x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Defensive move is a winner all round

A managing director for the world¿s second-largest defence company speaks about relocating from the UK to the UAE.

Simon Keith of BAE Systems moved to Abu Dhabi with his family last year.
Simon Keith of BAE Systems moved to Abu Dhabi with his family last year.

Simon Keith is the managing director in the Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific for BAE Systems, the world's second-largest defence company. He moved his wife and 10-year-old son to Abu Dhabi last year, leaving five other sons in the UK.

Why did you relocate?

For some time, BAE had discussed that we should have a managing director presence here, particularly if we are to grow our exports.

I travel a lot but, thankfully, I'm now in the centre of the region I manage, which goes from South East Asia to Africa. Trips that used to involve a week's worth of travelling are now only a few days. I can spend more time communicating our products and the BAE brand face-to-face, which is important in the Gulf.

How did your family adjust?

They've really enjoyed the move. My wife is loving every moment. She wasn't working in the UK, but she was busy with our six boys. They are all now working or studying in the UK, except for our 10-year-old who is with us here.

So it's a bit quieter now it's just the three of you?

Yes, in many ways it's been an opportunity for them to spend more time with me.

Your employees here probably see a lot more of you as well.

I go out of my way not to interfere with them on a day-to-day basis. I trust them and want to let them get on with their job. I probably speak to my four vice presidents every 48 hours, more if there's something important. My assistant is actually still based in the UK, so I don't micro manage her either.

Is she often up at an early hour to manage your day?

She's often up early and she doesn't mind dropping things on a Sunday when she's at home and I'm at work. Her husband is very understanding, we've all known each other for a long time. She's really interested in the international nature of the business, so that keeps her motivated.

Has there been a downside to moving?

I've often been sitting in my study on a Friday talking to people in London who forget that it is my day off. It will be 8pm and London will be just about to finish, so I generally work six days a week.

I suppose one upside is that you're not under the watchful eye of your own boss?

My boss is called Alan Garwood and he's business development manager for the BAE group. He's in the UK and has a life like mine, with a lot of travel. So I actually have to work quite hard to talk to my boss.