His Excellency Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, scion to one of Dubai’s most influential political and business families, is credited for coming up with the idea to create the Jebel Ali Free Zone (JAFZA), now the world’s largest free zone and one of few in the Middle East capable of berthing multiple era megaships with carrying capacity of 18,000 TEU and more.
According to historical accounts, Mr. Bin Sulayem, an economics graduate from Temple University in Pennsylvania, United States, got the free trading zone idea while working in the 1970s as a customs inspector at Dubai’s then dusty and sleepy port.
A conversation with a man who mistakenly came to his office brought up the subject and inspired him to travel around the world and study the tax-free zones in Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Honolulu, Dallas and New York. Convinced that Dubai, then heavily dependent on the pearl industry for its economy, would be better off as a free zone trading hub in the Middle East, Mr. Bin Sulayem broached the idea to the son of then Dubai ruler Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, now The Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
“If you really believe in it, you go run it,” Mr. Bin Sulayem, then 30, recalled Sheikh Mohammed as telling him in his narrative to Fortune Magazine in 2008.
Over the past 30 years since JAFZA was built, it has exponentially grown. Today, it’s a dynamic base for more than 7,000 companies from just 19 in 1985, including more than 100 Global Fortune 500 enterprises.
It sustains jobs for more than 135,000 people and generates more than 20 percent of the UAE’s foreign direct investment with a phenomenal trade value close to $70 billion.
“Although we have witnessed periods of economic volatility, Dubai’s trade patterns continue to display strong resilience….Dubai’s flexibility and ability to adapt to change and world-class infrastructure are paying dividends. The decision to diversify was taken over 30 years ago and is bearing fruit, focusing efforts on sustainable and accelerated growth. It has helped shift our reliance from hydrocarbons to a wider variety of sectors able to support the economy long term,” said Mr. Bin Sulayem in one of his public statements highlighting Dubai’s trade performance between 2014-2016 of AED1.276 trillion.
With a wealth of experience spanning three decades across a wide range of industries, Mr. Bin Sulayem’s expertise was again tapped as he was named Board Chairman on May 30, 2007 of DP World & Chief Executive Officer on February 8, 2016.
In his previous role as Chairman of Dubai World, he established and led diverse businesses, including Nakheel, a real estate and tourism property development firm and Istithmar World, a major global private equity investment house.
Mr. Bin Sulayem oversaw the rapid development of the Jebel Ali Free Zone into an unrivaled business park of more than 7,000 companies and pioneered the Dubai Multi- Commodities Center.
As Chairman of DP World, he has been at the forefront of the company’s international expansion, including the $6.85 billion acquisition of P&O Group.
Mr. Bin Sulayem is an Emirati and is a member of the Nominations and Governance Committee. He also serves as a board member for the Dubai Executive Council, the Dubai Economic Council, and as Non-Executive Director of Asteco LLC, Noor Bank and Hyperloop One.