Azizi chief believes Dubai demand will absorb coming housing supply

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A view of Dubai from the Burj Khalifa. (Reuters)
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Azizi Developments CEO Farhad Azizi believes there is enough demand to absorb thousands of new homes under construction in the emirate. (Reuters)
Updated 20 July 2019

Azizi chief believes Dubai demand will absorb coming housing supply

  • CEO pinning hopes on Expo 2020, which is expected to be key driver for real estate sector and economy as a whole

DUBAI: The story of Azizi Developments transcends its journey from a plot of land in 2007 to more than 200 projects today.
Since then, the company has delivered 8,200 homes, worth over $12 billion.
In the words of Farhad Azizi, the CEO of Azizi Developments, it is as much about the “opportunity to actively contribute to the development of Dubai” and to grow as part of such an “awe-inspiring” city.
“Much like this Emirate, which we call our home, we have grown very rapidly,” said Farhad, who has been the driving force behind the company's strategy.
In the process, Azizi has had to adapt to market trends and the crests and troughs of the property market. Over a decade spent in banking, construction, oil, gas and hospitality came in handy while steering the Azizi ship.
“We launched our first development in 2008, selling over $1 billion worth of properties,” he said. It was to be the beginning of a remarkable journey that was rudely interrupted by the collapse of property prices.
“In July and August of 2008, our clients approached us, gravely concerned that they were unable to continue their payments,” said Farhad.
Like other real estate developers, Azizi received many requests for projects to be stopped and for deposits to be returned.
Azizi investigated every case individually with the help of the Dubai Land Department and handed back all deposits.
 “Despite all the chaos occurring around us, we are proud to say that we were one of the very few developers to have done this.
“We returned a total of 149 million dirhams ($40.565 million) that was already spent on design, marketing, and land payments, and that was not sourced from an escrow account, as a gesture of goodwill,” he said.
The period of turbulence, however, had some important lessons, and smart operators emerged stronger. “The most important lesson we have learned from the crisis is to prioritize our customers, at all times,” added Farhad.
“Naturally, when purchasing power decreases, customers become more selective and meticulous in their purchase decision-making process. Those with strong products prosper, and those with offerings that do not meet needs adequately suffer.”
Farhad stands by the much-maligned off-plan property market, calling it a matter of trust.
“In today’s world of immediate knowledge transfer, where social media posts and review sites enable customers to inform themselves and shape their image of a business, transparency is the absolute key to building trust.”
Besides, what matters most is a strong return on investment. “Only research-driven companies that leverage the latest technologies will innovate and prosper.”
Like most other companies in this business, Azizi is also pinning hopes on Expo 2020, which is expected to be a key driver for the real estate sector and the economy as a whole.
“As the first-of-its-kind mega-event hosted in the region, welcoming over 25 million visitors, it will boost the economy by over 3.5 percent,” Farhad added.
His optimism is based on the fact that a lot of Azizi projects have accessibility to the Expo 2020 site, which will continue to grow as a vibrant leisure and business destination even after the event.
Farhad also has an interesting theory on millennial buyers. He believes, with 60 percent of the region’s population now below the age of 30, millennial professionals are the most important demographic.
“While our research finds that young professional millennials are often anxious and have a fear of commitment, they are becoming increasingly aware of the benefit of moving from home renting to ownership,” he said.
They are, he believes, realizing that renting only helps pay someone else’s mortgage, when they could turn the expense, or “dead investment” of rental payments, into installments toward a profitable asset.
“For example, while renting costs for 20 years can amount to upwards of 2.16 million dirhams, buying a similar property in the same location would cost just over 1.76 million dirhams, not to forget that the investor then owns a valuable, lucrative asset after the 20-year period, once the mortgage is paid off.”
Farhad also has a special mention for Saudi investors who, according to him, stand out for being investment savvy. “They inform themselves extremely well of the different locations, the planned infrastructure and amenities.”
So what does the future have in store for Azizi Developments? For a start, Farhad is confident that since Dubai has one of the fastest-growing populations in the world, market absorption rates will withstand the supply.
“By the end of 2019, we aim to complete approximately 4,000 units. We have dedicated this year to the swift development and timely completion of our projects.”


Off-plan property sales, involving the sale of homes that have yet to be built, has been a major driver of the Dubai residential property market.

INTERVIEW: ‘Women’s empowerment is happening and heartfelt,’ says Saudi university head Einas Al-Eisa

Updated 26 January 2020

INTERVIEW: ‘Women’s empowerment is happening and heartfelt,’ says Saudi university head Einas Al-Eisa

  • “I’m leaving Davos convinced that we’re heading in the right direction.”: Al-Eisa
  • Recently the World Bank rated Saudi Arabia as the leading country in the world in terms of fostering female equality

If any of the aspirational young women of Saudi Arabia need a role model, they should look no further than Einas Al-Eisa, the rector of the Princess Nourah Bint Abdulrahman University in Riyadh.

I caught up with her at Davos last week, at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF), where she told me one of the most inspiring and heartwarming stories I have ever heard. She was reluctant at first to go “on the record” about her family history, but finally agreed, not least because I insisted. It was too good a story to leave untold.

“Let me tell you something personal. I’m a second-generation female doctor of philosophy. My mum went to the first school ever to open for girls in Saudi Arabia, and she continued to go all the way to be a university professor. She was able to pursue her dream in Saudi Arabia, and became a history scholar. I’m 15 years on from my PhD, in anatomy and neurobiology, in Canada,” she said.

“Now my daughter is doing engineering. That just tells you all the evidence of the amount of empowerment and accelerating change in the Kingdom. Change is real, happening and heartfelt. We really have a good story to tell the world,” she said while in Saudi Arabia’s headquarters overlooking the snowy Congress Hall of the WEF.

Princess Nourah University — or PNU as Al-Eisa calls it — is the biggest female academic institution in the world, with 35,000 students spread across
8 million square meters in the Saudi capital in 600 buildings. It grew out of the College of Education opened in 1970, and is named after the sister of King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, the founder of the Kingdom.

Her job carries a huge responsibility. “It’s a big challenge, not just for me, but globally. Empowering women is a challenge worldwide,” she said.

She, and the Kingdom, are rising to that challenge. Recently the World Bank rated Saudi Arabia as the leading country in the world in terms of fostering female equality, after a raft of measures to give women essential rights to education, employment and mobility. A new generation of women — like her daughter — is growing up in the Kingdom, increasingly self-confident of their place in Saudi Arabia and in the world, under the Vision 2030 strategy to transform the country.

Al-Eisa is an enthusiastic supporter of the changes, and dismisses suggestions that some of the more conservative parts of the Saudi demographic oppose them.

“Let me take a step back, and talk about the transformation. It’s about opening new sectors that will build the capacity of society as a whole — the quality of life, health, education, job opportunity, economic development — so that we can develop sectors like entertainment, culture, and technology.



Riyadh, Saudi Arabia


Doctorate in anatomy and neuroscience, Dalhousie University, Canada

Harvard University Professional Development Programs, US


Dean, Department of Science and Medical Studies, King Saud University

Vice-dean, College of Nursing, Saudi Arabia

Rector, Princess Nourah Bint Abdulrahman University

“These are all perfect opportunities for the whole of society to engage in, and now with the rate of enrolment of women in the private sector increasing from 19 percent to 23 percent in just one year, that reflects the engagement of the whole of society. As a university, we study this progress, the implementation of the policies, and the impact of the reforms,” she said.

Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the big changes underway in the Kingdom is the trend for women to study what have traditionally been regarded as exclusively male domains — science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the STEM disciplines. Of the 5,200 who graduated from PNU last year, 1,400 came from STEM faculties.

“I predict a huge contribution from women in that sector in the very near future. One good story that comes from Saudi Arabia is the increased number of women engaging in the technology sectors, for example, versus the drop we see worldwide. Elsewhere women are moving away from these fields, whereas in the Kingdom, the number is going up constantly,” she said.

Education in the Kingdom remains segregated in terms of gender, but she does not think that is a significant or fundamental issue. In the West and in other parts of the world, co-education is the norm, but there have been many serious academic studies that have questioned the benefits of mixed-sex education. She is in no hurry to push for co-education in Saudi Arabia, on grounds of academic pragmatism, rather than any moral or ethical issues.

“If you go back to the literature and look at the assessment of the value of women studying in a campus of only women, there is enough global evidence to support the value of women-only education, in a women’s environment. There is enough evidence out there, but still it is a source of debate,” she said.

“Women are less intimidated in the fields of technology and engineering when they are taught in a safe environment. The way we are tackling that is to ensure that women have the best educators, the best learning opportunities, the best curricula, irrespective of gender,” she said.

Many of the faculty staff are male, she pointed out, so the young women studying at the university are not completely segregated. “We have male and female teachers in PNU, and we will continue to support more women in academia, in engineering especially, as faculty staff, and as engineers in the field. We will continue to empower women and I guarantee they are not isolated,” she said.

The crucial issue is what young women do after graduation. The Vision 2030 reform strategy envisages a big increase in the female workforce, rising to as much as 30 percent over the next decade. Recent statistics show that the Kingdom is well on the way to reaching that target, with 23.5 percent of the private sector workforce being female, according to official figures.

But for Al-Eisa, it is not just a simple matter of meeting official quotas. Again, she takes an academically pragmatic view.

“Just like it should be everywhere else in the world, it’s the competency of the graduates that dictates where they go. We have a very good story in the health sector — nearly 40 percent of people working in health are female, reflecting the parity and the power we have achieved after investing so much in health and education,” she said.

PNU works closely with INSEAD, the French management institute, to ensure that young women graduating from the university are equipped with the skills to get them jobs in increasingly competitive managerial professions.

She also works with the Ministry of Education in its “Women Leaders 2030” program that nurtures young women to become business leaders in the private sector. The ministry’s work is closely coordinated with the UN’s sustainable development goals which also align with Vision 2030.

“It’s very important to produce holistic leaders, women who understand the challenges and bigger issues in the wider world,” she said.

Her visit to the WEF has certainly opened her eyes to the bigger picture. All the issues that concerned her back in Saudi Arabia were also on the WEF agenda, she said, and she was “pleasantly surprised” that Davos was not all about money and economics.

“I come from the education sector, and I thought there will not be much for me in Davos, but there is so much going on, in investment, in education, in new opportunities, in skills development, science, science breakthroughs. I was impressed by the wide array of topics discussed and the caliber of discussions,” she said.

She will leave Switzerland with a new set of ideas to further promote the role of women in Saudi Arabia.

“The session on Education 4.0 was a very good exchange of ideas, and made me think how Saudi Arabia must invest even more in the infrastructure of education, curriculum development, teachers’ preparation programs and the rest.

“It’s time now to experiment with more disruptions in education. I’ve learned new ideas about education and I’m going home with the conviction that we’re heading in the right direction. Now when we talk about concepts like artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and data science, these are new programs that are opening up for all women. This is the language of the world, not just for Saudi Arabia,” she said.