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Doing Business in the Middle East

As the Founder and CEO of Brash Agency, John Brash operates at the forefront of leading-edge thinking in the creative industry. Here, John shares his insights on doing business in the Middle East and what’s needed to succeed in the region.

Whenever you start a business in a new country, you have to embed yourself in its culture. You need to listen and observe first before acting to gather cultural affinity. Doing so gives you the ability to read diverse stakeholders, get under the skin of their challenges, and find the right approach to connect, inspire and provide a relevant solution.

The UAE, for example, is a particularly friendly business environment, but you have to be aware of the regional customs and ways of working. This is critical when building relationships in the Middle East, as it takes more time to gain trust.

Equally, an understanding of local needs should be balanced with a global perspective. Despite the glitz and glam of Dubai, for example, you can’t expect to make a quick buck there. Building brands in the region will only ever be a successful business strategy if you create them with the area in mind.

Whenever I do business, whether in the Middle East or Europe, I always follow the Brash core beliefs: be brave, sharp, and personal. These qualities were deep-rooted in my Scottish upbringing and are still present in my style and approach to any business challenge. Being bold enough to experiment and improvise, sharp enough to take calculated risks at times, and personal enough to adapt, communicate and engage with new surroundings has helped me drive my business forward.

The tips shared below summarise my experience of building and establishing a business in the Middle East and the learning points that all future entrepreneurs should follow.

Embedding yourself in the Middle Eastern culture

Every business leader in the region needs to familiarise themselves and understand the basic business protocols throughout organisations and the roles of different industries and government bodies. The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) culture has a specific business meeting etiquette and celebrates key culturally significant events and dates that ultimately impact business relationships. To succeed in opening and sustaining a company in the Middle East, extensive background research on these aspects is crucial.

Employing individuals with local and regional knowledge and experience who can speak the native language is hugely beneficial. Mixing those employees with fresh talent from abroad will not only set the proper business culture but reflect global expertise (global benchmarking and peer reviews are critical in the MENA region) with local understanding, which is a potent combination.

Finding the right business partners

As with every country, networking is critical, but in most Middle Eastern countries, people proactively help others as they have been in that position previously. The environment is genuinely welcoming and sincere, from the sports teams and memberships of expat business groups to private members clubs.

Apart from meeting the right people, it’s essential to understand the ecosystem of how business is done in the region, connect the dots and offer solutions to existing challenges. You need to see opportunities where your business proposition can fill a gap in the market.

Client relationship management

The art of client relationships is very similar worldwide based on my experience — having a genuine interest and curiosity in people, and their businesses goes a long way. In the Middle East, the line between personal and business is slightly more blurred as genuine relationships can be built quickly and can become long-lasting, which will be beneficial for your company. Business is more ‘personal’ in the region, so leaders should consider when recruiting or transferring employees.

Playing the long game, adapting to changes, and having patience is essential, as being slightly aggressive can result in losing a specific client and potentially many more because of the connections between people and organisations.

Setting up a business in the Middle East can be very exciting, and leaders should embrace this opportunity if they have the chance. Meeting new people, visiting new places, and learning about different cultures is enriching for both career-minded professionals and entrepreneurs alike. Doing business according to local norms will pay long-term dividends and help to create lifetime memories for anyone building their business or career in this wonderful region.

As the Founder and CEO of Brash Agency, John Brash operates at the forefront of leading-edge thinking in the creative industry.

Read more about John's work, here.


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