Follow The Leader: Mohammad Saeed Al-Shehhi, CEO, Dubai Design District (d3)
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For an urban development that’s been around in the UAE for only a relatively short period of time, Dubai Design District –or d3, as it’s perhaps more popularly known- does have the distinction of having carved out a unique identity for itself in the Middle East as a community that is “a home for the region’s creative thinkers.” And just a walk through d3 is enough to make us believe in this community’s premisebe it with the whimsical art installations that pop up at almost every corner, or with the sheer range of entrepreneurial endeavors that have found a home here, it’s pretty evident that d3 –a project by TECOM Group, a member of Dubai Holding- is very much a growing (and bustling) ecosystem that’s welcoming of inventive, innovative ideas.
And for d3 CEO Mohammad Saeed Al-Shehhi, the community’s development is the result of a collective, cooperative approach that has set the tone for what it is today. “Firstly, it is the people who are at the heart of d3 that have given it the unique spirit that the district has become synonymous with,” Al-Shehhi says. “We have around 500 creative partners and retailers in our 11 buildings, and each of them have made our creative community what it is today. Collaboration has also been key in the development of d3, from the way that we as a developer worked with the existing creative community in Dubai to understand what they wanted from a design district, to now where our own creative partners collaborate. Of course, none of this would have been possible without the vision of H.H. Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai. Dubai Holding and TECOM Group have also been a pivotal part of the development of d3, from both an industry and corporate perspective.”
With design being a key element on which d3 was built (and named), Al-Shehhi says that the community has made sure to never lose sight of this fact in terms of developing its own presence and brand in the region. “At the center of d3 are our core values which are to unite, create, and inspire,” he explains. “There are many designers and creatives within the region, and d3 hopes to bring them together to inspire creativity and collaboration. We believe it is important to promote local talent by providing a platform where they can showcase their skillset and works. We have supported homegrown events such as Dubai Design Week and Fashion Forward, which have spotlighted emerging brands at a local and international level. Our future aspirations are to continue supporting the growth of the design industry in the region, and to place UAE on the map of global design destinations.”
Of course, d3 is well on its way to doing just that- Al- Shehhi points out that he has been able to witness the growth of a community that now stands at 8,000 people, over 43 successful retail outlets, and around 500 business partners, which include both regional SMEs and globally recognized brands. The community has also managed to garner quite a bit of interest in itself as well- d3’s hosting of the annual Dubai Design Week has led to more than more than 70,000 people visit the location over a period of five days, which in itself provides a trove of information and insights for it to further develop itself. “We are continually challenging and innovating the way our business operates,” Al-Shehhi notes. “It is important for us to offer the best experience for our customers and visitors. To do this we have to engage with them, and listen to the feedback they have to share.”
For those of us working in or closely with the startup ecosystem of the region, Al- Shehhi’s approach towards developing d3 may sound quite similar to that of many an entrepreneur wanting to keep their fledgling enterprise ahead of the game at all times. Al-Shehhi agrees with the comparison- indeed, he refers to d3 as an entrepreneurial venture by itself, which means that it too has had to deal with the challenges that come with these kinds of endeavors. And yes, finding the right people to come onboard d3 was chief among them. “It was important to find the best resources to enable this project,” Al-Shehhi says. “We were a startup, and it can be difficult for people to adapt to that mentality, when coming from an existing organization that has established processes and procedures. We looked for a team that had the ability to multi-task, and can adapt to change.” With that being the case, Al-Shehhi has tuned his leadership strategy in accordance with the model that d3 was built on. “From a personal standpoint, I am a great believer in empowerment and trust, and with that, comes creativity and innovation,” he declares.
Al-Shehhi believes that business leaders today need to engage with and understand the priorities of all stakeholders, with the focus remaining on reliably delivering business results. With the environment around us changing as it is, Al-Shehhi also notes that businesses need to have a proactive approach towards these developments, and it thus falls upon the leaders of these enterprises to make decisions with speed and conviction. “Sometimes, a wrong decision can be better than no decision or direction at all,” he points out- a note that’s worth taking to heart by all you bosses out there. Making the decision to move ahead with their dreams now is something Al-Shehhi advises all wannabe entrepreneurs in the region to do as well- the time to act is now, he says. “With all the big announcements for supporting SMEs in the UAE and in the region, specifically in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, I really believe it’s time for entrepreneurs to start their business, and ride along the wave,” Al-Shehhi says. “I believe creative, innovative, and tech solutions are the way forward.” Here’s hoping.