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Jasim Al Ali

UAE, ABU DHABI - Real Estate & Construction

No Place Like Home

CEO, First Gulf Properties

Bio

Jasim Al Ali is CEO of First Gulf Properties LLC. and Mismak Properties LLC., possessing extensive experience in asset management and a passion for service excellence and outstanding strategic thinking. He is also the chairman of both Green Emirates Properties PSC., and Sensaire Services LLC., as well as being a board member at Aseel Finance and Dubai First. Prior to joining First Gulf Bank PJSC as head of real estate he held many prominent positions and played a key role within Dubai Properties Group’s leadership team as vice president for Dubai Asset Management in 2010 and Executive Director of Salwan from 2008-10. He received his education at prominent institutions in the US and UK, and has an MBA from the University of Leicester, UK.

“There are always victims, whether it is the landlords or the tenants.“

How would you assess the development of First Gulf Properties during 2016?

First Gulf Properties has been present in the local market for a few years now with a diversified portfolio of 15,000 units across segments including residential, commercial, low-cost accommodation, industrial, and warehousing. Despite the market downturn, one of the great achievements of 2016 was to maintain our occupancy rate at over 90%. In financial terms, we have been able to collect over AED2 billion on the property management side, a cornerstone achievement for our stakeholders. The operating model of First Gulf Properties is totally different to other companies in the sector, as we have four stakeholders: the landlords and tenants, who are our two types of customers; the municipalities; ministries and other government authorities; and the banks. We successfully navigated the adverse environment of 2016 because of the focused, professional, and competent people we have, along with our good understanding of the market and the need for flexibility. We also make use of our negotiation skills to mould our operations according to market trends and push for regulations to be adjusted in order to safeguard the sector’s interests. This is one of our secrets to maintaining such high occupancy rates.

How would you describe your portfolio mix between high, middle, and lower-end real estate?

The inherent flexibility that characterizes FGP allows us to cover all the different segments of the market, especially in Abu Dhabi and we have high, middle, and low-cost properties. In 2016 there was a significant drop in demand for high-end properties because tenants started to become more cost-conscious and because this is an internally-driven market. We leveraged our portfolio in light of market conditions. For example, if a tenant has been living in one of our high-end properties, we can offer them alternative accommodation in the middle rental bracket. This is why we have been able to maintain our high occupancy rates and there has been no significant impact on us from changes in the market. We have a huge company with the appropriate economies of scale to cater to the economic cycle.

How would you evaluate the impact of the recently implemented Property Law in Abu Dhabi and how does it reflect on FGP’s daily activities?

Business planning and decision-making are based on analysis, information, and intuition. The impact of the new regulations is that we have started to see more analysis for future business growth, therefore creating a win-win situation for the authorities, the regulator, and us. Today we have the information we require about the number of people renting, what types of products are available, and so forth. It is a healthy environment for new businesses looking to establish themselves here, and for continuity and growth. At a personal level, I felt the market needed this new legislation in order to analyze and have a necessary breakdown of information about the sector. Moreover, regulations and guidelines are especially important in a market facing the volatility Abu Dhabi has faced over the last eight years. There are always victims, whether it is the landlords or the tenants, and regulations are implemented to protect against fluctuations in the market.

First Gulf Properties is a subsidiary of one of the larger banks in Abu Dhabi. How does this reflect in your operations?

It reflects in the solidity of our processes and the extensive customer base we have. We have strict credit guidelines under our business model, meaning we manage the mortgages until the property loan is over, mitigating the risks. We also have a property management arm to manage the collection. This is why we have to be unique and distinguished to ensure there is a return on the investment for investors who make the choice to use our bank. We provide an end-to-end service for landlords and property investors, we look at the property and its location before financing is given, and we make sure the loan repayments are made. One of our competitive advantages is the quality of the services we provide and the attention we pay to ensuring customer retention. This is why customers that use our bank tend to stay with us even after they have repaid their loan.

What do you foresee for FGP’s performance in 2017?

In 2017 there will be a merger that will yield huge opportunities for First Gulf Properties and our partner in terms of synergies. After the merger enters into effect in April 2017, we will become a market giant. We are looking forward to being able to leverage on our existing services and collaborations between both real estate arms and so forth. We already have activity with Reem Island, developing projects with over a couple of billion in investment. Abu Dhabi is unique in terms of its real estate demand and supply model as there is no volatility due to the regularized market. We are focused on building to lease at the moment and we will continue on this path during 2017.

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