Second best is good enough

Despite its excellent growth, Dubai is still filled with second rate talent in many professions.

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By  Stephen Corley Published  April 9, 2006

|~||~||~|Despite its excellent growth, Dubai is still filled with second rate talent in many professions. From coffee to cheques and the three-course meal, the Muslim world has given us many innovations that we take for granted. The west, though, has never really viewed the Arab world as inventive. And, arguably, the indigenous population felt the same. But now Dubai is important. It’s an example to the Arab world that they can do something as spectacular as has ever been done, without the safety net of oil. Arabs looking at Dubai can view themselves and their culture on a level with the Europeans, Americans, and Orientals, not just as nomads who serendipitously got a natural resource for exploition to their eternal benefit. The success of Dubai is partly attributable to this ongoing change in self-perception by Arabs, and to the withdrawal of their money from America. Since 2001, presidential policies and the 'war on terror' would deter any sane Middle Eastern investor from leaving substantial capital in the U.S. The problem is, though, where to invest as an alternative? Before Dubai, there was no place within the Arab culture that was safe. Now there is. It’s safer than America and, frankly, it’s much more profitable. What is most stunning about Dubai is that the importance of its oil and gas sector is little greater than Britain’s. Its contribution to overall GDP was a mere 5.8% last year, which means the non-oil sector, including construction, finance and tourism made up 94.2% of the emirate’s GDP in 2005. Gordon Brown, please take note. Like Hong Kong, Dubai’s wealth does not come from natural resources. This is a crucial lesson for the rest of the Middle East, which until now has singularly failed to convert the manna from heaven that is its oil into a sustainable economy. However, Dubai has. And, in doing so, it has created an astonishing commercial climate and enterprise culture. Unfortunately, it is obvious to many of us that talent in the expatriate sector seems to be in short supply. Standards of service, strategic vision, and economic awareness are grossly lacking. In short, corporate life here is clogged with truly second and third-rate individuals, with the real vision and drive coming increasingly from national entrepreneurs. It seems that the easy availability of money and the manic pace of growth, which in turn lead to large assets chasing limited targets, allow poor quality employees to exist very comfortably and with an undeserved smugness. The boom creates order takers out of everyone rather than encouraging innovation and risk. This view conflicts somewhat with the traditional one of the entrepreneurial hired guns keeping the place alive due to the indolence of the nationals. I recall an enjoyably self-effacing comment from a journalist here regarding his views on the business climate in the UAE. He was hugely supportive and complimentary in that Dubai afforded a second rate talent like his to do so remarkably well. Enjoyable, in that, in this particular instance, the individual is anything but second rate. The region affords him a better opportunity than would be available at home. But as the world sits up and takes notice, the smugness will have to go. Individuals are going to have to take responsibility and act in a more professional manner. Missed meetings, unreturned e-mails, hung up telephone calls are just the minor irritants in the daily slog of business here. The daily breaches against courtesy, sometimes bordering on professional misconduct, are legion and occur right across the board of commercial life. Frequently the butt of jokes, headhunters as a business group attract little respect from most employees. In my recent experience, those established in Dubai seem capable of taking the job to new lows of professional discourtesy and poor business practice while at the same time, in the case of one Australian entity here, proclaiming from the rooftops that they are setting new standards. Spot on. Unfortunately, they didn’t clarify as to which direction their new standards are heading. The lack of professionalism and talent hardly stops there as it seeps across a broad swathe of business life. Airlines, banks, advertising, media; all are guilty. The airwaves are particularly atrocious. Most presenters seem to think clauses are linked not by standard conjunctions but rather, phrases such as: “you know”, “I mean” “sort of” or “like”. The infractions and assaults on the English language occur with such frequency that for a native English speaker, it’s no longer possible to listen calmly. Wiser to seek out the BBC World Service or Internet broadcasts of UK radio. The professions are hardly exempt from this roll call but their pecuniary interest often elicits a faster response to any enquiry. The dearth of talent in investment banking, mortgages, Islamic banking and the legal sector has not gone unnoticed within the recruitment industry itself, as evidenced in a series of interviews for a business publication last month. Further comment from the same sources pointed out: “There is no doubt that superior talent will be tomorrow’s prime source of competitive advantage. Currently even limited abilities can command a premium." Stephen Corley can be contacted at corley@emirates.net.ae ||**||

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