Inspirational coffee moment with Colm McLoughlin

With Colm and Sinead…. movers and shakers behind the most successful brand in Dubai

After seeing Colm McLoughlin around town and in the media for over 11 years, I finally had a chance for a delightful chat with the man behind the most successful Duty Free retail venture in the world. I always wanted to do a blog on him so when our awesome Group was given an opportunity to get up, close and personal with Colm one morning a few months ago, naturally I jumped at the opportunity, had a chat with him and then found out even more later about the many initiatives he and his team help support via DDF.

Arriving in the UAE from Ireland in 1983 to help set up Dubai Duty Free (DDF) on a short-term contract with just a team of 10 people, Colm was enticed to stay longer to realize the vision of H.H Sheikh Mohammed to make DDF the most vibrant, successful and profitable airport retail organisation in the world. Over 28 years later, we find that the growth of DDF has surpassed all the goals that Colm had set and has gone beyond that into other fields as well. From 100 staff and earning 72 million revenues, DDF today has over 4,000 employees and posted Dhs4.6billion in revenues.

About 48 members of the original team are still with DDF and after facing the many travel related challenges over the years, and starting with concession shops to see the company grow into a major airport retailer today. Apart from owning the Aviation Club that houses the Dubai Tennis Stadium and The Irish Village and Century Village, Colm tells us of DDF’s plans to build a hotel within the same complex that would be run by the Jumeirah Group. The five star Jumeirah Creekside hotel will have 293 bedrooms with an all day dining restaurant.

While most people revel in DDF’s retail success, many associate the brand also with major sports tournaments and CSR initiatives. Colm tells us about the birth of Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, the 20th year anniversary of the tournament this year and the fact that it is seen worldwide on TV in over 400 million homes. He is particularly delighted by the fact that the players always vote DDF as the best tennis championship in the world. The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships was honoured by the ATP, being named as the ATP World Tour 500 Tournament of the Year for 2011. This is the eighth time in nine years that the Tournament has won the Award, a truly impressive achievement.

Other than tennis, DDF also sponsors the Desert Classic Golf Tournament, World Cup Horse Racing the Dubai Film Festival amongst other key events that help drive tourism and put Dubai on the map for world class events. Other events associated with DDF is the Irish Derby, Emirates Festival of Literature, local productions like City of Life, Gulf For Good, the library at DUCTAC as well as managing the DDF Foundation for children’s education and health in countries like Vietnam, Philippines, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Dubai Duty Free also supports ‘Hand in Hand for Haiti’, the travel retail industry-funded educational initiative, where DDF Foundation provided US$500,000 to finance a new Sports Complex at the Lycee Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable School in the town of Saint Marc. The DDF Sports Complex at the Lycee school will offer pupils and the wider community in Saint Marc an outstanding sports and leisure facility. Facilities will include an international regulation soccer pitch, a 6-lane athletic track, a basketball court and a volleyball court.

During our conversation, it also emerged that DDF has won over 250 awards. But Colm personally also received an award recently by the Garbally College, which presented 55 former pupils with Alumni Awards. Colm with his two brothers Ray and Feidlim were amongst fellow alumni that included prominent and highly respected Irish professionals from the field of Business, Politics, Science, Education, Religion and the Arts. Both of Colm’s older brothers, Ray and Feidlim, have enjoyed highly successful business careers combined with high profile sporting success on the rugby field.

In addition to awards and CSR related events, Colm also supports initiatives by DDF to raise awareness and create environmental ambassadors within its operation. Dubai Duty Free sponsored two of its employees’ recently to participate in the ‘International Antarctic Expedition 2012’ expedition led by the renowned polar explorer and environmentalist Robert Swan, OBE. I asked Colm on DDF’s future plans and he enthusiastically tells us about Dubai Airports expansion plans, which would result in further growth of DDF with at least 1,000 more staff and 8,000sqm of retail space at concourse three. The concourse is anticipated to complete beginning of next year followed by another concourse three to four years later.

With the two new concourse areas, Colm expects sales to exceed the Dhs10billion mark with staff numbers increasing to over 8,000 to support the footprint at the bigger airport due to increased traffic. Speaking of some of his proudest achievements, Colm talks about team building initiatives and training provided to DDF staff. The management encourages staff to achieve exceptional results and provide them with all the facilities and tools to help them perform better in the workplace.

DDF is known to provide sports facilities at the residences of staff as well as computers and programmes so that they continuously improve their skills. Colm attributes this initiative to His Highness Sheikh Ahmed who is seen as a superstar as a boss who provides opportunities to his team to grow themselves and DDF to new heights.

In his leisure time Colm loves to cycle, swim and play golf. In ten years he hopes to see DDF doubling the business with more than 50 nationalities working together to sustain DDF in its pole position as the best airport retailer in the world. It was a pleasure spending the morning with Colm and Sinead and I hope to get insights from him and his team, who are equally dynamic, more often.

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