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FB Roundup: Sheikh Maktoum, Ben Francis, Sam Zell

In this week’s FB Roundup: Sheikh Maktoum opens the Dubai Centre for Family Businesses; Gymshark founder Ben Francis plans to open more physical stores; and tributes are paid to billionaire real estate investor Sam Zell.
Sheikh Maktoum

Sheikh Maktoum opens the Dubai Centre for Family Businesses
As reported by Arabian Business, Dubai Chambers has launched the Dubai Centre for Family Businesses in the United Arab Emirates city.

The new hub will “foster the development of the family business sector and enhance its economic contribution to the Emirate’s strategic future plans” as it “launches initiatives to enhance the sustainability and growth prospects of family businesses in Dubai.”

With family businesses representing up to 90 per cent of all private companies in the UAE (according to 2021 statistics), multigenerational firms have played a huge role in shaping Dubai’s unique economic model and will be playing a major future role in “realising the goals of the Dubai Economic Agenda D33, which aims to increase private sector investment in development projects to $272 billion by 2033.”

“Ensuring the growth and sustainability of family businesses is a strategic priority and a core part of our vision,” said Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, who inaugurated the centre. “Family businesses represent a key pillar of the sustainable development process and a cornerstone of the future economy.

“The family business sector reflects our vision for excellence and our commitment to pursue new opportunities to achieve success.

“Ensuring a smooth leadership transition, preserving the family legacy, and strengthening governance are key priorities in our plans to preserve the fabric of our family businesses and prepare them for the future.”

The centre, which will work to develop the managerial skills of partners in family businesses (as well as founders, members and their children), will also provide suggestions for policies and initiatives for enhancing the sustainability of family businesses.

Programmes to be run at the centre include The Dubai Family Businesses Leadership Programme; The Next Generation Training Programme; The Governance Series; and The Advisors’ Certification Programme

“The inauguration of the Dubai Centre for Family Businesses is a progressive step to achieve the vision of the leadership to establish a robust support system for family businesses that unifies efforts to strengthen their development and enables them to face the challenges of the business environment,” said Abdul-Aziz Al Ghurair, chairman of Dubai Chambers.

“This, in turn, provides flexibility, which helps ensure the continuity of these companies and enhances their valuable contributions to the national economy.”

Gymshark founder Ben Francis plans to open more physical stores
Ben Francis, founder of Gymshark and the UK’s youngest billionaire, is forging ahead with plans to open more physical stores for his popular fitness wear brand.

Talking to The Mail, the founder and chief executive officer said the company is “looking at more new stores.”

“I don’t know what that looks like now, but these are conversations we’re going to be having over the next few weeks internally," he said.

The move comes after the 30-year-old launched the brand’s first physical outlet (including a gym, juice bar and hangout areas) on London’s Regent Street in October 2020.

“We actually signed that deal at the height of Covid,” Francis said of the flagship store. “There was a lot of uncertainty, but it felt like the right thing to do given our long-term aspirations to build out a 100-year brand.”

Francis created Gymshark in 2012 in his parents’ garage while still a university student. Predominantly through web sales, the brand’s revenue reached £484.5 million in the year through to July 2022, according to registry filings. In 2020, the US private equity company General Atlantic bought a 21 per cent stake in Gymshark, valuing the brand at more than £1 billion, boosting Francis’ stake to 70 per cent, which is now worth $1.2 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Tributes paid to billionaire real estate investor Sam Zell
Sam Zell, the renowned billionaire investor whose reputation for making bets on distressed assets earned him the self-applied nickname of “the Grave Dancer”, has died at the age of 81 due to complications from a recent illness.

“Sam Zell was a self-made, visionary entrepreneur,” read a statement released by his company Equity Group Investments. “He launched and grew hundreds of companies during his 60-plus-year career and created countless jobs.

“Although his investments spanned industries across the globe, he was most widely recognised for his critical role in creating the modern real estate investment trust, which today is a more than $4 trillion industry.”

Known for blunt way of speaking and rebellious persona, Zell was the Chicago-born son of Polish refugees who built a fortune in real estate investments. At his death, he had a net worth of $5.9 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Through Chicago-based Equity Group Investments, he became the city’s largest owner of office properties and apartment buildings and the biggest operator of mobile home parks. Meanwhile, his Falcon Building Products Inc. was the top domestic supplier of air compressors for home-improvement use, and his American Classic Voyages Co. and American Hawaii Cruises, were first in riverboat and Hawaiian inter-island cruises, respectively, according to Bloomberg.

“I’m a professional opportunist,” said Zell in an interview with The Associated Press. “I’m pretty sure that no matter what topic you pick, we’re involved in some way or another.”

Zell’s highest-profile venture was also his biggest failure when, in 2007, he sold the Equity Office Properties Trust to Blackstone Inc. for $39 billion. Then, going on to buy Tribune Co., owner of the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Newsday, the Chicago Cubs and a portfolio of television and radio stations, for $8.3 billion before filing for bankruptcy protection in 2008 as his leveraged debt became unpayable and he lost more than $300 million of his own money. Zell famously dubbed the acquisition a “deal from hell”.

Zell is survived by his third wife, Helen, three children and nine grandchildren.

“Sam lived life testing his limits and helping those around him do the same,” said Scott Peppet, president of Chai Trust Company and Zell’s son-in-law. “He was a self-made entrepreneur, an industry creator and leader, a brilliant dealmaker, a generous philanthropist, and the head of a family he fiercely loved and protected.

“He had an unapologetic passion for life, a brilliant mind, a contagious wit, and a deep sense of civic responsibility and personal loyalty. All those who loved and learned from him will miss him terribly.”

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