In a unique corner of Dubai, a modern-day palace with moorish architecture and an imposing entrance rises from the desert, arousing uncertainty over who will live there.
As several workers rush over the sprawling lot adjoining the fine land of Al Mamzar beach, local authorities are excruciating over the palace and the rest of the estate of Majid Al Futtaim, the patriarch of shopping and entertainment who died was an anchor of Dubai’s economy.
Family-owned businesses have been influential in developing emirates. A messy succession plan risks disruption and distraction just as the area looks to expand its economy away from a reliance on oil.
An associate fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, Christopher Davidson, said, “With so many other prominent family-owned partnerships in Dubai, the stakes are too high to let such succession conflicts bubble over.”
The inheritance of Al Futtaim was left unresolved when the octogenarian died last year in December. While the mansion was considered a residence for him and his third wife, the estate’s centrepiece is Majid Al Futtaim Holding.
Around $16.5 billion in assets is managed by the company, including a well-known indoor ski hall, the Carrefour hypermarket franchise in the Middle East and the affluent Mall of the Emirates.
It has activities in almost 17 countries, extending itself to Africa. Investors also hold $3.7 billion in corporate deficit.
MAF is now changing to multiple owners, and that process could apply the groundwork for more sweeping changes, as per the people related to the discussions.
The option is selling parts of the group, an investment by a sovereign wealth fund, as well as a public listing, said the people, who asked to keep their identity hidden because the discussions are personal. They said no talks are taken yet.
The process will take some time because the family and the company aspire to avoid disruption. The emirate looks to maintain its reputation as a relatively safe haven amidst the geopolitical disruption caused by the war in Ukraine.
To overcome any potential disputes, Dubai’s leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum appointed a special judicial committee, a relatively rare happening that will be committed for only high-profile cases.
The committee is led by Essa Kazim, chairman of the group that operates Dubai’s stock exchange.
Ten people, including his three wives, six daughters and one son, have claims on the estate, which was expected to be worth $6.1 billion at the time of the death of Al Futtaim.
The stakes in MAF have been discussed and registered, as well as a shareholder meeting is also being conducted for nine family members after the deceased’s wife from Abu Dhabi transferred her share to her daughters.
Apart from Tariq Al Futtaim, the only surviving son and a board member since 2011, none of the inheritors has played a role in the group.
“The company will resume running as it has been running,” said Habib Al Mulla, the lawyer for Tariq and his family, adding that Tariq’s objective is to remain a board member. “It had one owner, and now it has nine owners.”
Much work is being done on cataloguing, evaluating, and distributing Al Futtaim’s assets, such as aeroplanes and boats in different locations. All told, the legacy talks are likely to take at least a year, according to Al Mulla.
MAF, which professional managers have run for years, said it has “a clear and wide plan for sustaining normal operations” and pursuing its expansion strategy. It added that no decisions had been taken on any forthcoming listing or stake sales.