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Business Leader of the Week: Meet Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, Chairman & CEO of DP World

IFM_Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem
Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem owns hotels on Nakheel's Palm Islands, and a stake in a real estate brokerage company

DP World is a worldwide logistics firm with its headquarters in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. It specializes in maritime services, free trade zones, port terminal operations, and freight logistics.

DP World, which was formed in 2005 by the union of Dubai Ports Authority and Dubai Ports International, handles 70 million containers every year that are delivered by over 70,000 vessels. Their 82 maritime and inland ports, which are spread across more than 40 countries, account for almost 10% of the world’s container traffic.

Prior to 2016, DP World largely operated ports around the world. Since then, it has purchased businesses at all points along the value chain.

In 1999, Dubai Ports International (DPI) was established. Its first project was with a local partner on the South Container Terminal (SCT) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Then, in 2000, DPI started operating at the ports of Djibouti, Vizag (India) and (Constanta) Romania. DPI purchased CSX World Terminals (CSX WT) in January 2005, and later in September 2005, Dubai Ports International and the Dubai Ports Authority formally combined to establish DP World. In March 2006, DP World paid 3.9 billion pounds to acquire P&O, the fourth-largest port operator in the world, continuing the company’s rapid expansion through acquisition.

Back then, many Americans found it to be highly contentious since DP World owned a number of US ports (which had been bought as part of the P&O agreement), even though the then President George W. Bush backed it. Major US ports in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Orleans, and Miami were operated by P&O.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which is chaired by the US Treasury Department and includes the Departments of State, Commerce, and Homeland Security, assessed the agreement before it was finalized.

Recently, DP World has emerged as a solo player in the cargo logistics industry. The company raised USD 3.25 billion in Islamic and conventional bond sales to refinance existing debt and fund expansion, and it had repurchased P&O Ferries from Dubai World in a 322 million pound deal.

The brain behind this successful venture is a 67-year-old Emirati businessman Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, who is the chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) of the company.

    Who is Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem?

  • Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem was born and brought up in Dubai, UAE to the most prominent political family. His father was a key advisor to Dubai’s ruling Maktoum family
  • He completed his bachelor’s degree in economics from Temple University in Philadelphia in 1970
  • After graduating from college, Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem worked as a customs officer at Dubai port
  • In 1985, he was appointed by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum to become the chairman of the Jebel Ali Free Zone (JAFZA)
  • Later, in 2007 Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem was made DP World chairman and was appointed CEO in 2016
  • In 2009, he was appointed as a board member of the Dubai Executive Council and the UAE Federal Tax Authority
  • In 2011, Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem helped establish and headed the DP World subsidiary private equity fund Istithmar World
  • He was awarded an honorary doctorate from Middlesex University in Dubai
  • Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem owns hotels on Nakheel’s Palm Islands, and a stake in a real estate brokerage company
  • According to Forbes Middle East, as of January 2023, Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem’s net worth is around USD 7.5 billion

‘Technologies are improving supply chain’

In an interview with Oxford Business Group, Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem talked about how new technologies are improving the efficiency and security of the maritime sector’s supply chain.

“By 2027 blockchain could store up to 10% of global GDP. However, it is only part of a much bigger picture in which technology will address future trends in the sector through innovation like artificial intelligence, 3D printing, automation, internet of things, big data and driverless vehicles and robotics are evolving rapidly to meet the evolution of on-demand logistics. By 2050 global freight transport will have quadrupled, with express delivery for high-priority shipments reaching USD 516 billion by 2025. E-commerce is set to grow to USD 4 trillion globally by 2030, driving a dramatic shift in both consumer and business behaviour. Demand for air-freighted high-priority goods is set to double over the next 20 years, straining already overburdened air, road and rail infrastructure,” he said.

“Taking these trends into account, we began to invest in Hyperloop technology, which we believe has the potential to revolutionise the supply chain in manufacturing. Our vision for DP World Cargospeed systems is to deliver on-demand freight at the speed of flight and at the cost of trucking. A four-day truck journey could be reduced to 16 hours and connect to other modes of transport, including ships, planes and autonomous vehicles. Hyperloop-enabled supply chains could dramatically impact bottom lines by reducing both finished goods inventory and required warehouse space by 25%. This would add up to far more than savings in transportation costs, especially for high-value and time-sensitive products,” Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem concluded.

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