I manage Arkiteknik International, a leading consulting engineering firm. I am also on the Board of Directors of Dubai Investment Properties, a real estate developer, including being a partner at Casadar, an online portal dealing with Architecture and Interior design trends.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
One of my beginner’s blunder had to do with communication with others as I was shy in nature. During a briefing with a client for designing a private house, I was hastily taking notes where he explained that he wanted a room for each of his children and an attached living space for the girls’ section he had 5 children in total; I was not sure whether he said 2 boys and 3 girls or 3 boys and 2 girls. I ended up preparing two options for each of my guesses. What I learned from that was to take my time during a conversation, to listen well and to explain myself fully to others.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
During my years at university, it was a trend for students to read a book by Ayn Rand called ‘Fountainhead’. It was about a young architect who designs modern buildings and resists to compromise with architectural companies that were unwilling to accept innovation. This book empowered young architects to be creative and self-assured. It displayed architects as similar to artists and promoted individualism rather than collectives. For those reasons, young architects used to cherish this book. Of course, later in my career I realized that this might not necessary be true and there was a certain critical balance between an individual and team work in architecture. Today, in addition to books about architecture, I am very much interested in reading about genetics, the origin of man, archaeology and anthropology, such as books of the author Bryan Sykes.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Architecture as a discipline is all about providing a shelter for humans. A place to dwell, feel safe, a functional home where one finds comfort, respecting traditions, culture and a way of life. The owners of Dubai Investment Properties (DIP) and Arkiteknik International concurred with the mission that an architect has to care for both developing properties and designing real-estate. It is about catering for people and their needs as a matter of priority but also to be aware of the urban environment, to adapt to surroundings and use modern technology in a way that serves the end user and provides the best in residential, commercial and retail experience. Finally, the vision is to create a visual and spatial experience that is innovative, functional and stands the test of time. DIP is a testimonial to 5 star-like quality and service. In DIP we believe in quality, reputation, integrity and trust; when it comes to our mission. Regarding our team, we like to apply the philosophy of making Dubai the happiest city and be proud of what we do.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Both companies I work in are owned by the ruling family of Dubai. The owners give full support to the development of the companies; they thrive to preserve the companies’ legacy by serving their clients and adjusting services with the current environment for customer satisfaction. The late Sheikh Mansour Bin Ahmad Al Thani had always inspired DIP, and me particularly, to be hands-on and personalize any service that we are offering to our tenants. We cater on a case-to-case basis with a fully-tailored response. Our staff is constantly in contact with each and every tenant 24/7. This might sound idyllic but DIP does not develop beyond its capacity of service and doesn’t under-deliver to its customers and clients.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Human nature is well known for its adaptability; we can site numerous historic examples if we look back in History. Our generation is lucky to have come across this crisis at a highly established technological development, serving humanity in an unprecedented speed of adaptability in addition to the high intellectual maturity people have today to keep daily life barely affected. Fear of existence is no more impeding humanity. It just takes to look back at the beginning of the pandemic and compare how our attitude has changed in a matter of few months on a personal level. Both my children are currently attending University overseas. The unexpected closure of the university and airports meant that plans had to change.
There needed to be new arrangements for their livelihood. Remotely and from our base here in the UAE, we were able to arrange all what is needed within couple of days. The modern means of communication guaranteed the assurance of their well-being and they on their side felt taken care of, just like being at home.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
On the work front my main concern was the health & safety of my staff, since we are in the construction field and we continued to work while other businesses we closed. The exposure of the staff meant that extra caution had to be established. In addition to establishing and communicating a protocol for self-protection, the plan was to separate the staff into groups and avoid them mixing. Construction staff were not allowed in the main office. At the same time, their visits to the actual construction sites were limited to be during the daily labor breaks or while the workers were away. The DIP office staff was separated in two groups — those who can work remotely while the others attended the office by rotation to adhere to the government’s rules on office capacity. We made a work schedule and split staff into different groups to make sure both our Head Office and branch offices had minimal staff to attend to tenants and supervise the property. For our properties, we had to consistently communicate all the guidelines from authorities to our tenants and made changes to operations as per the SOPs given to us. In our malls we have implemented all social distancing and safety precautions diligently with clear communications at all entry points, common areas and along with our security & housekeeping teams made sure all visitors are in the safest environment possible.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the corona virus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
We spoke about Adaptability, but adaptability comes with uncertainty at the beginning as you have stated. Overcoming this natural feeling, one has to have a lot of faith in Humanity. The slogan at the beginning of the pandemic was that we are all in this together. Throughout history humans were all successful when they used to have a sense of collectiveness. People were made aware and consequently responsible. Next comes discipline, where people have to trust leadership and follow road maps laid by established authorities. This is not a time to be critical but to join hands and overcome not only the pandemic, but other feelings that come with it such as what you have mentioned.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
It is absolutely true; they say the best way to predict our future is to create it and in order to create a bright post-Covid future it is crucial to focus on opportunities. For the UAE, particularly from the real estate point of view, this pandemic urged real-estate developers to communicate better with tenants and it took a lot of tough decisions to act in the best interests of clients, even in the face of personal or professional adversity. Organizations have to be agile enough to take decisions expeditiously and address clients’ needs. The main opportunity I see in the post-covid era is the embracing of change, leveraging technology and social media. We already have seen during this pandemic, property agents communicating online with a full 3D walk through presentation and video call meetings. UAE has been future-ready with its digital and telecom infrastructure and is demonstrating that hi-tech capability and sustainability can co-exist in a “green” economy.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
This pandemic gave us an opportunity to expedite an experiment labelled “changing the way we live”. Established digital infrastructure has proved to be successful in the way we do things. Over few months, working remotely has proved effective & productive, remote learning also was put to the test successfully. In a short period, we have put many innovative models to the test and proved they can work in the long run. One could imagine how this could affect the future and tackle climate change by having fewer cars on the road, occupying less space to create work spaces or having education accessible to all children no matter where or from what background. In few months we have done enough, ready to be processed and analyzed over a number of years to come. So, I see that the world has an opportunity to be a better place with sustainable environment for us and our children. And on the human level, people will tend to team up together and appreciate others working for our well being and the future of generations to come.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
From this forced experimental environment, I would like to apply the possibilities of working remotely at least for the office staff, and outsource some of the work from global markets. An example, typical to the UAE, would be expats working from their countries of origin after having worked in a training period at the head office — a winning solution for both parties, employer and employee. For DIP it would be crucial to follow the trends I mentioned earlier. We see DIP gaining a better exposure with the help of digital technologies and being more accessible to communicate online with prospective clients, partners and similarly providing responsive service to existing tenants.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
I would really like every company to take time to analyze and assess their performance during the pandemic period and take up what works and what does not, accordingly adopting change without hesitation. I think this will be done first at a national level and we will see a lot of the government sector doing this adaptation and encouraging other businesses to do the same.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There are many! I like Rumi quotes as they talk about being inspirational, they talk about compassion, empathy and having faith in humanity. These have inspired me a lot in making sure that our life journey is about seeking knowledge and inspiring humanity, I strongly believe in this concept and try to apply it in my work environment; we become creative by being inspired in order to inspire others to create. For the current situation I would like to use a quote by Vivian Greene “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning how to dance in the rain.”
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