13 May 2019
Emaar’s latest results, on the face of it, don’t make any sense to me. First, the facts: Emaar Properties has just announced one of its highest ever Q1 sales in its entire history. Between January and March this year, it raked in $1.628bn – a staggering jump of 53 percent on last year. Sales to international investors more than doubled to $1.063bn.
So hang on a minute, this is all getting very confusing already. I thought we are in the middle of a property slowdown/correction/crash (take your pick), with Dubai amongst the hardest hit. Everywhere you look, prices are falling, and supposedly, nobody is buying?
Yet Emaar has just had one of its best ever performances. What’s going on here? The best clue can be found in a speech Mohamed Alabbar, chairman of Emaar and founder of Noon, gave to the “Enabling local online opportunities” conference in March. In a performance that would make Anthony Robbins look like the shy kid in the corner of the classroom, he said: “If you do not work day and night and skip sleep sometimes, you will never make it. If you think you are dependent on luck, you will never make it.”
Imploring the culture of the army, he added: “If you want to live an army life, you will make it and no one can touch you. If you want to live a life where you make sure that you are home in the evening, you will be okay, you will make it – but not like the army people… Skip sleep, sleep when you are 50. Don’t sleep now. If you have a doctor, tell the doctor ‘what can you give me so I don’t get sick in the coming two years?’”
It’s worth noting that Alabbar’s Noon e-commerce empire was worth $1bn before it sold a single product. In another speech he made last year, he explained: “Digital customers are on 24/7, there is no time to close the shop. This 24/7 style is going to be the way we do business. There’s no nine-to-five now. If you do that, you will become irrelevant, you won’t belong.”
In other words, Emaar’s latest results may just boil down to two simple words: hard work. Yes, there has been good growth with international investors, better pricing plans and a raft of impressive new projects launched. But I’ve known Alabbar and some of his core team for over a decade.
They all have one thing in common: they work relentlessly, seven days a week, and often for more than 12 hours a day. You don’t get these kind of numbers by doing nine-to-five.
But this culture isn’t that popular with everyone. Jack Ma, the founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba, recently suggested that having his staff work from 9am to 9pm, six days a week (known as the 996 culture) was a “huge blessing.”
Soon came the backlash. Thousands of Chinese workers lambasted him online, while the “the world is against us” brigade joined in on social media from Siberia to Serbia. JD.com founder Richard Liu, who described people who didn’t embrace the 996 culture as “no friends of mine” got a good kicking too. In fact, it has become apparent in the past few weeks that anyone who publicly supports the 996 culture deserves a fate worse than working for Amazon.
"Emaar’s results prove that you can be an old-fashioned property giant, but still embrace modern digital working practices"
Part of the online backlash has been the “naming and shaming” of companies that embrace 996 – Alibaba, JD.com and Bytedance (the company behind TikTok) leading the pack. All three have something else in common – mega numbers: Alibaba’s profits were $10bn. JD.com’s share price can’t stop rising, it is now worth $30bn. And Bytedance last year completed $3bn of funding to make it worth $75bn, becoming the world’s biggest privately backed startup in history.
So where is this all leading to? Okay, I’ll admit, I rather miss the days of my first office job in 1990 when I showed up at 9am, had a coffee break from 10 to 10.15am, lunch from 12.30pm to 2pm, tea break from 3pm to 3.30pm and left work exactly at 5pm. That company went out of business in 1991.
With every aspect of our lives, both at home and at work, being digitised, it is hard to see how the world’s current “office culture” can survive another decade. And Emaar’s results prove that you can be an old-fashioned property giant, but still embrace modern digital working practices.