In a country where the epithet “visionary” is sometimes overused, Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair is one of the UAE businessmen who can genuinely lay claim to the title.
He has played a central role in the financial life of the country, both as the head of Mashreq and since 2012 as the chairman of the UAE Banks Federation. With a clutch of other board positions at key companies here, and a role at several global bodies, as well as a trophy cabinet full of business awards, Mr Al Ghurair presents a modern and progressive image of the UAE to the world.
He is also one of the most media-friendly personalities I have come across in the region, comfortable with journalists and equally happy, it seems, to swap small talk about the weather with a crowd of hacks as he is to give insightful comments on some of the complex issues facing the financial industry today.
At a gathering of financial professionals in Dubai recently, one of the speakers paid tribute to the role he has played as chairman of the Dubai Financial Services Authority. Mr Al Ghurair has stepped down from the DIFC chair, leaving Essa Kazim (another senior figure who is no slouch in the field of media relations) to take on an enlarged role as combined chairman and governor.
“I’m genuinely sad to see Abdul Aziz leave the chair,” said Jeff Singer, who as chief executive of the DIFC Authority has been reporting to him for the past couple of years. “I always found him tough but fair, always persuaded by logic but never by emotion.”
Mr Al Ghurair remains the DIFC’s deputy chairman.
I had the great pleasure recently of meeting Abdelrahman Abbar, a Saudi lawyer who lives some of the year in Dubai, mainly so he can keep up with his passion, the royal game of polo.
How I met him is a story in itself. Amira, my five-year-old daughter, is going through a horsey phase at the moment, so one Friday recently headed off to the Dubai Polo Club to see the horses … sorry, ponies, as they’re called in the polo fraternity.
We saw plenty of them on a beautiful afternoon at Arabian Ranches. “Look, horses playing football,” exclaimed Amira, engrossed in the spectacle.
But I also noticed what big business the game is. Apart from the affluent patrons of the club – I’ve rarely seen so many Porsche Cayennes in one location – sponsorship of the game is obviously an increasingly big draw for the likes of Al Habtoor, Emirates NBD and the luxury car maker Bentley. All were fully on display at the playing fields.
Chatting to a banker decked out in full polo kit, I asked who the big players were in the game, and he replied unhesitatingly “You must talk to Dr A”, the name by which Mr Abbar is known on the polo circuit, and he gave me his phone number.
A couple of calls later, I was being entertained in Dr A’s beautiful apartment at the World Trade Centre, having the history and mysteries of the game explained to me, a complete polo novice.
“It is the king of sports, and the sport of kings,” said Dr A, explaining how it originated when a conquering Mongol Khan would use the head of his defeated opponent as the ball in an impromptu match.
Fascinating, and a subject I feel needs some proper investigation, both as a sport and as business.
I have a new favourite restaurant in Dubai. The Ivy in Emirates Towers, which has been challenging La Petite Maison in DIFC as my number one choice, overtook its rival last Friday evening, after a sumptuous Valentine’s dinner. Mrs Kane was impressed. Many thanks to Niki Robinson, the manager, for a memorable evening.