x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Cultural factors count if you want to do business in the Emirates

One of the biggest mistakes most foreign companies make when they do not receive a favourable response from a potential local partner is to doggedly pursue them.

One of the biggest mistakes most foreign companies make when they do not receive a favourable response from a potential local partner is to doggedly pursue them. This is a complete turn-off for any sponsor, even someone who is genuinely interested in the project but has not yet made up his mind.

When an Emirati businessman tells you he is busy or otherwise committed, please do not make the mistake of presuming he is lying or being evasive. Foreign companies should go back to the drawing board and study what will make the project more attractive. That is all it takes. Pursuing the same proposal is simply counter-productive.

Another reason to respect your potential Emirati partner's time is that we strongly believe in destiny. If we are meant to partner with someone, then it will happen when it is meant to happen. An unfavourable response to a business proposition never means ties are cut off forever. There have been cases where partnerships were formed after two years of cordial relations with an Emirati businessman. For Arabs, business is like marriage. We believe a deal should be done only when there is harmony and the time is right. The Middle Eastern businessman is as eager as the foreign company to do business, but only with someone who has the patience to face all the little hurdles that come with a business venture. This often escapes the attention of foreign companies hoping to make a quick buck.

It's also possible a local businessman is looking for a foreign business partner to launch a commercial venture. Rest assured, he will leave no stone unturned to get such a project underway with a suitable partner in as short a time as possible. If a foreign company is tipped off on this, I suggest they get in touch as soon as possible. If you hesitate, you might miss the bus altogether.

It is also true, however, that local sponsors prefer to do business with people they have worked with in the past, the loyalty factor. If things don't work out with their own contacts, they will consider other options, but only through those contacts. Once in awhile, if they really need to move fast, they will hire fresh faces. I know this happens because I'm often invited to do one-on-one culture orientation workshops for senior managers who join on short notice.

The first thing a foreign company should do is to find out who their potential sponsor trusts and forward the proposal to them. Local sponsors often rely on those they trust to advise them, so this is one way to gain access. For example, if a leading international chain of restaurants wants to set up shop in the UAE, it will want to partner with a leading group of hotels. But the heads of these large corporations are very busy people, and won't be available for a chat. The way to get access to them is through the employees or close associates they trust.