creative zone

Five business lessons I’ve learned as a Dubai-based CEO

When it comes to seeking inspiration for running a business, you’d be hard-pushed to find a better source than the UAE.

Ranked among the top ten competitive countries in the world by IMD’s Global Competitiveness Yearbook 2023, the UAE is redefining itself as global leader in innovation, ease of doing business, financial investment and digital acceleration.

The UAE is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, thanks to its diversification strategies, advanced infrastructure, favourable business policies and forward-thinking government initiatives.

As a Dubai-based CEO, I’ve been fortunate enough to learn first-hand what it means to do business in such a vibrant, dynamic, and forward-thinking environment.

With its ‘can do’ attitude and entrepreneurial spirit, Dubai is the ideal place to draw inspiration for your business, no matter where in the world you’re based.

Here are some valuable lessons I’ve learned as a Dubai-based CEO that can be applied to any business, in any location.

  1. Attract and retain the best talent

    In a bid to move away from its reliance on oil-based revenues, the UAE is investing heavily in the technology industry. The ‘We are the UAE 2031’ vision aims to double the country’s GDP and position itself globally among the top 10 countries in attracting global talent.

    One of the fastest growing industries in the UAE, tech is the new oil. ICT spending is expected to reach USD$23 billion by 2024, with an annual growth of 8% since 2019.

    AI alone, is forecast to contribute around USD$ 96 billion by 2030. That equates to almost 14% of the national GDP.

    But to achieve this ambitious target, it’s vital that companies in the UAE have access to the best talent – not an easy feat when there’s a global talent shortage. Recruiters estimate that around 80% of employers globally are struggling to find the talent they need.

    In the ever-changing, fast-paced technology sector, the challenge is even greater. When it comes to attracting and retaining top professionals, competition in the Dubai tech market is as fierce as it gets. As such, businesses have had to pull out all the stops to attract the best talent.

    One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from the highly competitive Dubai job market is that it’s critical to present your company as an attractive employer. This can be boiled down to three broad rules-of-thumb:

    • Research to understand the local job market dynamics for your industry and region.
    • Offer a strong Employer Value Proposition (EVP) – not just via competitive salaries and attractive benefits packages but also in terms of a compelling company culture. Creative freedom, inspiring leaders, a positive work environment and opportunities for growth could seal the deal when it comes to attracting top talent.
    • Seek a diverse workforce – Dubai is a global city that thrives on diversity. With over 200+ nationalities and a strong female presence in core business and leadership roles, the UAE is committed to fostering Inclusion and Diversity. Promoting I&D as part of your recruitment strategy will give you access to a larger talent pool of creative individuals, who may have the skills you so desperately need.

  2. Cultivate a compelling company culture

    Family and community are ingrained in Emirati values and traditions and, therefore, have a profound impact on UAE work culture. This sense of belonging extends to the workplace, where employers have a reputation for taking care of their employees. So much so, that the UAE has a dedicated ‘happiness agenda’. The National Happiness and Positivity Charter aims to promote the mental and physical wellbeing of employees through a number of government initiatives.

    For companies in the UAE, this means cultivating a compelling company culture that promotes respect, equality, inclusivity, and trust between work colleagues, teams, and leaders.

    But it’s not enough to write a passionate mission statement on your company’s website if you’re unwilling to make real promises. Company culture is all about ‘showing, not telling’.

    A positive and compelling company culture means prioritising the following, every day:

    • Customer service excellence
    • Cultural awareness
    • Inclusion & Diversity
    • Employee wellbeing and engagement
    • A good work/life balance
    • Sustainability and social responsibility

  3. Engage with your team

    Around 88% of the population living and working in the UAE is expatriate. While multiculturalism offers a range of benefits, dealing with employees from different cultures and with different attitudes to work can be challenging.

    From a leadership perspective, working with a diverse workforce requires cultural awareness, patience and, above all, open communication. But employee engagement goes beyond a smile and a few words of encouragement. It’s an emotional investment that requires active participation and involvement in the workplace.

    More than ever in Dubai, I feel the need to engage with my team throughout the day. Whether it’s solving challenges, building together, or providing valuable feedback, open communication is essential for the day-to-day running of my business.

    Personal engagement with employees on all levels can say far more about your company culture and ethos than a long-worded mission statement. If your team feel valued and relevant, you may well be rewarded with greater productivity, efficiency, and loyalty.

  4. Strengthen your public presence

    If you want your business to grow and thrive, then networking is a must. Making connections and building relationships is ingrained in the Dubai work culture.

    Networking can open doors to new business and investment opportunities. It’s the best way to keep up to date with business trends and news. It can also connect you with potential employees, customers, or clients.

    Here in Dubai, we’re fortunate to have a wealth of year-round networking events to choose from. These include exhibitions, trade fairs, conferences, industry social events, and even virtual networking options.

    Many events are held at Dubai’s networking hub, the World Trade Centre. Drawing influential business leaders from across the globe, the WTC welcomes over 3 million people from 185 countries every year.

    Wherever your business is located, it makes sense to seek out networking options in your area.

    Social media is a fantastic medium for building an online presence. It’s also a great way to network virtually. But nothing beats being physically present at events and meeting people face-to-face.

  5. Adapt to change, don’t fear it

    The UAE is a country that thrives on change. The ‘We are the UAE 2031’ vision highlights its commitment to diversification and non-oil reliance. By taking proactive steps towards sustainability and self-sufficiency, the vision aims to position the UAE globally as a leader in new economies, healthcare, tourism, and food security.

    Fuelled by goals to diversify its economy, the UAE is also leading the Middle East in the adoption of smart technologies, AI and robotics, most notably in the government sector. As such, it’s fast becoming a global standard for modernisation and digital progression.

    The way the world does business has changed dramatically over the last few years. In today’s digital age, businesses across the globe, from microbusinesses to multi-national corporations, must adapt – not just to survive, but to thrive.

    Even the smallest businesses now use software automation tools to streamline their processes. But many savvy SMEs are already one step ahead and are benefitting from the use of AI, for example for intensive data analysis and 24/7 customer service assistance.

    In today’s customer-centric environment, more than ever, businesses must adapt and evolve to remain competitive. But moving on from old and familiar processes isn’t always easy.

    The following are just a few examples of how you could facilitate change in your company:

    • Embrace technology
    • Openly communicate with your team and stakeholders
    • Lead by example
    • Invest in proper training
    • See failures as a positive learning curve
    • Delegate and promote accountability

    To sum up, the UAE can be a great source of inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs. A young country built on ancient lands, the Emirati is a melting pot of cultures, traditions, modernity, and progressiveness. Just consider – it’s only in the last few decades that Dubai has transformed into the vibrant, global business hub it is today.

    Maybe the ultimate lesson the UAE can teach us is to dream big. And maybe, with enough drive and commitment, anything is possible.

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