Roots of a brand

Roots of a brand
Saba Tahir Fazal

From bridging the gap in Emiratisation to preparing the right tools for credible success, meet some of the faces behind DDF's Executive Team


Farhana Chowdhury

Published: Sun 23 Dec 2018, 11:59 AM

Last updated: Mon 31 Dec 2018, 2:12 PM

Saba Tahir Fazal | Senior Vice President - Purchasing

Saba experienced transitions in her career since joining DDF at its inception in 1983 as Merchandiser. While the Purchasing Department remained her forte, she was appointed in several positions until landing the role at Senior Vice President - Purchasing in 2016. Armed with the responsibility of developing product assortments in line with consumer and market trends, as well as managing sales and overall margins across all categories, Saba has seen DDF grow from a sapling to a refined establishment.
"The work ambience, teamwork and the amazing leadership of Colm Mcloughlin are the highights of DDF's professional environment. Dubai Duty Free in a nutshell means the world to me. Working here for over three decades has become ingrained in my DNA. I have seen it grow from strength to strength over the years under the strong and able leadership of Colm McLoughlin," she said, adding that growing with the organisation gives her an unparalleled sense of accomplishment. "Work hard, believe in yourself, be open to new ideas and stay humble," she said.

Sinead El Sibai | Senior Vice President - Marketing

Sinead had the opportunity to interact with DDF as an organisation early on while working for a PR and event agency. By the time she had joined the Dubai Duty Free Marketing department in October 2000, she was already familiar with Colm McLoughlin, George Horan, Anita Mehra, Bharat Godkhindi and Salah Tahlak. "I liked the attitude that everyone had who worked in DDF and when the opportunity came up to work in-house I didn't hesitate," she said.

Close-knit team
The Marketing team is a relatively small group led by Salah Tahlak, Executive Vice President - CS, that handles all of PR and Marketing activities in-house, with agency support for advertising and big events such as the tennis tournament.
"We are a close-knit team and work very well together in organising our events and sponsorships, including the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, which is owned and organised by Dubai Duty Free. We support many events both at home and overseas, including the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, and the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup," she said.
Sharing career highlights, Sinead said that she has had many great experiences working for Dubai Duty Free over the years. "Definitely one highlight was helping to coordinate the tennis match between Roger Federer and Andre Agassi on the eve of our DDF Tennis Championships in 2005. According to the ATP, the images were seen by half the planet. In this day of social media, I am sure we would reach a wider audience if it was done today," she said.

The future is bright.
With DDF's decades of adherence to its founding mission of providing customers with first-class customer service in a shopper friendly environment, offering value for money and a range of quality products while at the same time promoting Dubai to the world, Sinead believes that the future is bright for Dubai Duty Free as it continues to expand and improve its retail offers. "We have also embraced technology to drive our brand and to interact more with our customers," she said.

Impact of technology.
"From a retail point of view, technology is driving a great many changes in the retail world. Online sales are growing in this region and we have had an online offer since 2014, which we are currently revamping. Digital marketing is a key factor in reaching and retaining our customers and we have embarked upon a major investment in this field, which we will roll out in 2019. Our investment in technology extends to ensuring convenient payment methods for our customers and as a result we have Samsung Pay, Apple Pay and others, and are looking at Alipay as a payment method. Our Distribution Centre in Ramoul, from which all of our products are transported to the retail areas, is 95% automated. We could not handle the millions of transactions a year, that we do, without embracing the latest technology."

DDF at 35 years.

"I have worked with Dubai Duty Free since 1990, first from the Agency side, and in-house since 2000 and it has been a great experience which I have really enjoyed.  The Management team, headed by Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman & CEO, have created a great environment for all of our employees who are proud to work for this company. As a result, we are all excited to break a new milestone this year when our sales reach $2 billion."


Bernard Creed | Senior Vice President - Finance

Fuelled with passion Bernard Creed, Senior Vice President - Finance, started his journey in the Duty Free industry in 1998 where he had taken up responsibilities in manufacturing, telecoms, private practice and retail. His venture with Dubai Duty Free ranged from 2001 to 2007, and from 2010 to date. Bernard describes DDF as an environment with strong work ethics, with a dedicated and passionate team. "We all work hard. Business runs 24/7, so it never stops. However, we have a great team and never forget to have fun as well," he added.
DDF has been part of the airports' overall airport design from the beginning in order to accommodate passenger flow and behaviour. As it marches onwards, Bernard aims to conduct more research, data analysis, alongside access to innovative partnerships. "I feel that DDF will remain a top shopping destination for many years ahead," he added.
To date, DDF is the largest duty free operator at a single airport globally, and Bernard added that this success is thanks to the leadership of its EVC and CEO Colm McLoughlin.

Sean Staunton | Senior Vice President - Retail Sales

Keeping shoppers engaged is indeed a challenging task, and Sean is the man responsible for infusing life into the bustling arena. "Customer service is very important to our business. Even though we are a large retailer, we try to keep the personal touch in all we do," he said.
Dedicated to customers' demands, his department creates seasonal promotions and innovative schemes accordingly. It also gauges customer habits and consumption to guarantee satisfaction and enhance brand loyalty.
Staunton joined Dubai Duty Free in 2000 as a Retail Sales Manager. Since then, he had continued to excel, leading to his current role as Senior Vice President - Retail Sales in 2016. Prior to joining Dubai Duty Free, Sean worked with Aer Rianta International for 10 years working in such locations as Dublin, Cork, Shannon, Moscow, Kuwait, Bahrain and Syria.Adding to his notable background and regional experience since 1994, Sean is the former President of the Middle East and Africa Duty Free Association (MEADFA), former President of Dubai Celts Gaelic Athletic Association and former Chairman of the Dubai Irish Society.

Michael Schmidt | Senior Vice President - Retail Support

Michael Schmidt is the Senior Vice President - Retail Support for Dubai Duty Free. He had joined Dubai Duty Free in 2000 and has held the positions of Retail Manager, Merchandise Manager and Duty Manager. In 2011, he had joined the Executive Board of Dubai Duty Free.
He is part of the committee that planned and opened the Dubai Duty Free Operations in Terminal 3 Concourse B in 2008, Concourse A in 2013, as well as Dubai World Central in 2013, alongside the set-up of Concourse D, which opened on February 24, 2016.
Dubai Duty Free has an annual turnover in excess of $2 billion and is the single biggest airport retailer in the world, that offers a vast variety of merchandise in a world-class shopping environment with industry leading customer service. Michael is currently part of a team that manages 25 managers, 250 supervisors and 4,500 sales staff that does on average 76,000 transactions per day in a retail space of over 38,000 square metres.

Sharon Beecham | Vice President - Purchasing

Following a successful meeting, Sharon joined DDF's Operations Department in February 1998. Her journey involved leading the Merchandising Department and finally settling down as Vice-President - Purchasing.
"As a duty-free retailer, we try to position ourselves as a retailer of quality, with genuine products at competitive prices. Wherever we can, we offer exclusive items to travel retail or Dubai Duty Free. This is to create a point of difference for customers and give them a 'USP' that motivates them to shop. Customer service is also a KPI that we continue to excel at. The travel retail exclusives are at a significant number to date, developed by many brands," she said. DDF's products are as diverse as its passengers - from 22-carat gold, perfumes and mobile phones to chocolates, watches and fluffy camels, she added. The destination products showcase Dubai and make it easier for customers to find something to take back as a souvenir even if they are in transit.
"We are conscious of the limited time our customers have. With this in mind, we spend a lot of time with brands and discuss how to make it convenient for customers to make purchase decisions - be it through knowledgeable staff, easy to see and understand products, or non-cluttered environments."

Mona Al Ali | Vice President - HR Service Delivery

Twenty years ago, Mona Al Ali joined Dubai Duty Free as an intern for two months before moving on to the Human Resources Department to support DDF's Emiratisation initiative after graduation.
"My amazing journey in Dubai Duty Free is very interesting. In addition to my work, I handle lots of extra activities and participated in different cross functional teams that improve my understanding of the retail business," she said.
Mona has achieved a number of milestones, including increasing the number of UAE Nationals in the company, digitise some of the current manual activities, simplify the work processes to reduce cost and winning the Government Excellence Award - Administration Category representing Dubai Civil Aviation in 2003, in addition to lots of events participation certificates.
As an Emiratisation Coordinator, Mona had been involved in several campaigns, such as the Graduate Trainee Programmes for talented UAE nationals, where they have an opportunity to rotate in the department according to their major to understand the process and procedure of the DDF. To date, there are 95 Emiratis employed at DDF, where six are engaged in manager positions.

Allan Chapman | Vice President - IT and Logistics

The age of digitisation plays an ever-essential role to bring convenience and security in an organisation as massive as Dubai Duty Free, which is why Allan Chapman's position is crucial to ensure accuracy, track records, and recovery. "My journey with Dubai Duty Free began in 1987, when I'd arrived as a consultant for a local company that had been awarded a project for the 'computerisation' of DDF operations. Following the completion of the project, I went on to provide support to DDF and joined the company as an employee in February 1998," he said.
With the assistance of the I.T. department, DDF was soon on its way to carve a path of milestones as it became one of the first organisations to implement the Oracle e-Business Suite, alongside investments in business analytics. The I.T. Systems also help manage the inventory and provide support to the back office, which has resulted in the monthly accounts to be issued within three to four days after the month end. "It has been my privilege to be associated in all of these projects and I wish to acknowledge the support that I have received from Colm McLoughlin, EVC and CEO; Ramesh Cidambi, COO and EVP; and Salah Thalak, EVP - Corporate Services," he said.

Kumar Ananthan | Vice President - Finance

Kumar has been involved in some of DDF's major projects during his 25-plus-years tenure. It included the mega move to expand the retail area in Dubai International Airport - Concourse A, B, and D, for which the finance department prepared and led financial arrangements that involved syndicate long-term loans.
"As a team, our finance department has grown in strength with the leadership of our EVC and CEO Colm McLoughlin, COO Ramesh Cidambi, and SVP Finance Bernard Creed. We have undertaken major sponsorship events in these past years, such as the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Tournament, Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, and horse racing. Furthermore, we have built the Dubai Tennis Stadium to host tennis tournaments, alongside The Irish Village and Century Village to enhance hospitality within the venue. We then extended our presence in the hospitality industry with Jumeirah Creek Hotels, a five-star hotel that highlights Dubai Duty Free leisure," he said.
Kumar added that the prospects at DDF are very bright, notably with the future expansion of Al Maktoum International Airport (AMIA) at Dubai World Central, coupled with the upcoming Dubai Expo 2020.

Zayed Al Shebli | Vice President - Loss Prevention and Corporate Security

Zayed made a transition from the HR Department in 2001 where he had handled government services, to a restructured Corporate Security Department in 2009. Since undertaking his appointed role,  he had successfully established its strategy and procedures, and unified the team to achieve department and company targets.
"Building my team capability was my initial concern, hence I urged them to be trained on many aspects of security and loss prevention operations, as well as develop personal skills, professional behaviours and customer service," he said.
With the support of the higher management, Zayed was able to provide the appropriate resources and introduced advanced technologies to ensure professionalism in all work aspects. "I believe that we have built a good team - from Internal Security to Loss Prevention and Corporate Security department - that is able to handle security operations professionally at the Dubai Airports, DDF Distribution Centre and DDF staff accommodations," he added.
Zayed was behind the opening of a DDF shop in Hatta in 2012 that serves over two million travellers annually.

Sinead El Sibai
Sinead El Sibai
Bernard Creed
Bernard Creed
Sean Staunton
Sean Staunton
Michael Schmidt
Michael Schmidt
Sharon Beecham
Sharon Beecham
Mona Al Ali
Mona Al Ali
Allan Chapman
Allan Chapman
Kumar Ananthan
Kumar Ananthan
Zayed Al Shebli
Zayed Al Shebli

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