Part 3: Three Ingredients for growing a successful business in the UAE

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Success Ingredient # 2:  Stay Relevant by aligning your organisation with the market needs and the underlying Culture of the UAE: 

I recall once catching up for coffee with a successful serial entrepreneur and business coach who had founded and sold around half a dozen entrepreneurial ventures for impressive amounts of money.  Impressed by what he had achieved, I was curious to understand what really his secret to success was and so I asked him.  ‘Alignment’ he answered confidently.  He went on to elaborate to me his answer and explained that to him he always believed that a sustainable business strategy can only be realized through aligning a) What will your customers buy; with b) What are you producing or offering.

As obvious as this might sound, I can say that this simple strategy is often ignored by most business leaders and entrepreneurs who are too immersed and emotionally involved with their products and services.  I see it all too often, international companies who enter the market with their existing products and services with little or no research to validate the market need for what they aim to sell or promote in the country. I find it rather naïve to assume a simplistic and a rather condescending notion that “just because it works where we come from, it should work here in the UAE”.  Yet, many businesses set up in the country believing in the same notion.  As a result many of them fall victim to the ‘pipe dream’ of conquering the UAE market with little or no effort invested in understanding the market and adapting accordingly.

I often advise clients to look at aligning four components as part of their business strategy when entering the UAE market, these are: (1) Their products, services and business strategy (2) The market and consumer needs in the UAE (3) The employees their hire in the UAE and their human capital practices (4) Finally, The underlying values, beliefs and interests –otherwise known as culture- of their customer segment in the UAE in addition to the overall government’s direction and strategy.  The government’s strategy –usually announced or found with the various government departments- provides a highly useful indication to where the country is headed to, what sectors are targeted to play a key role in the country’s present and future, the existing opportunities as well as possibly a gist of government legislation to come.


Wasta, taming the elephant in the room to work for you

elephant-in-the-room

Most of the people who have settled in the region are familiar with the term ‘Wasta’.  Wasta literally translates to; a mean or instrument used to help an individual or a group reach a desired position, or attain something.  It can also mean to gain leverage or influence on an issue.  The ‘Wasta’ is most often an individual with the required connections or ability to influence a decision or decision maker.

So much has been said about the ‘Wasta’ phenomenon – privately, yet so little has been written about it.  The term has gained notoriety to some as it is usually associated with the attainment of unfair advantage to win something regardless of the merit or qualification of the party attaining the advantage.

Obviously, not anyone can have or become a ‘Wasta’.  The prerequisites one would need to have in order to qualify for a ‘Wasta’ are; be known as an individual who is trustworthy, reliable, has strong knowledge of the local community’s culture and be well-connected to people of influence.  With this in mind, ‘Wasta’ can be viewed in a more positive light by its advocates.  Its personal nature makes it a less-risky and ideal means of influence in a tight-knit and -to a good degree- reserved community.  A community that puts high regard on personal relationships and trust when taking decisions. These decisions can range from the selection of a spouse, decisions on employment and senior level appointments all the way to business relations.

Businesses can tap in to the power of ‘Wasta’ to help identify opportunities, promote their strengths and services directly to the right people and at the same time build valuable long term relationships.  One way to do this is to seek the right partner locally who can play the role of engaging opportunities and applying influence where needed on your behalf.

Another way that has become increasingly common and adopted mainly by a number of forward thinking multinationals is hiring and empowering the right local talent in strategic roles within the organisation.  Banks for example –local and multinational-have applied this strategy with much success.  This has helped banks demonstrate how committed they are to the local community and the government, build strong and long term relationships with local clients and even roll out products and services that are catered to the needs of their customers making them more relevant and versatile to change.

Author: Talib Hashim

Abdulmuttalib Al Hashimi (Talib) was born in 1977. He grew up in a sleepy town called Rashidiya, a far cry from the lights and bustle of Dubai. Talib began his career taking on a number of odd jobs (Yes, the legend of the one month stint he landed as a Magician/Promoter in the summer of '96 during the Dubai Shopping Festival is true). His first taste of the corporate world came with the large international bank HSBC, where he started in a small role as a 'Recovery and Debt Collector'. Fortunately, he moved up quickly during his tenure in the bank and was eventually recruited to be part of an elite team of Traders in the banks Global Market department. Inspite of the "Wall Street" like glitz and glamour that came with his role; Talib decided to submit his resignation in the summer of 2006 and say 'Adios' to his cubicle, a regular income -a well paying one too-, his SUV and the life of employment. Together with a young Emirati lady, he established Next Level Management Consultancy, a recruitment firm with specialisation in the niche market of 'Emiratisation' (Employing and developing UAE citizens). He is always proud of the fact that he has helped numerous Emiratis find employment. And he would like to think that he contributed -even if a little bit- to helping them lead happier and more fulfilling lives. Talib holds a Masters Degree in Strategic Project Management. He is an expert in Emiratisation and GCC national employment issues and initiatives. He is also a regular speaker on the topics of employment, development of people, Emirati entrepreneurship and also cultural challenges in the workplace. He also gives a series of motivational speeches titled "10 lessons I learned in 2009". Talib is an expert in multi-cultural issues that influence the Arab workplace and helps companies bridge the gap between their expatriate and local staff. He is often accused by some to be an idealist and a dreamer, however, Talib works tirelessly to become an agent of positive change in society (and ofcourse achieve amazing success as an Entrepreneur in the process). Talib believes that all Arab youth deserve the opportunity and the right to pursue their dreams and aspirations regardless of their race, caste, colour, status and family name in society; and hence he is a strong advocate of national and Arab youth empowerment. He has a passion for travelling and backpacking. He enjoys reading books on history, autobiographies and self improvement. He is currently trying to improve his sketching skills.