Jamal Al Sharif is helping Dubai become a major global player
In the span of just a few decades, the Emirate of Dubai has grown from a sparsely populated principality into one of the planet’s most prolific business hubs. Its crown jewel, Dubai City, glimmers like an oasis at the edge of the Arabian Desert; offering the promise of prosperity through an ever-expanding economy.
Jamal Al Sharif ’99 has had a front-row seat to Dubai’s meteoric rise since the turn of the 21st century. And when it comes to encapsulating the spirit and vibrancy of his beloved home city, he shares a phrase that just might become the region’s rallying cry: In Dubai, everything is possible, and nothing is impossible.
“His Highness (United Arab Emirates Vice President and Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum) once said that, and it resonated with me,” Al Sharif says. “He isn’t afraid to take chances, and his commitment to Dubai’s development is one of the reasons I’m where I am today.”
Where he is today is at the helm of Dubai Media City (DMC), a government-built business park that has become the central media hub of the Arab world. More than 1,800 companies occupy space in the DMC, and big-name media outlets, such as Reuter’s and CNBC, use the facility as the base of their operations in the region. The 37-year-old Al Sharif also oversees Dubai Studio City, a subsidiary of Dubai Media City that caters to film and TV companies around the world by providing studios, sound stages and other industry-related infrastructure for production purposes.
Not too shabby for a fellow who, 20 years ago, left Dubai for San Diego with little money … and even less of an idea of where his future would lead him. “When I came to the U.S., I did so with the intention of advancing my education,” he recalls. “I struggled with the language, I didn’t have a lot of money, and it was a very challenging time, as I’m sure it is for a lot of international students.”
After arriving stateside, Al Sharif spent time studying English, ultimately finding his way to Alcalá Park in 1997. Originally interested in engineering, he decided to take a few business courses at the urging of mentor and Associate Professor of Finance Dan Rivetti. Today, he is quick to credit Rivetti for helping him find his academic footing. “He really challenged me, but he also went out of his way to help me. I’ll never forget that.”
Al Sharif was also impressed by the work ethic of his peers in the business administration program, specifically the students who, like him, were not just learning new ideas, but a new language. “In several of my business classes, we would work in teams. It really helped me understand the importance of connection, and why connection is such a wonderful idea to carry forward into business.”
With his business administration degree in hand, Al Sharif then pursued a real estate license and began buying and selling properties in and around San Diego. The endeavor proved a profitable one, but in 2001, a life-changing opportunity appeared, and Al Sharif was soon packing his bags for a return trip to Dubai to work as a junior account manager for DMC.
Just over a decade later, Al Sharif has risen to the apex of Dubai’s communication division, and recently was named chairman of the board of the Dubai Film Commission. He also serves as the film and TV commissioner for the Dubai government, while still holding down his executive responsibilities with DMC, which include orchestrating their strategic and financial objectives, as well as making sure that each and every company within the massive, 22 million square-foot business park have optimized operational and technical support.
That mountain of professional responsibility would be enough to keep several people working full time, but Al Sharif remains unfailingly positive, and seems to relish the challenge.
“I’ve got a lot of responsibilities, but I’ve also got a lot of really intelligent, talented people working for me. We work together, establish goals and organize a plan to achieve those goals.” He exhales heavily, perhaps reflecting on the enormity of the challenge facing him, then adds with a laugh, “Remember, in Dubai, everything is possible, and nothing is impossible!”