Interview with Nakheel's CEO, Chris O'Donnell

16 November 2007

Chris O'Donnell, chief executive officer of Nakheel, joined the company in June 2006 from the Investa Property Group in his native Australia.

As Investa's managing director, he grew the firm from an $Aus800m ($704m) business in 2001 to an $Aus 6.2bn business in 2006. During this time he led the firm through a number of key deals including a hostile takeover of Principal Office Fund worth $Aus 1.9bn in 2003 and the acquisition of Clarendon Property Group for $Aus 645m in 2005.

O'Donnell has more than 30 years experience in the property sector across a broad spectrum of areas, including construction, project management, development management, fund management and asset management. Prior to joining Investa, O'Donnell held senior executive positions with Australian organisations including Lend Lease, Leighton and Westpac Banking Corporation.

O'Donnell was appointed a director of the Green Building Council of Australia in 2004 and is a fellow of the Aus-tralian Institute of Company Directors.

Is Nakheel planning to list on the Dubai International Financial Exchange?

Our sukuk [Islamic bond] offering suggests we will look at it in one to two years. It is an option, but there are others.

Why has Nakheel decided to put its residential assets into a real estate investment trust (Reit)?

We have a huge amount of residential stock coming online in the next year - for example, at International City and Discovery Gardens we are delivering more than 50,000 units between the two developments, of which Nakheel owns a significant proportion. Therefore, the timing was right and forms part of a wider strategy to evolve the business into a broad-based real estate company providing investment in development and asset management.

Were any other options considered?

Nakheel is always looking at different ways of raising finance: in the past year we issued the world's largest sukuk, worth $3.52bn, and an ijara [Islamic mortgage] facility. As the business has matured and we have moved into the delivery stage of our major residential projects, we are in a position to create a real estate facilities management business, so a Reit is appropriate. Rather than sell to external third-party, developers we have the option of selling property in a Nakheel-sponsored Reit.

Where will the first Nakheel International project be?

Not too far from Dubai. We are working through our [Nakheel International] strategy and coming to grips with our staffing needs. We are staffing and pursuing projects at the same time.

The company is recruiting 60 new staff a month. How does it fill that many positions?

It is not easy to find people. We are going from the design phase into delivery. We need a large number of project, development and business managers. But if people are going to come and work in Dubai then the Nakheel brand helps us.

How do you make sure projects are delivered on time?

Over the past 12 months we have ensured that the directors of each project are empowered and are held accountable for project delivery. I rely heavily on the directors of each project.
What is the purpose of the design group?

General managers [of each project] use the design group to work within parameters set by Nakheel. For example, when building villas and apartments across projects it ensures Nakheel standards, such as a shower detail. It creates efficiencies and ensures quality of design, and improves build-ability, which has an ongoing benefit from a maintenance point of view.

What is Nakheel's relationship with its sister company, Limitless?

They are predominantly international doing some work in Dubai and we are predominantly Dubai, doing some international. We work closely with them to ensure we do not compete [for the same projects].

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