The Sheikh CEO: Lessons in Leadership from Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum

“Over the course of just a few decades, Dubai has transformed itself from a spit of sand about the size of Rhode Island into the Singapore of the Middle East… it is a political, economic, and financial success story in a region torn by conflict. And it’s all the vision of one man: Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum” – Steve Kroft, CBS 60 Minutes

“The countries in the region need to study the ‘Dubai’ development experience and benefit from it”. “The real secret behind Dubai’s success is Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid. He has been able to capitalize on the core resources in the Emirate [of Dubai] and orchestrate those, build on current strengths, and create a positive attractive environment, at the same time when all the Arab countries have turned into a negative environment”. Mohammed Hassanien Heikal, 2013, Al Khaleej Newspaper

“Sheikh Mohammed is a beacon of positive energy. Learn from him & you will definitely succeed” Walid Al Ibrahim, Chairman, MBC, 2014

Dubai presented one the fastest economic growth stories in the world between 1975-2008. The Emirate’s GDP grew by a factor of 11 during that period. Between 1975 and 1990, it grew an average 6% annually, then 9% during 1990-1995 and an extraordinary 10% from 2000 – 2008.

Today, Dubai is home to one of the most successful re-export hubs in the world (such as Dubai’s Jebel Ali Port), one of the global aviation industry leaders Emirates Airlines, hosting global trade events like EXPO 2020, has the world’s tallest tower (Burj Khalifa), and – in 2014- the UAE was ranked # 1 globally “government trust” by the Edelman Trust Barometer survey. In 2014, the Dubai International Airport toppled Heathrow throne and became the busiest airport in the world.

Much more can be written about the rise of Dubai as a regional business and tourism hub, but this book is not about Dubai Inc., it is about its CEO. It is a book about his leadership style, with lessons on how to lead for success, whether you are building a nation, leading a firm, or working for global impact.

Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s name has come to be associated with bold visions, results delivery and execution, and a unique leadership style that led him to be known as the “Sheikh CEO”. Both by formal survey data and anecdotally, youth from the Arab world look up to the achievements of Sheikh Mohammed. During my lectures in the Middle East and globally over the past decade, the session on “Dubai Inc and the Sheikh CEO” is always the session that attracted the most positive comments and created positive energy. In fact, while working in public sector consulting for the past 15 years, the one question that always comes when talking about emerging markets case studies is “how did Dubai do it? In specific, how does Mohammed Bin Rashid do it? What is his secret?”.

The book presents the leadership style of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. A leader who believes that anything is possible with imagination. A leader who is passionate about innovation, obsessed with the number one, and one who does not see challenges, only opportunities. 60 years ago, Dubai was a city of merchants. Today, Sheikh Mohammed took them from being just merchants to being investors, and value creators, for Dubai, and the whole region.

This book is about leadership. About having a great vision, and making it happen. It is about resilience, innovation, and creating future leaders. It is about public leadership and building effective governments in the emerging markets that can lead social and economic development. It is about leading in an uncertain world.

It is written based on firsthand experience working for the Executive Office of Sheikh Mohammed for many years, as well as interviews with people who worked (and continue to work) closely with the Sheik CEO.

It is structured in six chapters, with lessons in leadership after each chapter.

1. The Rise of Dubai Inc.
2. Lead with courage and vision
3. Action trumps everything
4. Never believe that your work is complete
5. Surround yourself with strong leaders
6. Win hearts and minds

It concludes with an epilogue: We shall go to Mars.

Whether or not you aspire to be a political or public leader, any leader or manager can improve his or her capabilities by studying Sheikh Mohammed’s lessons in leadership.