On the face of it, London and Dubai are not that different from each other. Both are large cities with diverse populations and bustling centres of commerce and trade. Given the warmer weather, it’s understandable that an Englishman might enjoy the glittering new metropolis in the Middle East.
I was born and raised in London, and I moved to Dubai for more than one reason. But until I lived here, I am not sure I recognised the profound differences between the two cities. In Dubai, you have to learn new skills set to do business, or even build a social network. At the heart of both is one factor: trust.
In the UK, one would expect to strike a business deal with someone within 24 hours of meeting them — the transaction could be as simple as selling a car, but in reality, much more complex business deals take place over a short time scale. However, in Dubai, it could take a year or more before a deal is settled.
When I think back, it seemed particularly difficult to me in the first few months.
In fact, it took me about a year to accept the change of pace. You see, doing business here, and presumably in many parts of the Middle East, is different. That’s because Dubai does business the old-fashioned way. You have to know somebody or somebody who knows somebody before anybody will engage in business with you.
You might think you have a deal that is impossible to reject – based on a price point or service level; where Londoners would be expected to pounce on it, the Emiratis will simply let it pass unless you have already developed a solid relationship with them.
So before I even consider doing business with anybody, I have had to spend a lot of time with them.
Creating business relationships here is often a family affair. In many cases, it is not just the businessman but also his family that my family will get to know.
It works like this: I will invite my potential client for a family dinner and he will reciprocate. We’ll break bread, mingle socially and understand each other’s values and political views, perhaps. Some people will even go as far as to find out if I hold any strong views that are in opposition to their own.
Eventually, if they don’t warm up to you, or you to them, you simply choose not to do business together, this is regardless of the likely financial gains.
Even though it was slow and frustrating to start with, I have realised that building trust is a valuable, necessary and integral process of doing business. I am happy to say that investing the time has been rewarding and worth every minute because of the friendships and connections I have made.
On the family front, similar forces are at play here. Society is very family-oriented, and the pace of life is distinctly slower than in London. People value their lunch breaks, for example. So I have adapted too. I drop my kid at school, come into the office, go out for a leisurely lunch and still find time to do the afternoon school run. This has worked really well for me and yeah, keeps my family happy as well.
In today’s globalised world, national or cultural identities keep morphing. When I was growing up in England, I would support British teams in football and cricket. My kids back the Emiratis.
I realise that in some ways, as time goes on, we are becoming global citizens. It’s a new experience for all of us, especially my children. When in Dubai, they say, “We are from the UK.” When we visit the UK, they say, “We’re from Dubai.” And the odd thing is, once when we were in Singapore, they simply said “We are Indians.”
Clearly, we are a happy family in Dubai and at ease with the multiple identities. We are not alone in that. Many from across the world increasingly call Dubai their home, enriching the city. It has an international flavour that few other cities can match, making it such an exciting place for business prospects.
Like Singapore – Dubai has been built with great finesse into a mega-city with thriving businesses and a throbbing population. To use a cliché, the sky is the limit for Dubai, in sync with its towering skyscrapers that soar higher and higher.