Where No Woman Has Gone Before

The Middle East’s largest animation studio diversifies into theme parks.


Randa Ayoubi, the 49-year-old founder and chief executive of Jordan-based Rubicon Group Holding, the Middle East’s largest animation studio and the region’s answer to Pixar Animation Studios, is behind the latest wave of excitement among Trekkies.

The company secured $1.5 billion in funding earlier this year to design and build a 184-acre entertainment resort in the Red Sea town of Aqaba, Jordan. The complex will feature a Star Trek–themed “space flight adventure” ride among 17 different attractions to be built by 2014.

Rubicon, which Ayoubi started in 1994 with just $140,000 of investment, will partner with Paramount Pictures Corp. and CBS Studios to create the attraction.

In a drive to merge education and multimedia in entertainment for children, Ayoubi initially produced CD-ROMs for children in Jordanian villages. Almost two decades later the company has become a multimillion-dollar entertainment empire behind remakes of The Pink Panther for the Cartoon Network, as well as the Ben & Izzy animated characters, and will launch two 3-D movies in the next two years. Although Ayoubi’s ambitions have always been big for Rubicon, investment support did not come overnight. Recently, Ayoubi spoke with Institutional Investor contributing writer Farah Halime.

Institutional Investor: It took you a decade to get the support you needed from investors. Why was it so difficult for Rubicon?


Ayoubi: [The idea of Rubicon] was a long shot, a far-fetched idea at the time, and investors said it was madness, from the technology part of it to getting people to invest in something that was not a farm, a factory. It’s ideas. They asked me what I could guarantee as collateral — land or assets of some kind against their investment — and of course I had nothing.

What finally persuaded investors to put money into your idea?

The simple answer is, I’ve always believed it would succeed. It sounds emotional, but what we want to do is to compete internationally, stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best, and investors believe in this.

Do investors in the Middle East have a different strategy from those in the U.S. and U.K.?

We’re naturally very risk-averse. And in this part of the world, there used to be a fear of failure. I love to use the example of Steve Jobs; he’s my hero in life in terms of what kind of visionary he was. He failed so many times, people ridiculed him so many times, and he still insisted that his idea would work, and, as they say, who’s laughing now? But he’s from the U.S. [Jordan] has come a long way, and I’m really proud to be part of that journey.

You managed to get the investment support you needed, and among your shareholders is GrowthGate Capital Corp., a Gulf buyout firm, which secured a 30 percent equity investment in 2009. What changed investors’ mind-sets?

To be honest, most people gave me the time of day at the beginning to get me off their backs. But Jordan is not a rich country. We don’t have the natural resources, and there is a huge disparity between the haves and the have-nots. The main concern for the community has been getting Jordan on the global scene. Investors would never say no to something that helped young Jordanians better themselves.

What do you envision for Rubicon’s future?

I have said before that we will be like Pixar, but we’ve gone beyond that now. We’re not just an animated company. Even when we started and we were very small and didn’t have any money, we always thought of ourselves as a global company.