Bill Duff: Sheikh Rashid's Financial Advisor

Bill Duff was educated at Oxford University where he learned to speak Classical Arabic. He moved to Kuwait to work as a Banker. Sheikh Rashid meantime was experiencing declining government revenues which he attributed to incompetence of those managing the government's finances as well as, in some cases, lack of integrity. Bill Duff came to Dubai in 1950s to work for Sheikh Rashid, primarily to reorganise Dubai Customs which he did with great success. He introduced new policies and procedures which made life easier for Traders and Merchants but, importantly, increased Dubai Government's revenues and removed any integrity issues. He became Inspector General of Dubai Customs but played a much wider role in managing Dubai's Finances. He also helped establish Dubai's first English Speaking School and Dubai Infants School. Bill Duff died in Dubai February 2014.

Bill Duff's Obituary February 2014

William Duff, who has died aged 91, played a central role in the development of Dubai as right-hand man to the emirate’s long-time ruler, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al-Maktoum.

When Bill Duff became financial adviser to Sheikh Rashid in 1960, Dubai — an ancient trading post on a creek of the Persian Gulf, once best known for its pearl diving — was part of the British protectorate of the Trucial States, which endured until the formation of the United Arab Emirates in 1971. Duff’s early tasks included establishing a customs department and overseeing the electrification and street-lighting of the town. After offshore oil was discovered in 1966, the Sheikh conceived a vision of a modern city-state and entrepot whose prosperity would outlast the flow of oil revenues: without far-sighted investment, he feared, the desert would one day reclaim its territory and his descendants would ride camels as his forebears had done.

Dubai in the 1960s (POPPERFOTO)

It was Duff who helped manage the massive spending on transport infrastructure and public amenities that followed — and who played a key part in the planning and realisation of the Jebel Ali free trade zone that would eventually become one of the world’s busiest commercial ports, a Middle Eastern base for many international companies, and a haven for the US Navy in Gulf waters.

Straightforward, principled and transparent in his dealings, the self-effacing Duff never made a fortune for himself. But he was a shrewd steward of Dubai’s wealth — not least in keeping it out of the hands of the fraud-ridden Bank of Credit and Commerce International, which had strong connections in neighbouring Abu Dhabi. He was also a wise source of advice for British investors in the Gulf.

After Sheikh Rashid’s death in 1990, Duff remained an honorary adviser to the ruling family and a revered resident of a vastly expanded metropolis — in which the foundations he built with his mentor were overlaid by new, less stable developments based on offshore finance and luxury real estate. William Robert Duff was born on May 13 1922 in Singapore, the son of Robert Duff, an Aberdonian who had set up in business there. Bill was sent home to be educated at Cheltenham College, and went up to Hertford College, Oxford, to read Classics before being called for war service.

His father, by then working for an engineering firm in Malaya, was interned by the Japanese in Singapore’s notorious Changi jail until 1945. Meanwhile Bill Duff was commissioned in 1st Battalion Princess Louise’s (Kensington) Regiment. He served in the Italian campaign, and later in Sudan and Palestine, where his fascination with the Arab world took root. He returned to Oxford to study Arabic, and perfected his fine command of the language at the Middle East Centre for Arab Studies at Shemlan in the Lebanon before joining what was then the Bank of Iran and the Middle East — originally the Imperial Bank of Persia and later, as British Bank of the Middle East, a subsidiary of HSBC.

He served the bank in several countries in the region before finding a new role, with British government encouragement, as financial adviser to the Kuwait royal family and then to Sheikh Rashid, who was 10 years his senior. The strength of the friendship between the two men contributed to the evolution of Dubai as a relatively tolerant meeting place of Islamic and Western cultures — and Duff often acted as native guide for the Sheikh and his family on holidays in Scotland, based at the Gleneagles hotel. He also persuaded the Sheikh to endow a new library at Exeter University, later part of its Institute for Arab and Islamic Studies.

William Duff founded Dubai’s first English-curriculum school, which for many years was run by his wife, the Polish-born Irenka Trachimovic, whom he first met in Palestine in 1945; she survives him with their two daughters. He is buried in Dubai’s Christian cemetery.

William Duff, born May 13 1922, died February 14 2014

Published in Daily Telegraph UK March 2014



“It is not about the money. How many people get to help build a country?”

William Duff

An Oxford-educated Arabist and classical Arabic speaker, Duff navigated the inner circle of the ruling family in the days when his employer and other senior royals spoke little English.

City AM News

He went to meet Sheikh Rashid, and they got on straight away. They used to enjoy going on trips to Scotland together. It was more than a business relationship – it was a friendship as well

Sheila Duff-Earles, Bill Duff’s daughter

Bill Duff really played a key role in the growth of the UAE. The drive was all Sheikh Rashid. But around Sheikh Rashid were these loyal servants, loyal in the sense that whatever ideas were outlined, they made it happen.

Anthony Harris, former British Ambassador to UAE

Bill Duff was a wonderful character who contributed enormously to the development of the UAE both in terms of its economy through his role a government financial adviser and also socially through his close involvement in establishing and developing educational opportunities for the expatriate community.

Ian Fairservice Motivate Publishing

Undoubtedly, Bill contributed so much to the logistics industry of Dubai by taking the time to understand the intricacies of new ideas and concepts and converting them for legions of others to utilize.

Issa S Baluch< Harvard University