In the zone

Salma Hareb, CEO of Dubai’s Jebel Ali Free Zone (Jafza), talks to us about the future of this ever-expanding business hub.

Salma Hareb means business. Since 2005 she has been in charge of one of Dubai’s major economic drivers, Jebel Ali Free Zone (Jafza), home to more than 7,300 companies, including 120 Fortune Global 500 enterprises. Jafza and DP World, which operates Jebel Ali Port, have helped secure the emirate’s position as a global trading hub and Salma’s quest is “to provide our customers with unbeatable logistics infrastructure, using the world’s best multimodal connectivity to enable them to reach any part of the world at the fastest pace.” Here she talks to Delivered. about her role in business and in life.

Jafza is going from strength to strength. What are the latest developments?

Jafza‘s focus has been on physical goods movement. We are now moving toward market places, connecting physical goods with people. Recently we launched Halal Food Zone and an ecommerce hub within TechnoPark (a sister company of Jafza). We are also developing more efficient and new ways for customers to access capital through NASDAQ Dubai. Businesses are always in search of capital and the equity market serves as an important source. We also continue to develop infrastructure across all Economic Zones World properties, and will be investing more than AED1.3 billion for infrastructure development up to the year 2018.

Looking into the future, where do you see Dubai, in terms of growth and in terms of trade and logistics?

Dubai and Jafza would become a destination for trade, finance and tourism, by creating marketplaces. Within trade and logistics, Dubai would become a destination marketplace for more vertical markets for different products and services such as food, automotive, medical equipment, pharma and fashion, serving MEASA (Middle East, North Africa and South Asia).

How will the development of Etihad Rail, and of the GCC Rail Network, alter the way that goods flow? Do you believe you will be able to capitalize on these, and how?

The upcoming Etihad Rail and Dubai’s link to the GCC rail network will complete Dubai’s multi-modal transport model. Etihad Rail augments Jafza‘s superb multi-modal offering as trains will pass through the free zone, and provide a consistent and predictable option for GCC-bound freight.

Dubai has just won the bid for Expo 2020. What does this mean to the emirate, and will this also have an effect on Jafza?

We have already begun to see the positive effects on the economy, as all sectors start gearing up for massive developments. Overall, the Expo 2020 will have a trickledown effect on all sectors of the economy. In addition to the construction and industrial sectors, we are especially expecting a boost in the hospitality and services sector, as the country prepares to host more than 25 million visitors during the 6-month event.

As the premier free zone in the region, a boost in Dubai’s economy will certainly have an impact on Jafza as well. The Expo 2020 site is practically next door to Jafza, and this provides our customers with tremendous opportunity to be part of the general development going on in the area.

Do you foresee competition from neighboring countries or Abu Dhabi, which are also building up further their trading and logistics capabilities?

Competition has always existed, and it’s always growing. Our goal is to continue to adapt to the external environment and remain the leaders of change in the industry. Despite the proliferation of free zones, Jafza has continued to lead innovation. We continue our pursuit for excellence and continuously improve our infrastructure and services to stay ahead of the curve.

You recently welcomed the first delivery drone at Jafza. Do you see a future where drones will be used for transport, and are there any plans for Jafza to do so?

The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle for delivery we tested recently is one of the many concepts and ideas we are constantly vetting to improve the quality of service. Delivery of time-sensitive documents and packages etc. may be one application of UAVs in the future. If it is found to be feasible, we will certainly be adding it to our repertoire of services.

In a male-dominated industry such as logistics, how do you see women bringing change?

I don’t believe there is a difference between genders. What I bring is my passion and the belief that we have what it takes to achieve No. 1. Women can do anything they set their minds to. It’s the amount of work and determination that makes the difference, not gender.

Some of our readers may be surprised to see a female business leader of your stature in a Muslim country. What would you like to tell them?

Islam is one of the most forward-looking religions the world has ever known. It is, unfortunately, the vested interest of individuals that end up giving it a bad name. The rights and privileges afforded to women in Islam are unprecedented, and Islamic history is rife with examples of women leaders in all fields of life, including trade and business. In the UAE we are fortunate to have leaders who understand the essence of Islam and encourage women to play their part in national development in all fields of human endeavour, from homemaking to business.

What are your interests outside work?

In the new world economy, work and personal life are highly integrated. We are connected 24/7. But I continue to enjoy time with my family, working out and learning through reading and meeting interesting people. I am a fan of design and art, and have a passion for beauty and decorating. I enjoy cooking in the little free time that I get.

In business and in life, what drives you?

We need to always strive for something greater than ourselves. My focus on my children and their growth is my passion. Developing Economic Zones World, and the EZW family to strive for No.1 gives me the energy and the joy to pursue the day-to-day activities to serve our customers and other stakeholders.  Michelle Bach


Published: March 2015


About Jebel Ali Free Zone

Established in 1985, Jafza is one of the world‘s largest free zones, covering an area of 57 sq km and host to some 7,300 companies from 125 countries. In 2013, its non-oil trade amounted to $90.2 billion. Jafza shares a location with the world‘s largest man-made port, Jebel Ali Port, which means it is able to facilitate excellent sea connectivity with 170 shipping lines around the world. The largest container port between Asia and Europe, Jebel Ali has the capacity to handle 15 million containers annually. 

More info on Jafza: tinyurl.com/del-jafza

About Salma Hareb

Salma Hareb is the first woman to be appointed CEO of a free zone in the Arab world. She was recognized as the second most influential Arab woman in Government in the Middle East and North Africa region by Forbes Middle East in 2013; and rated among the 100 most powerful Arab women by CEO Middle East, as well as the Asian Business Magazine. As head of Economic Zones World, she leads Jafza, Technopark, and AutoZone. Among the strategic developments she has led is the creation of Dubai Logistics Corridor, between Jebel Ali Port, Jafza and Al Maktoum International airport, designed to handle 12 million tons of freight under a single customs bond.


Photo: Jafza