Ask me about… UAE!

Say hello to Thaddeus, a year 4 SMU Business student majoring in Human Resources (HR) and Strategy Management. He had the unique opportunity to travel to Dubai in the UAE for a management trainee program two years ago. He shares his experience about the Middle Eastern business environment with us today.

Aesthetically in Dubai, my first attraction was the stunning architecture. The sky scrapers are breath-taking. I mean; imagine a Sky theme park built inside a shopping mall!

Living in Dubai was indeed an enriching experience. Cost of living like any other city varies – Accommodation is undeniably expensive. However, this tax free city is a shopping haven. Even though I’m not much of a shopper, the summer sales with branded merchandise plunging to almost half price got me combing the large well-furnished malls.

If you are a food lover, Dubai will not disappoint you. With delicious street food, comfort fast food, Traditional Arabian delights and elegant world class fine dining restaurants, this all-encompassing city can be classified a food paradise.

Owning your own vehicle may be more cost efficient, but one must take note that massive traffic jams are a common sight. There are just too many beautiful cars at low costs; in this fast moving city time is also a rare commodity.

Dubai also serves as a strategic hub of business around the Middle East – it parallels Singapore in many ways. Like Singapore, Dubai is safe. The military personnel and police forces on stand by in public places, gives you a great sense of protection. This is may also be a reason for the low crime rate.

One interesting find for me as a Singaporean living there was that the Singaporean population in Dubai is quite strong. We have a friendly efficient team at the embassy that fosters bonds by hosting events for Singaporeans, such as National Day, Hari Raya, Chinese New Year, Deepavali celebrations and other social and professional networking events. This made me feel at home.

I knew little about the above when I chose to go to Dubai becasue my main draw was the booming Hospitality Industry. I could not help but be impressed that Dubai has a “6 star hotel?” It’s called The Sail – Burj Al Arab. It really was an all-encompassing opportunity that I simply could not give up and I was not at all disappointed.

During my time there I was given the opportunity to experience work life in different departments – guest services, housekeeping, marketing, and business development. I learnt a lot about Middle Eastern business practices, and it was eye opening.

In the Middle East, business is based on relationships. It’s called wasta, and similar to the Chinese’s guan xi. Sometimes, you will have to meet a person multiple times before even discussing business. It’s very different compared to the business culture of Singapore, where everything is structured and drafted in ink. Businesses in Dubai are mostly based on trust and verbal agreement. You form a relationship before becoming business partners. Thus, it is a norm to talk about family, friends and personal interests. Deals are flexible and prone to changes. Conversation upgrades become business contracts with trust and relationship as its foundation.

In Dubai, the idea of business is a prolonged adventure, so they don’t see a need to rush because of fluid time. It’s important to blend into the culture. Admittedly, this sometimes affects the process efficiency.

There was once, in the tenure of my internship, we had to print manuals. We hired a small start-up printing company. They printed the first 100 sets for us, but they were not up to par. I was convinced that we would have to pump in capital to reprint the manuals. But to my surprise, the company took a batch back and reprinted them at their own cost. Even though we did not have a written contract, and they would be cutting a loss. Upon further thought I realise that the practice is such that it is considered more important to cultivate a long term relationship than to gain short-term profits.

I learnt that another important factor to consider when doing business with the locals is religion. There is a strong believe in Gods Will for successful business ventures – it is a blessing. Sometimes, they will not go through with an agreement if they believe that God does not will it. I have come to respect this religious believe.

On the whole, not only did I improve my business acumen, gain insights into the business practices and experience the rich culture; I thoroughly enjoyed by time and in Dubai and would be elated to return to Dubai if given the opportunity.