The Business Year

Said G. Daher

LEBANON - Tourism

Fashion Conscious

CEO, Azadea Group


Said G. Daher is CEO of Lebanon-based Azadea Group Holding. Said has played an integral part in the development of Azadea; he was appointed as Director of Operations in 1995, CFO in 2000, COO in 2005, and then CEO in 2008. He holds an MBA from the Booth School of Business, University of Chicago, and a BA from the University of North Texas. Said is a founding member and sits on the Azadea Foundation Board; he also serves as a board member of Bader Young Entrepreneurs Program, which promotes private initiatives by inspiring a younger generation of entrepreneurs.

Could you talk about the origins of the company? The group started in 1978 with a small store in Hamra. We had always been a small business until 1997-1998, when […]

Could you talk about the origins of the company?

The group started in 1978 with a small store in Hamra. We had always been a small business until 1997-1998, when we acquired one of the largest fashion houses. And we have been growing quite rapidly ever since.

What have been the most important milestones for the company in terms of brand acquisition and expansion?

I think 1997 would be a turning point. That was when we were introduced to the Spanish fashion houses. The first store we opened was Mango and then Zara. We were lucky in acquiring these brands that were sought after by many consumers in other regions. They provided us with an opportunity to grow and expand in the MENA region.

How successful has your diversification into the sporting goods sector been?

Decathlon is a well-known brand in Europe. If you look at the region, you will find numerous premium sporting goods, and there are a lot of low-priced sporting goods. Decathlon is actually filling the gap quite well. It fits our DNA, our group, and our business model.

How is your company looking to leverage your relationship with Virgin?

Virgin is an amazing brand and we first opened in a store in Dubai. We felt that our consumers would benefit from having it in the market to contribute to a wider range of product offering at more competitive prices.

Could you tell us about your collaboration with regional property developers?

We work with many real estate developers. Majid Al-Futtaim Properties and Abdullah Al-Futtaim are two of the largest property developers in the region. We have had relationships with both of them since the 1990s. It was in 1994-1995 when we started in Deira City Center with Majid Al-Futtaim. And we have strengthened these relationships since by working on many other projects, such as the Mall of the Emirates, Mirdif City Center, Bahrain City Center, Mall of Egypt, and the Dubai Festival City Center. We have opened about 20 plus stores as well as Cairo Festival City with Al-Futtaim Group Real Estate. And we are looking forward to operating more stores in Festival City.

How do you look to balance the presence of brands across your malls?

It depends on the property itself. If it is a large development, over 100,000 sqm in gross-leasable area (GLA), we like to bring a good anchor tenant into our portfolio, which normally requires about 25,000-30,000 sqm. If you look at the Gulf region, malls are actually places where our customers spend a lot of their leisure time. Malls tend to be the winners in the Gulf region.

What kind of trends can you see in the industry?

I think consumers are looking for affordable, fast fashion. Recent economic conditions mean that people and companies are trading down. The proliferation of malls in the market is a bit more dispersed. The Souks and Solidere zone are becoming quite important. They are now opening cinemas and entertainment centers, which attracts a lot of traffic.

Azadea group has a history of corporate social responsibility projects in Lebanon, what are you currently working on?

The environment is the cause that every Lebanese citizen can, potentially, benefit from. Therefore, we established the Azadea Foundation to organize and support environmental projects. Currently, we are renovating the largest park in Beirut, René Mouawad, Sanayeh Garden. I hope that there will be more companies that follow our example, and invest profits back into the country.

What are Azadea’s plans for the next few years?

We are looking at expanding into the shoe segment, and are always looking to add new and interesting fashion brands to our existing portfolio. Also, we are moving more into food and beverage formats. We have just opened our first Eataly store in Dubai. The brand is also in Turkey, Japan, and Italy, and there are some more stores to come.



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