Relationships must come ‘before business’ in GCC

People looking to do business in the region must respect cultural hierarchies, says senior Arab official



Young people in the Gulf Cooperation Council have adapted to modern ways of doing business although they have shown a determination to preserve many traditional customs, a prominent Arab has claimed. Speaking to Gulf Business following his presentation to the Australian Business Council Dubai, the Private Office of Sheikh Saeed bin Ahmad Al Maktoum chief executive officer Hisham Al Gurg praised the youth. He insisted that the younger demographic had maintained the focus on nurturing partnerships.

“You have to build a relationship before you do business,” he said. “From the cultural side you still see that respect for the elderly, for the Majlis and etiquette. And you can see it in the dress we wear because we are retaining that unlike other countries in the GCC. But on the business side, it is much more fast-paced so it is unlikely that you will have a two-hour meeting anymore.

“People now make decisions very quickly, they move quickly, they travel all of the time. Dubai is not the same as Saudi. Different countries and different cities operate at a different pace and you see that in how fast a meeting moves. You adapt to the country you are in.”

During the event titled How to work with Arabs, at the Capital Club in Dubai, he highlighted the need to respect cultural hierarchies with deference to the elderly and established members of the community. He also urged foreigners to find credible local partners to work with when setting up new enterprises in the region and advised them to make full use of networking periods such as Ramadan. However, he warned against trying to connect with local leaders via social networks like LinkedIn before a physical meeting had taken place – stating: “It won’t work.”

On Twitter, Al Gurg called for moderated engagement. “I do tweet myself,” he said. “I enjoy it very much but I always like to tweet something of value rather than saying ‘what’s up today’. You know what I mean? You have to look at what you are tweeting and at the number of people following you and ask yourself are people going to benefit from what you are saying, are they going to learn something new? Is it going to make their lives better or help them or is it just a commercial about your products and services? It’s a fine line.”

Asked whether such social networks were a positive development for society despite the cyber crime and bullying they had provided a platform for, Al Gurg suggested that on balance they were a good thing. “Look at the change that happened in the region because of the impact of social media, especially in countries like Egypt,” he said. “The positive side outweighs the negative. But it depends upon regulation and what the government considers okay to post and not okay to post. Everybody is learning, including the government, as to how to handle these challenges. It’s a new paradigm.”