Mohanad Alwadiya is the founder of Harbor Real Estate Dubai and is considered by many as one of the property industry’s most dynamic practitioners. He is an award-winning real estate professional and entrepreneur who, as the CEO of Harbor Real Estate, has set new standards in providing real estate investment and management solutions to Harbor’s clients, and has led to Harbor Real Estate’s winning the highly-coveted title of “Best Agency for Property Management” in the Property Times People’s Choice Awards 2015.
Mohanad’s achievements have emanated from his success in developing the industry-leading capabilities of Harbor, resulting in exceptional results for the multibillion dirham portfolios held by clients such as National Bonds Corporation, Investment Corporation of Dubai, Al Thani Investments, Daman Investments, Tadhamon Islamic Bank, Amlak Finance and Global Investment & Development.
Mohanad is also considered to be one of the most candid, insightful, and eloquent commentators in the UAE property market, whose extensive experience makes him a reliable industry resource. He is renowned for his professionalism, incisive analyses, and astute observations.
Global Millionaire recently caught up with Mohanad to discuss his journey as an entrepreneur and here’s what went down:
Could you please tell our readers a brief background about yourself and how you started your business?
I am fortunate and thankful to have grown up in the UAE, a land of boundless opportunities. People talk about the American dream. Well, I have lived the UAE dream.
I guess I realized what my personal possibilities and opportunities were when I was completing my Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a double concentration in Marketing and Advertising from the American University in Dubai. I remember those days very well because I really felt that the world was truly at my feet.
I started my career at Leo Burnett, a Chicago-based multinational marketing services group of companies with offices throughout the Middle East and I’m proud to say that I became the most-awarded Communications Director during my seven years there. This period of my career really prepared me for success because of the vast amount of learning that I received from, not only the Leo Burnett organization, but also from the excellent clients from various industries that it was my pleasure to work with. Those were happy times!
However, having descended from a real estate family, I soon realized that my passion was real estate so I launched my real estate journey and was soon Head of the Projects Marketing and Sales Division for the global real estate arm of Dubai Holdings. Once again, the knowledge that I absorbed and the experience I gained from being part of this great organization really gave me the confidence to start my own business launched as Harbor Real Estate Dubai.
Over the last 20 years, I have also obtained a master’s degree in property management from the University of Salford, published two books about real estate and one of them became the best-selling book in the Middle East, and hosted the top-rated radio and reality-TV property shows in the Arab World.
What are you currently doing to maintain/grow your business?
I won’t bore you with a dissertation of the global economic carnage that COVID-19 created but in March of 2020, our initial objective was pretty basic … to survive in an environment with a set of dire circumstances that nobody in the industry had witnessed before!
We quickly realized that everybody was in the same boat and, in order to survive, we needed to maintain our competitive edge in the area of customer satisfaction. We knew our clients would require our assistance and that any recession, whether generated by a pandemic such as COVID-19 or by a financial crisis such as that in 2008, is all about being able to survive. It was tough and there were many sleepless nights during this period.
At Harbor Real Estate, we currently manage real estate portfolios with a total value of around AED 14.8 billion. So, there are lots of clients with lots of money invested that are relying on us. We take this responsibility very seriously indeed.
Obviously, we needed to adapt. This required a brutally honest assessment of our capabilities as individuals and the capability of Harbor Real Estate to continue to provide the services that our clients required during a pandemic and resulting economic turmoil on a global scale.
Thankfully, the country’s leaders showed great wisdom and resolve to enable businesses such as Harbor Real Estate to navigate their way through a very awkward period.
We realized early on that needed to make sense of the chaos and we determined that we required new solutions to meet new challenges and I think this is the greatest lesson that we learned at Harbor Real Estate during the Global Financial Crisis. Innovation and the ability to learn relevant to circumstances will always prevail regardless of what the circumstances are. This is the first time any of us had experienced a globally crippling pandemic and our experience, innovation and adaptability allowed us to keep serving our clients.
I recall the executive team discussing the Great Depression of 1929 whereby the first mistake that many companies made was to downsize their client servicing workforce. This action essentially compounded their problems because it affected service delivery and strangled revenue generation. This was one thing that we at Harbor Real Estate refused to do and during the course of the pandemic, we have actually grown our workforce by 38% and consequently managed to grow the portfolios we manage by more than 30%.
On the cost side, it was important to modify the business to reflect a more variable cost structure. Fortunately, we had always been conscious of overheads, particularly those that were fixed in nature and re-structuring the business to minimize those fixed costs was not too difficult to achieve. So, the focus was really on revenue generation complemented by realistic cost control measures designed to enhance productivity, not strangle operations.
Finally, it was about people. To develop and maintain a competitive edge any business must have a team dedicated to providing the best they possibly can for their clients. This includes not just generating the solutions but executing and delivering on promises as well. Harbor’s success can be attributed directly to the efforts of its people and I am so thankful to the Harbor Real Estate Team for their resilience and commitment during this difficult period.
What social media platforms do you usually use to increase your brand’s awareness?
I am active on all the key social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Tiktok, Linkedin, and Youtube. I’m glad that my efforts in producing relevant content for my followers consistently have paid off and today I have over 2.5M followers across my official verified social media accounts.
What is your experience with paid advertising, like PPC or sponsored content campaigns? Does it work?
There are so many variables that must be considered to determine whether a particular advertising approach is successful or not. What works for one organization will be totally different from what works for another organization. There are no set formulae for success.
At Harbor Real Estate, we believe that to really get to know our brand, you must meet it face to face. That’s why, in addition to my social media platforms and attendance at a wide variety of live seminars and conferences, we introduced the television program MEMAAR.
MEMAAR was the first-of-its-kind property reality TV show in the Middle East. The show is broadcasted exclusively on Dubai TV, part of the Dubai Media Incorporated and viewers can also follow the show online through awaan.ae.
The show was created to provide insights into the machinations of Dubai’s Real Estate industry in an entertaining yet informative way. We all know that Dubai is a preferred Real Estate investment destination with celebrities, successful entrepreneurs and the business elite from all over the world. The show allows the average viewer to appreciate the considerations, opportunities, and eventual decisions required to make a sound and lucrative purchase as the journey from the initial idea or need to the eventual purchase is captured on film and presented to the viewer in an engaging and entertaining format.
Even though the show features celebrities or high net worth individuals, it is interesting to note that many of the challenges and concerns that arise and are dealt with on the show are shared and relevant to the everyday property investor as well, whether they are a potential owner occupier or landlord in the making.
What is your main tactic when it comes to making more people aware of your brand? How did your business stand out?
It’s all about credibility, consistency, and constancy. My favorite 3 C’s.
I have said many times that I believe my value as a professional who has built a strong communication platform is in the field of Real Estate. I am not going to profess to be an expert on cars or fashion. That would not be credible.
In addition, I must be consistent. There are principles that I conduct my business by and I must abide by them at all times. I must be consistent in that what I recommend to people is based upon my best judgment, not what I believe my audience wants to hear.
And I strive to be ubiquitous or omnipresent. I want to be there when my clients or potential clients need me. I will not be a friend only for the good times, but I will be with you during the bad times as well. In this way, constancy will enhance my credibility and consistency.
What form of marketing has worked well for your business throughout the years?
Digital marketing including social media would be the obvious answer, but satisfying my clients and having them be advocates for Harbor Real Estate is by far the most valuable marketing medium that I have ever invested in.
What is the toughest decision you had to make in the last few months?
Surprisingly, there haven’t been any particularly tough decisions. There have been many decisions and many challenges but, with great support from the executive team, decisions have been relatively straightforward once we applied logic and common sense.
What money mistakes have you made along the way that others can learn from (or something you’d do differently)?
The biggest mistake I made regarding money in the early days was actually worrying too much about money. This can be debilitating and stop you from thinking creatively and logically.
Put simply, if you fully focus on understanding the problem, identifying the right solution, and implementing it properly, the money will take care of itself.
What new business would you love to start?
I’m so in love with real estate which is why I’m always investing and expanding across various geographies and asset classes in the field of real estate. On the other hand, given the major improvement in technology that the world is witnessing, I have been investing in tech companies and I’m in the process of launching a real estate focused Fintech firm.
If you could go back in a time machine to the time when you were just getting started, what would you do differently?
SLOW DOWN! I know it sounds strange but the overwhelming urge when I started out was that everything had to be done in the next hour!
With experience, you realize that every issue, challenge, or roadblock needs to be carefully considered and there is usually time to do that. Sometimes, to ’sleep on an issue’ resulted in much better solutions.
Also, I learned very quickly to explore multiple solutions to a problem. There will always be a logical ‘first’ solution. I learned with experience to try and come up with multiple solutions and either choose the best or see if a hybrid solution might work better.
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
Listen actively. If you are talking, you are not listening.
Empathy is key in my business. If people are looking to me for leadership or counsel, I must truly understand them and their situation. I can only do this if I listen actively.
What advice would you give to a newbie Entrepreneur setting up their first business?
The most important thing to do as a young entrepreneur is to be yourself.
Be yourself and be confident with who you are and what you can achieve. I believe that every entrepreneur must develop his or her own style to be consistent with who they are as a person and what they stand for. It’s virtually impossible to copy or emulate somebody else and maintain your credibility over the medium or long term. People are generally very astute at detecting someone who is not genuine.
I try to learn continuously. No person, entrepreneur or otherwise, is the encyclopedia of all subjects. I can learn from anybody as long as I am willing to. While I try to learn from others around the world, I recognize that the true assessors of my capability and success are my clients. It is their opinion that really counts.
Of course, there are fundamental personality traits and behaviors which must always be observed … honesty, transparency, consistency, good communication skills. But I still maintain that being yourself is your biggest asset.