17 February 2008

Rigged


As per the below tag, I've just finished reading Rigged by Ben Mezrich - a book that caught my eye in the Biography section of Dymocks Bookshop, mostly because of the Burj Al Arab illustration on the cover.

The names have been changed in the book, but it's the story of John D'Agostino, (called David Russo in the book), a kid fresh out of Harvard Business School, who is employed by the New York Mercantile Exchange (the Merc) - the oil trading floor on Wall Street.

His contact in Dubai is Khaled Abdul-Aziz who, through his family dealings with Sheikh Maktoum and Sheikh Mohammed, is working for the Dubai Government, and part of his role is to convince the Merc to open an exchange in Dubai.

On his way to this task however, Khaled is involved in listening to some of the way out schemes for which Dubai is famous.

Take these excerpts from Page 100-104 which made me laugh in recognition of the truth in the words. (Khaled is in a Burj Al Arab room listening to 2 property developers pitch their latest scheme):
...Madness. He could think of no other word for it, though of course even that choice of word was not sufficient. Madness had a negative connotation; what was going on around Khaled was not wrong - it was simply mad. He could honestly say that the past eight days had negated everything he had ever learned in business school. But what was going on outside that window, every day, was so unique in human history that no business textbook or lauded professor could possibly hope to explain it...

...Madness. Even though the entire city-state around him had a population of only 1.4 million people, the relative level of construction dwarfed that of the entire Asian continent, China included. By creating an economic free-zone - unique in the region - and vigorously pursuing foreign partners, the great emir had turned the city into the fastest-growing metropolis on earth. But Sheik Maktoum and his brother Muhammed (sic) had not been content just to build another Arab city in a remarkably free corner of the Arab world - each construct had to be remarkable in its own right.
You couldn't simply build a hotel; it had to be the Burj Al Arab, the tallest hotel in the world, with a huge sail spanning its entire thousand-foot facade.
You couldn't simply build an island: the Palm Islands. when finished, would be the world's largest man-made structure - built from a staggering billion cubic meters of sand...

...And then there was what the two Europeans were now proposing, If Khaled had not been staring at the blueprints with his very own eyes, he would have thought it was some sort of bizarre joke...

...A fully operational space port, where one day tourists would book trips to the stars. Khaled would have laughed out loud - except it wasn't a joke. It was utter madness - but it was all real...

...By the year 2010, when this space port would be completed, the emir's goal was to have fifteen million annual tourists - to a country of one and a half million people. A country whose outdoor temperature regularly reached over 120 degrees. A country that happened to be located smack dab in the center of the wartorn Arab world...

...Khaled, and certainly the emir, knew that tourism alone would simply turn the city-state into a curiousity, an amusement park of sorts. A huge Arab Disney World.

There had to be more. And Khaled was determined to use all his facilities to find that next, magnificent leap forward - whatever form it took...

...Khaled took a deep breath, then pressed his hands together, resting his chin against his fingers. "A space port. Very intriguing. Maybe we can also add some layers to the project. Maybe find some prehistoric DNA. Build an amusement park next door, filled with giant dinosaurs."...

...the Europeans finally realised that Khaled was joking......"Seriously, Mr Aziz, let's get down to business. The space port is just one idea. We've got plenty more.."...."Now this is something that is really cool, a ten million square foot water park that rotates three hundred and sixty degrees every six hours. And get this - the entire thing is actually one hundred feet underground."...

The story goes on to explain how David is then sent to Dubai at the invitation of Sheikhs Maktoum and Mohammed where he meets Khaled. It's here where I find the only part of the book that I can factually fault.

David flies in a First Class private booth on an Emirates Airline 747 direct from New York. To my knowledge, Emirates has never flown 747s as passenger planes, and in 2003 was not flying out of New York. The private First Class booths were introduced onto the Airbus 340-500s and Boeing 777-200s and 300s in 2004/2005.

It's possible that the 747 was part of the Dubai Air Wing and manned by Emirates Airline crew.

When David lands in Dubai, he is courted and feted. Here the usual stories come out - the notorious parties hosted by Emirates Airline crew, the car races down Sh. Zayed Road and the nightclubs and hookers.

After hearing that Dubai wants the Merc's help in establishing an oil exchange in the UAE, David then returns to New York to try to convince the Merc's board of directors of the feasibility of the proposal. After much opposition, the entire board travels to Dubai and are wowed by what they see. After that, it's fait accompli and the Dubai Mercantile Exchange was born!

The major players - David and Khaled - then move onto new projects, leaving the setting up of the exchange to others.

Rigged is a damn good read and an insight into the behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing that goes on around the world - with the emphasis on Dubai and New York. I sometimes found it to gloss over parts where I would have liked more explanation, but too much detail would have impeded the otherwise easy flow of the writing.

I'll be surprised if the book finds its way onto the shelves in any UAE shop!

8 comments:

Jayne said...

I'll have a look on one of the SA websites I use......maybe get it from home. Hubs is currently in negotiations for a couple of towers, that will span across Emirates Road........they'll be 'bigger & better' than the ones in Malaysia (naturally). When will it all end I wonder? I genuinely hope Abu Dhabi doesn't go the same way!

BuJ said...

interesting book! i have however read too many books that talk about the wheeling and dealing in the gulf.. it's getting boring.. and one thing that i really cannot stand is when people from abroad come to the gulf and try to show off how amazing they are (they are usually bankers or arms dealers) and then write all about it in a few years.

10 years ago i would have loved to read this book, right now, i would probably use it as a door stop.. or to wedge a rocking table.

nzm said...

Ah - but this book wasn't written by D'Agostino, and as far as I know, Mezrich hasn't been sued for any of the content!

You're right - it is an interesting book but it's not really a "we done good" type of story.

In fact, the major players bail out before the Dubai Merc is born.

(In ref to your question on the tag post re the amount of Dubai oil, it appears that the DME lists the Oman Oil Futures in its portfolio and Oman plays a big part in the DME.)

What the book does correctly convey is how fast things are done in the UAE, and how bewildering that can be to the people involved from overseas, who are usually tied up in so much bureaucracy that their plans don't see the light of day for, sometimes, years and years.

nzm said...

Jayne: twin towers straddling Emirates Road? Aiyiyiiiiii!

I hope that AD doesn't lose its atmosphere too.

Let me know if you need help getting the book!

A world of Symphony said...

NZM: Might I ask for your help, if I'm unable to find this book in Dubai?

nzm said...

Louis: of course I will!

I cross-posted this to the UAE Community Blog and blogger HalloDubai has reported that the book is available at Dubai Duty Free.

S. said...

Great find! I think everyone's best bet on finding the book is on Amazon.com:
http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_ss_gw/103-9785379-0927066?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Rigged+ben+mezrich&x=0&y=0
I have to say, I'm surprised that they finally found *some* ideas far-fetched. With the amount of ridiculous projects, one would assume that the idea of a space-port would have already been adopted by contractors and the project underway.

Anonymous said...

i'd rather "the wolf of wall street" over this book