x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Specialist skills nurtured here

The Life: Hazel Jackson, chief executive of biz-group, talks about her journey as a small business owner since she first arrived in Dubai in 1992.

Hazel Jackson is the chief executive and co-founder of biz-group, a business strategy and corporate training company in Dubai. Jaime Puebla / The National
Hazel Jackson is the chief executive and co-founder of biz-group, a business strategy and corporate training company in Dubai. Jaime Puebla / The National

Landing in Dubai for the first time in 1993, Hazel Jackson's aim was as clear as the view towards Abu Dhabi from Dubai Trade Center.

A keen saleswoman, the 26-year-old from England's North Yorkshire was promoting a hair removal cream for a UK cosmetics company in what was then a fledgling retail market.

"Sheikh Zayed Road was a two-lane motorway with speed bumps and you could see all the way to Abu Dhabi," she recalls. "But it was vibrant and very much a trading city, though people were trading based on price discounting and I recognised they could do better."

Initially she persevered with her sales job before deciding to use her skills to help others by opening her own training school for sales personnel in 1994. As the economy grew, so did demand for her services. The company was rebranded as biz-ability in 2000 and gave rise to two others: biz-events and biz-strategy. The three came under one umbrella in 2010 as biz-group.

Soon after starting out, Ms Jackson recalls landing her first client, a classifieds newspaper.

"I trained the sales team on what questions to ask when they go to their clients, and also the attitude they should have," says Ms Jackson, the chief executive of biz-group.

Since those early days of running her own company, the corporate world has moved on and Ms Jackson says she has adapted to the times knowing that training people in how to sell is no longer enough.

While biz-ability, the company's training arm, offers coaching in leadership development as well as softer skills such as communication, biz-events offers team-building exercises and biz-strategy helps companies devise and execute their strategies.

This was necessary, Ms Jackson says, because whereas 20 years ago the training sector was driven by market needs, the focus now is on retaining the best people and reflecting the investment in people on the company's bottom line.

"It used to be about attending a training session, two days out of the office in a hotel with nice food," she says. "Now it is about the business results of that training and what training can factor that process."

In today's market conditions, one of the skills most in demand in the training arena is leadership and the ability to engage the next generation of employees, the millennials who grew up with the internet. Generation Y, or the millennial generation, and its successors are expected to comprise 75 per cent of the workforce by 2025, according to the consultancy AT Kearney.

"The focus is more on leadership than the front line staff," says Ms Jackson. "In a transient environment where the front line will move on, companies need to invest in leadership who can train the front line."

A 2012 study by the consultancy Towers Watson and Oxford Economics found that HR executives recognise four broad skills that will be in demand for the next 10 years. Number one is digital skills. The others include agile thinking skills, interpersonal and communication skills, and global operating skills.

"The reasons these skills are rising to the fore is that we are seeing globalisation accelerate even more and it is being enabled by digital and mobile technology," says Ravin Jesuthasan, a managing director and global practice leader for Towers Watson's talent management practice in Chicago.

Ms Jackson's biz-group is one company helping other businesses recognise this, too.

It trains employees in sectors such as banking, retail, big family businesses, pharmaceuticals, hospitality and entertainment. It has 200 clients every year across the group, and more than 55 per cent is repeat business.

"It's a small market, it's excitable but small, and we can't afford a low retention rate," Ms Jackson says, adding that biz-group, which has 42 employees, expects a turnover of about Dh20 million this year.

It's a long way from those early days in 1993.

The economies of Dubai and Abu Dhabi have grown exponentially since Ms Jackson first arrived.

And in a sure sign of the times, today the view from Dubai Trade Center towards the capital is blocked by metro stations and skyscrapers.