Hussain Sajwani is a household name in most parts of the world. One of the worlds richest men, he came from humble beginnings and built a real estate empire, and helping to drive one of history’s most abundant real estate development expansions ever. He lived a Cinderella story to be sure, until it all came crashing down with the real estate collapse of 2008. Not one to be deterred, he dug into the ruble and has since rebuilt his empire once more, this time bigger, stronger, and more durable than before. How did he do it? To understand that you need to understand the man that we are talking about. Only then, can you grasp the thought process behind an answer that he gave during a recent interview on the subject. When asked about his rise and fall “did you foresee what would happen?”, he replied, “No of course not, but what I did see was an opportunity!”
Hussain Sajwani started out as the son of a small shopkeeper Ali Sajwani. His father sold a wide range fo good, mostly business clothing, up-market ink pens, and fine watches. He would travel the world to find good deals, and along the way, he would dabble in real estate and other ventures. He would often pick his son up from school and bring him to the shop where they would sit and his father would talk for hours between helping customers. It was in those formative years that Hussain would learn so many of the lessons that would help him rise to the top of the financial and real estate worlds, twice. While his father was speaking, he thought he was teaching his son the skills he would need to one day take over the shop, he had no idea that he was imparting lessons that would lead the boy to much bigger things.
As Hussain approached the age at which he would have to make a choice about his life, he decided that he didn’t want to be the man selling the items in the shops, he wanted to be the man buying them. He wanted to wear the expensive suits, own the fine cars, have the gold watch around his wrist. He didn’t want to do business with those who were successful and influential, he wanted to be successful and influential. The blow was tough for his father, but he loved his son and accepted the choice. The younger Sajwani soon earned a full scholarship to a prestigious medical university in Baghdad. He did well, but found that the passion for medicine that he knew he should feel was simply not there. Instead. his mind was consumed with thoughts of the men who used to do small real estate deal with his father on the side. He knew that the same principles that his father had taught him about selling vests, underwear, and ink pens could be applied to selling things of much greater substance and value such as real estate. He left the school and returned home to begin the development of what would be the first fledgling incarnation of the DAMAC Group.
As DAMAC owner he would lead the company in a wide range of paths. He had a real estate business, holdings in the gas and oil markets, a catering company and more. Each of the arms working in concert with the other. Soon the most successful of the branches proved to be the real estate development arm. Within a few short years, DAMAC was the listed developer of millions of square feet of space catering to the luxury retail, business, and residential market. Investors wanted to get involved, resources and assets were growing fast, and even the most powerful and influential real estate developers in other regions wanted to partner with the DAMAC owner and his company. Future president of the United States Donald Trump even worked with Sajwani on two massive golf course and country club development projects. Life was good, but Hussain Sajwani, like so many others had no idea that a disaster of epic proportions was on the horizon.
The collapse hit DAMAC hard, just as it did just about everyone else in the real estate world. Steps were taken to try to soften the blow, but they were like a band-aid on a gunshot wound. Resources disappeared, investors were both lost and angry, and the market seemed like it was in a freefall that would never end. DAMAC did its best to ride out the storm, but not even the highly skilled Hussain Sajwani had any idea when the fall would stop or how much of the company he had worked so hard to build would be left when the dust settled. Luckily, there was enough to start the process of building again. Soon Sajwani healed the broken relationships fortified the resource pools as they started to be replenished and began to find new ways to shield assets from future uncertainties. Along the way, new deals were forged and old ones restarted. He had done it, the impossible, once again. Today the DAMAC Group is bigger and stronger than it ever was before the collapse, but it’s is also safer and more guarded.
When asked how he did it Hussain Sajwani smiles and says, “I saw an opportunity, and I took it”. It is the kind of answer that at first may seem bombastic, but after you get to know the man, you understand that there is really no other answer that you should expect, or that would be as fitting.