Suited surfers

Arabian Business meets the boss at, an exclusive social networking site for top execs.

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By  Soren Billing Published  March 12, 2009, an exclusive social networking site for top level executives, has profited from the global downturn, as more business leaders turn to each other for advice. Arabian Business met the boss, Spencer Green.

It's facebook, but for people in suits. Or at least that's what the MeettheBoss front page looks like; try going any further on the site and you will be asked to leave, at least if you're a journalist.

"It's because we don't allow press in there, they [users]openly share their ideas through the site, knowing that the Financial Times won't post what this COO of the Royal Bank of Scotland has just said in the discussion group," smiles Spencer Green, chairman of GDS International, the publishing and events group responsible for the site.

You have to join a social networking site, but you should give out minimal information about yourself so that it doesn’t affect you adversely.

Green himself, however, is happier to share his thoughts with the press.

"We run very high-level corporate events. Not trade shows or conferences, they're more like corporate UN summits," he explains.

"We have the highest level executives attend and we've built up good relationships with them because of that."

GDS originally built the site as a networking tool for executives who wanted to keep in touch between events. The firm flew a handful of key executives into London and polled them on what they wanted out of a social networking site.

User friendliness was vital since the target audience, on average, was a few years older than your average MySpace user - some of the site's current users are in their seventies.

The way the site works differs from most online communities, in that while you can build your contacts by searching for friends, most of them are already provided when you join, based on what areas of interest you have clicked on.

"Executives don't have the time to endlessly search people," Green says.

They do have time to log on though: the average user logs on three times a week and uses the video conferencing tool for 20 minutes per week.

The video facility is run on a remote server using flash technology so that users don't have to download any software. This was a key consideration when the site was developed, since most executives are on protected networks and can't download VoIP software like Skype.

MeettheBoss went live in September last year and for the first five months, was only available for people in the financial services sector. This month it launched another channel for C-level executives in other industries.

The website's finance channel has 12,000 members in the Americas, 8,000 members in Western Europe and 10,000 members in Asia - 2,000 of whom are in the Middle East.

One of those users is Bhaskar Majumdar, head of risk assessment and management at the Industrial Bank of Kuwait. "I got a call and an invitation to join from MeettheBoss. It was from a pre-selected list, I was told. I found that it was a great site," he says.

"Within the work environment one has to be reserved and careful. Here, views are freely expressed in a free flowing manner. It is understood that these are personal and not organisational views."

Interestingly, Middle East users are typically more active on MeettheBoss than a lot of their European counterparts.

"I find that the Middle East executive travels more and, because of that, they're always online. The Middle East is seeing growth in non oil-related businesses and because of that they're opening their arms to the world," says Green.

Local users haven't quite perfected the art of online networking though. Middle East members tend to stick to people they already know, or have at least met in person.

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