Self-made millionaire before his 18th birthday, Arab-American entrepreneur Ebraheem Al Samadi is now CEO of the Al Samadi Group, a Dubai-based retail empire worth more than $70 million.
Today, 28-year-old Arab-American entrepreneur Ebraheem Al Samadi manages an extensive business network – overseeing 150 staff, and global brands in everything from jewellery to fast food – as CEO of retail with family firm, the Al Samadi Group.
But far from being handed a silver spoon, it was desperation – and a desire to break away from his father and family – which unlocked his own entrepreneurial impulses. Born to a Kuwaiti father and an American mother, and raised in Florida, his parents separated when Al Samadi was aged 13. The youngest of five brothers, he was the only son who chose to leave the family’s luxury villa and move into’s his mother’s one-bed apartment. Needing cash, the resourceful teen started selling off the clothes he had collected in his old life.
“The first thing I sold was a pair of Levi’s jeans for $20,” he remembers, “which I had bought for $10.”
The cogs turned quickly. “I took that $20, bought two more pairs, and made $40,” he adds. So began Al Samadi’s first business empire – an Ebay resale operation which he estimates made him $40,000 in two years, by the age of 15. Strategically shipping exotic brands internationally, in the days before widespread internet shopping channels, Al Samadi was named one of the platform’s first 1,000 “PowerSellers”.
It was all driven by a desire to help out his mother – slipping bank notes into her purse and even buying her a car; at first she presumed the money came from illegal activity.
His parents had met 24 years earlier in Miami, where his father, a hotelier and businessman, had travelled from his native Kuwait to study. One day he spotted a blonde woman leaving the mosque in a hijab; it was the American’s first visit after converting to Islam. She was an 18-year-old orphan, divorcee, and mother of two.
After marrying they returned to Kuwait, where the couple lived for more than a decade, before fleeing on the brink of the Gulf War, when Al Samadi was aged two.
Growing up in Florida, a few miles from Disney World, had a profound effect on his young mind. “Walt Disney had one of the best business minds in the world,” says Al Samadi. “He sold dreams – and to do that you have to have imagination.”
At 15, he successfully appealed to the Senator of Florida to fast track his secondary studies. Rather than waiting until he was 18, Al Samadi gained his high school diploma – with a score of 480/500 – before his 16th birthday, and began working a string of jobs; rose-seller at a medieval themed attraction, lifeguard, assistant buyer in a department store. By 17 he had more than doubled his savings to $90,000.
With this he founded his first company, EHA LLC, and pulled his most audacious trick. Tapping into a rampant mid-noughties youth trend, Al Samadi designed and marketed a range of children’s shoes with rollers in the sole. Imported from China for $7.50 and sold for $79, in a year he opened nine stores and banked $2 million from the brand, Wheelies.
However Heelys, who pioneered the concept, were not happy, and served a $2.5 million lawsuit – eventually Al Samadi settled for just $800.
After running a used car dealership, and partnering with his father on a mobile phone franchise, in 2010 Al Samadi began investing in Dubai, which he now calls home.
“I fell in love with this vision of an oasis in the desert,” he says, “a city making itself a role model for the Middle East, and the rest of the world.”
His first move was to install New York hairstyling brand Amika in Deira City Centre, which quickly opened doors for expansion into other malls. Having founded a new retail wing of the family business, this was soon merged with the existing hospitality firm into one united Al Samadi Group.
Installed as CEO of retail, the past five years have seen Al Samadi’s empire steadily bloom, importing a total of nine brands into the UAE. These include Canadian restaurant chains Big Smoke Burger and The Chickery, haircare brand Juicy, and custom jewellery brands Wired Up, My Imenso and sister brand My Trends. A recent deal will see his firm supply all 17 food carts on Dubai’s The Walk at JBR by the end of year. Based in Business Bay with a workforce of 150, Al Samadi estimates the current portfolio is worth more than $70 million.
Amongst the most successful additions is Forever Rose, a company that imports luxury Ecuadorian roses, which survive for several years without water or sunlight. Al Samadi bought the London-born brand in 2014 for $1.36 million. Since launching in seven locations in the UAE, he claims to have recently turned down a bid of $23 million for the firm.
“I will never sell this company, because I have already reached the limit of my life, so money does not make a difference to happiness anymore,” he adds.
“What makes me happy is when I empower my own team members to go above and beyond. I’ve already empowered my life – so it’s time to empower other peoples’. I can no longer be happy, unless I see the other people around me happy.”