Cover Story: Amira Sajwani – Journey of an Emirati Role Model and Business Woman
Kasun Illankoon spoke to Amira Sajwani, Senior Vice President – Operation, DAMAC Properties, about her role in the company and how DAMAC properties continue to create an unique experience for their consumers
Amira Sajwani, Senior Vice President – Operations at DAMAC Properties, is in charge of day-to-day operations across DAMAC Properties, ensuring that cross-function teams are working closely to deliver dream homes and thriving communities.
“As always, as a real estate developer, we consider our customers and our operating environment equally important. As a company that is UAE based, we aim to support the needs of the economy and of the people who call it their home,” said Amira.
Within her expansive portfolio, she oversees the operations of DAMAC’s network of agents both locally and internationally, and plays an instrumental role in developing agent programmes and initiatives, which strengthens partnerships, and empowers agents with the tools they need to sell more effectively. She also oversees the recruitment and development of customer relationship management team members, and the digitalisation of customer portals and services.
Many of Amira’s earlier days were spent working with DAMAC’s Commercial Department, where she was able to gain experience of project management and international development from the inside.
Amira also worked closely with DAMAC’s Chief Finance Officer, which helped her develop an understanding and interest in private equity as well as mergers and acquisitions. This was instrumental in her decision to pursue a Masters in Corporate Finance.
The skills she gained during the cross-training, coupled with her post-graduate education, ensured that Amira was destined for a successful career in real estate.
“The common objective for all of us at DAMAC is to enable the creation of sustainable communities. To achieve this goal, and in my current role in the company, my primary focus is on our partners’ division, which deals with our vast network of agents and brokers. I work very closely with our agent’s network, and I aim to improve the synergy between them and our internal teams.
DAMAC has very recently launched an agent’s loyalty programme and an online platform which is aimed at creating better engagement and improving efficiency. We are also working on many other initiatives that will help connect customers with their dream homes,” said Amira.
Hussain Sajwani Influence
“My brothers and I have inherited the entrepreneurial spirit from my father who has always inspired us to develop an innovative approach to business. Having an entrepreneurial mind-set is crucial when it comes to approaching challenges and opportunities. It enables me to stay committed to the vision of the company while encouraging creativity and innovation within my team.
In an environment that is rapidly evolving through technology and people, I think being business-focused and business-savvy is what sets you apart from the crowd, and I truly believe that all of us don the entrepreneur hat at some point in our careers. I’ve grown alongside the growth of DAMAC Properties, and I have vivid memories of my father taking us to the site of DAMAC’s first project, Marina Terrace, passionately explaining every tiny detail of the project to us. Ever since then I’ve wanted to be a part of his vision, and I’m grateful that I’m able to contribute in meaningful ways now.”
Amira’s father, Hussain Sajwani, Chairman of DAMAC Properties, is a pioneer of the property market expansion in Dubai. In the mid-90s, he built several hotels to accommodate the growing influx of people coming to the emirate to do business and trade. In 2002, he identified a growing market opportunity and established DAMAC Properties, which has grown to become the one of the largest property development companies in the Middle East.
“My father has been a great source of inspiration, both in my professional and personal life. The valuable lessons that I have learnt from him have had the most transformative impact on me. His phenomenal entrepreneurial journey and his deep sense of serving the community have shaped my understanding and idea of business and leadership. I also find his passion and involvement in the day-to-day operations of the company very inspiring. For me, he will always be my role model,” said Amira.
DAMAC’s performance in 2019
“Considering prevalent softer market conditions and the current imbalance between supply and demand, our strategy is focused on delivering projects that are in the development pipeline, while limiting new launches,” remarked Amira.
In 2019, DAMAC delivered 3,072 units in first nine months of the year. This also includes the first ever handover in AKOYA, the Company’s largest master development.
“We have awarded contracts worth nearly AED 500 million in the first two quarters of the year for completion across key projects such as AKOYA, DAMAC Towers by Paramount, and DAMAC Maison Privé, among others.”
“We are the only company in the Middle East & GCC who have paid down total debt by 30% in the last 12 months. This was paid by cash from operations, and this is a sign of strong cash flow generation and sensible balance sheet management. We have increased our collections, cut our receivables and controlled operational costs even as we see the emergence of risky, long-term customer payment plans that are available in the market today. Our strategy has always been dependent on market conditions, and being an agile organisation, we are able to switch gears easily and adapt based on the needs of the market,” said Amira
“Dubai’s real estate market is maturing as it evolves into a market where people are looking for homes, and not just assets. While the market has been soft in terms of prices, the long-term outlook is positive. Key government initiatives such as the introduction of long-term visas for investors and skilled professionals, 100% foreign ownership of businesses, and the establishment of the Higher Committee for Real Estate Planning will provide a long-term boost for Dubai’s real estate sector. The economic impact of the upcoming Dubai Expo 2020 will also drive traction for the real estate sector.”
Earlier this year, DAMAC introduced Zada, a community-inspired residential property in Business Bay. Overlooking the Dubai Canal, the project features one-bedroom luxury homes along with world-class amenities such as an open-air cinema, a wellness centre, landscaped gardens, and swimming pool, among others. Zada is DAMAC’s response to a growing demand for accessible luxury homes and offers the perfect combination of location, luxury lifestyle, and value for money.
“At DAMAC, we have always believed in developing real estate that aligns with the aspirations of Dubai and the vision of the country’s wise leadership. As Dubai evolves into a place where people are looking to settle for the long term, we have shifted our focus on creating mixed-use communities that offer the perfect environment for families. Our master communities, DAMAC Hills and AKOYA, serve as ideal examples of community living spaces that appeal to every aspect of human life. Moreover, we approach real estate as a service and not just a product. Through effective community management, we activate our communities by organising events and activities that bring residents together to do what they love. Within the last two years, in our master community DAMAC Hills, we have welcomed more than 6,000 residents who enjoy a holistic lifestyle that is secluded enough for peace and quiet, and is only 30 minutes away from the bustling heart of Dubai.
On the construction front, we also have an expert team who incorporates innovations in real estate technology to achieve significant efficiencies on various fronts, an example of which is ‘framework construction’, a methodology that streamlines construction and helps save time,” said Amira.
When asked about what makes DAMAC’s project so unique Amira pointed out that their unique brand of luxury and our ability to gauge the present and future aspirations of our customers set us apart in Dubai’s real estate market.
“Our projects are designed to serve as wholesome communities where residents can live fulfilling lives. As a leading real estate developer, we have been at the forefront of the many phases of Dubai’s real estate sector, and we have delivered over 27,400 residential and hospitality units till date. Through our human-centred approach to real estate, we have created some of the most iconic projects in Dubai that have offered continued value to both investors and residents. Building on our success in the Middle East, we have also expanded to international markets like London and the Maldives, where we’re developing differentiated living experiences that complement the local culture.”
“Right now, the biggest challenge facing Dubai’s real estate market is the imbalance between supply and demand. At DAMAC, we have taken proactive measures such as limiting new launches and focusing on delivering existing projects. If the industry takes necessary steps to strike the right balance, we will be out of the woods and back on our trajectory of growth. At DAMAC, we are focused on the realities of demand, both in terms of quantity and type. It is interesting to note that we are witnessing a stabilisation in prices in certain areas, which signals a recovery of the real estate market,” said Amira.
Women in Construction
The “glass ceiling” still exists in many occupations and industries, including the construction. There are a variety of reasons why women have a hard time breaking through but this seems to be changing.
The construction industry is not homogeneous; it embraces a wide range of activities, products and skills. It includes design, building, civil engineering, oil and gas, heavy engineering, design and consultancy, and companies manufacturing and fabricating components and products used by the industry. Companies range from those employing over 5,000 people to small and medium sized enterprises that are the backbone of the industry. A multitude of skills and trades make up the workforce. The industry has changed significantly over the past decade, with new forms of procurement, partnering arrangements, increasing use of design and build with more integration between design and production, greater use of off-site pre-fabricated components, customisation of standard components, a new culture of health and safety, more use of product skills as opposed to trade skills, and more specialisation.
Due to this transformation, Amira believes that the industry itself is becoming more inclusive.
“The real estate sector, which was once considered to be a male-dominated industry, is becoming more inclusive of women. Today, women are transforming the real estate industry as professionals, agents and inspiring leaders. Women bring a unique set of skills that make them especially fit for the real estate sector, and these are inherent attributes such as active networking skills, the ability to quickly gain local expertise, multi-tasking and strong negotiation skills. At DAMAC, we strongly believe in the value that women bring into the business. Currently, women represent around 30% of our workforce, with the number steadily increasing year-on-year,” Amira said.
Amira’s rise to the top at DAMAC should not be a surprise. From an early age, Amira has been destined to be one of the leaders of the company and is seen as one of the top role models in the country. Her leadership and forward thinking decision making cannot be ignored by her peers and this ultimately will make her stand out more in the near future.