Post written by Charlie Blomfield, Managing Director & CEO. AMC
I recently returned from a trip to the Middle East visiting clients and attending the 2012 Forbes Global CEO Conference. This trip reiterated lessons learnt from previous assignments with clients in the Middle East, including private business and sovereign wealth funds throughout the GCC region and North Africa.
If you are looking to conduct business in the Middle East or seeking a new business partner, there are a number of factors to consider. Business in the Middle East is as much about cultural and personal interaction as it is commercial, so it is important to understand the marketplace from a number of viewpoints.
- Be culturally aware. Understand cultural sensitivities and variances within the Middle East region. For example, business and social etiquette, dress codes, country relationships, family and tribal relationships, and other historical events that can influence trading preferences.
- Do your homework. Research your target companies, partners and leaders to understand their history, approach and priorities. A key driver to the success of the partnership can often come from historical involvement in previous projects. Many will also wish to build upon previous investments and partnerships for strategic purposes so it is important to understand how you fit into within your client’s overall strategy. There may be opportunities for integration outside of the initial project scope.
- Get connected. Many businesses, leaders and organisations prefer being introduced to someone rather than accepting cold calls or meeting requests. Ideally, an introduction through a trusted partner over lunch, dinner or a revered Turkish coffee can be just what it takes to start the relationship with a new partner. Take the personal approach through Chambers of Commerce, Trade organisations and businesses with local experience.
- Practice patience. Be prepared for a long deal lead time, multiple meetings, and lengthy discussions on topics outside of your immediate scope. Your potential partners want to get to know you and your values in order to be comfortable before proceeding to business discussions.
- Don’t get lost. Generally only two to three meetings are scheduled per day. This is also a safe option if you are unfamiliar with city layouts and major roads. Building names and numbers can also be confusing or absent, so be sure to ask for landmarks or the closest notable shop. Ensure you are not late. Whilst your meeting partner could well be late and may keep you waiting, you are expected to be on time.
- Horse around. Horses are an obsession for many in the Middle East with horse racing, polo, endurance racing and equestrian all popular. For example, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum is the owner of Godolphin Stables, Darley Stud, founder of the Dubai World Cup and is one of the top endurance riders in the world. Get to know your horses and participate whether by attending the races, seeing an endurance race or playing polo. The best thing I did on my last trip was two days of polo in Dubai during the season opening weekend – you make great contacts recovering from a match. A discussion about horses, or even better, on a horse, can take you a long way!