Workplace Wellness: An investment well worth it

Workplace Wellness-An investment well worth it

  • Approximately 20% of the UAE population are living with Type II Diabetes, ranking the UAE in the top 20 worldwide.
  • There is also a link between obesity and productivity levels at work and studies have shown, workers who are overweight are less productive.
  • Since many employees spend more than half of their waking hours at work, companies are slowly starting to realize the important role of Wellness Programs.
  • However, employers need to start thinking about wellness as a long term valuable asset to their employees, who will in turn work better for them.

Healthy employees are the key behind every successful business. Since many employees spend more than half of their waking hours at work, companies are slowly starting to realize the important role of Wellness Programs. Such programs are designed to help:

  • Reduce medical costs
  • Reduce absenteeism and presenteeism
  • Increase employee morale and job satisfaction
  • Reduce staff turnover
  • Increase productivity levels
  • Increase organizational effectiveness
  • Decrease employee turnover

It’s no secret that the UAE is not the healthiest country. Approximately 20% of the UAE population are living with Type II Diabetes, ranking the UAE in the top 20 worldwide. Research and statistics report on diabetes across the UAE suggest that the disease will cost an estimated Dhs 10 billion by year 2020 if the condition is not treated. Workplace wellness programs can improve dietary habits through education and a supportive work environment where employees can work together to reach personal goals.

There is also a link between obesity and productivity levels at work. Studies have shown, workers who are overweight are less productive at a value of over 42 billion US dollars. When compared to the productivity levels of workers who were at a healthy weight, employers could save approximately 11 billion US dollars by investing in programs that educate their employees on overall health and wellbeing.

Stressed employees do not work at their maximum potential. The UAE is not an easy place to work and jobs in this region can bring about longer working hours, higher demands, and increased pressure. Thus, there is a need for workplace wellness programs to help employees carry out their daily tasks with higher productivity levels to avoid increased stress levels (which can also lead to other health and performance concerns). A stress-free employee will perform better when carrying out daily tasks and thus have higher productivity levels.

What’s in it for the employer?

Employers may see workplace wellness as low priority, as it is a long term investment, where results may not be seen right away. In fact, workplace wellness is a service that is not tangible at all, so what’s the point? Similar to diets, workplace wellness will not work if you don’t commit to changing an entire work environment. A healthier workplace can’t happen overnight and it can’t happen with one “health day”. Employers need to start thinking about wellness as a long term valuable asset to their employees, who will in turn work better for them (see below diagram).

Workplace Wellness-An investment well worth it-1

Companies like Johnson & Johnson have seen the benefits of investing in employee wellness programs. In specific, from 2002 to 2008, they estimated a cumulative savings of $250 million  US dollars. This calculated to be a return on investment (ROI) of $2.71 (US) for every dollar that was spent.


– Gulf News:…

– Ricci, J. & Chee, E. Lost productive time associated with excess weight in the US workforce, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 47 (10), 1227-1234, 2005 

– Berry, L.L., Mirabito, A.M., & Baun, W.B. What’s the Hard Return on Employee Wellness Programs? Harvard Business Review, 2010

– Berry, L.L., & Mirabito, A.M.  Partnering for Prevention With Workplace Health Promotion Programs. Mayo Clin Proc ;86(4):335-337, 2011.

The article is written by Alison McLaughlin for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review


Social and Emotional Learning and its role in Collaborative Problem Solving

Social and Emotional Learning

  • Social and emotional abilities are emerging larger by demand in the job market with successful companies necessitating these skills alongside academic knowledge from apposite employees.
  • In today’s context, students spend qualitative and quantitative time in schools and schools play a significant role in imparting social and emotional learning to students. 
  • Good teaching and learning takes cognizance of the process of study, which includes group work and collaboration, while quality co-curricular and extra-curricular activities reinforce these skills in intangible ways but more effectively.

“How on earth do you wake up your son in the mornings?” This tweet was from my son’s teacher who accompanied him on an educational trip. The message bolstered my views on the key attributes of school trips, mainly Social and Emotional Learning (SEL).

Social and emotional abilities are emerging larger by demand in the job market with successful companies necessitating these skills alongside academic knowledge from apposite employees. In 1995 Daniel Goleman, the leading expert in the field of emotional intelligence, stated “IQ is only a minor predictor of success in life, while emotional and social skills are far better predictors of success and well-being than academic intelligence. Aristotle puts it succinctly: “the rare skill to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way.”

There exists an extent of fallacy that social and emotional skills are consequential to one’s upbringing. Whereas, the good news is, “emotional literacy” is not fixed early in life. Just like developing rational and thinking skills, these metacognitive skills which include higher-order thinking that enables understanding, analysis, and control of one’s cognitive processes, can be cultivated in children – in our homes, classrooms and institutions.

In today’s context, students spend qualitative and quantitative time in schools. Hence, schools play a significant role in imparting social and emotional learning to students.  Good teaching and learning takes cognizance of the process of study, which includes group work and collaboration. Quality co-curricular and extra-curricular activities reinforce these skills in intangible ways but more effectively.

This winning formula is well-integrated into Dubai’s education landscape, through the well-structured school inspections framework by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA). School inspections in Dubai measure schools’ provision towards students’ personal and social development alongside attainment and progress in core subjects. Quality extra-curricular and co-curricular activities are catalytic to embedding self-awareness, moods management, developing team skills, empathy and self-motivation – which are outlined by Goleman as essential attributes to emotional intelligence. Certain that these five competencies power social and emotional learning, and gaging this provision in schools, the KHDA endorses a contented parent community in the region.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a global education body that administers international benchmarking assessments, has announced emphasis on parameters including social and emotional intelligence to measure students’ success criteria. It identifies Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) as a basic necessity and a critical skill in educational settings and the workforce. In conjunction, it is important to note that the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) used worldwide as an international benchmarking test will use CPS approach in its 2015 assessment. PISA assesses 15-year-old school pupils’ scholastic performance on mathematics, science, and on their reading skills. PISA results provide information about participating schools on two scales, at the national level and the global level. Benchmarking an individual school’s scores against national averages provides volumes of information on the impact of the curriculum offered at the school vis-à-vis the next level of preparation it extends to 15-year-old pupils. The national averages against the global averages perfunctorily highlights the quality of education framework in the country as against the best-achieving global counterparts.

Rightfully so, DSIB has stressed the need for private schools to work towards meeting international assessment benchmarks outlined this year by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, as part of his National Agenda. The targets call for the UAE to be among the 15 highest performing countries in Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study tests, and in the top 20 countries in Programme for International Student Assessment exams.

We are thus moving towards a system of learning, which emphasizes on the conglomeration of cognitive and metacognitive skills. Social and emotional learning apart from accruing to an individual’s success, given the momentum that the process garners contributes to the very fabric of a prosperous society.

Let us deem it necessary to advocate the fact, as rightly stated by David Caruso: ‘It is of the upmost importance to understand that emotional intelligence is not the opposite of intelligence, neither the triumph of heart over head nor the soul over the body, but the unique intersection of all three…”

The article is written by Fatima Martin for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

The Nomadic Patient

The Nomadic Patient

  • The following article contains a brief description and outline of the history of current trend towards medical tourism from the GCC to countries with higher perceived levels of healthcare in the Western world.
  • The article then goes on to describe how the concept of medical tourism is evolving, with GCC medical tourists now seeking cheaper healthcare (Healthcare Along the Silk Route: Middle East to Asia Medical Tourism) as well as specialized healthcare services in a different GCC country.
  • Finally, the article goes on to outline key challenges and opportunities for GCC governments and private institutions with respect to patient migration.

Much has been written recently in the popular press on medical tourism, medical travel, health tourism, or global healthcare, which all basically pertain to the fact that many people are traveling outside of their country to receive medical treatment for one of three reasons:

  1. The treatment is not available in their home country
  2. The treatment in the destination country is (perceived to be) superior
  3. The treatment in the destination country is cheaper

My own personal experience with medical tourism occurred back when I was still a clinician. I was on an extramural maxillofacial surgery rotation at Mass General Hospital of Harvard University a few years ago, when a Kuwaiti patient and his brother were brought into one of the patient rooms.

“Nothing is too expensive, please do everything you can for my brother,” was a phrased constantly echoed. My patient had been in a motor vehicle accident resulting in a compound fracture of his mandible (lower jaw) that had subsequently cartilaginized since it had been almost three months since his traumatic accident.

Here I was, an aspiring Kuwaiti surgeon treating a Kuwaiti patient 3,000 miles away from Kuwait in a Harvard hospital as an extern, I was completely shocked and dismayed by the situation afoot. Was it that my patient could not receive adequate care in Kuwait? At least some form of treatment that would prevent his wounds from attempting to heal in the wrong position? Or was it the long and tiresome process of applying for overseas healthcare for three months that resulted in his complicated medical state?

This is just one example of medical tourism and how it fits neatly with the trends towards globalization.

More and more Middle Eastern patients are traveling for both acute, chronic and cosmetic healthcare. According to most calculations, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) governments alone spend well over ten to 20 billion US dollars on sending their citizens abroad for healthcare.

Complicating the matter further, different government agencies typically send their own employees abroad. The following is a brief outline:

  1. Ministries of Health
  2. Local Health Authorities – this is the case in Abu Dhabi and Dubai
  3. Military – including the Army, Navy, Police and National Guard
  4. Foreign Ministry
  5. Oil Sector
  6. Amiri Diwan/King’s Decree – official ministry (office) of the ruler of the country

As to which countries patients are sent to. The top countries usually include the US, UK, France and Germany, with Germany the top country in the case of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, versus the UK for Kuwait. Surprisingly enough, the Bahraini Ministry of Health sends close to 2/3rds of its overseas patients to neighboring Saudi Arabia, whereas the Omani Ministry of Health prefers to send the majority of its patients east to India. The Kuwaiti government for example, used to rely on the foreign offices of the Kuwait Airways Corporation to manage the international patient flow and overseas healthcare budgets. Today, the Kuwaiti Ministry of Health has its own Overseas Health Offices in New York, London, Paris and Frankfurt, which work closely with the Kuwaiti Ministry of Foreign Affairs to assist patients in their treatment abroad both administratively and financially.

Even though there will always be a need for GCC government’s to send patients abroad for specialized care, it is widely accepted that the current model of overseas healthcare is not sustainable. Local GCC governments are increasingly investing in the local healthcare infrastructure and encouraging free market dynamics to stimulate private investment in the healthcare.

Privately, an increasing number of GCC patients are seeking treatment along the (ancient) Silk Route – traveling to India, Thailand and as far as China for cheaper healthcare that is perceived to be of better quality.

I believe that a private sector solution to overseas healthcare may provide an optimal interim solution – governments in the GCC should outsource the administration of their overseas healthcare to experience third party administrators (TPA) with an international network and experience as many global companies already do for their own healthcare needs. However, it is imperative that the government actively monitor the TPA by setting key performance indicators and targets to ensure that a quality service is delivered to its citizens. This efficiency will allow the GCC governments to not only send more patients (in the near future) but to also control both its cash flow and overall cost of sending patients abroad. Such measures will hopefully reduce the projected ten to 20 billion dollars of spending by 2020 to a mere fraction.

The article is written by Dr. Mussaad Al Razouki for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

An Education Hub In The Middle East

An Education Hub In The Middle East

  • The UAE has some of the world’s best schools in terms of infra-structure, and the government earmarks approximately 25 percent of the total government spending on education.
  • The region has some wonderful schools but faces the “in between syndrome”, when it comes to providing affordable quality education.
  • It would perhaps he good for the region to create a kind of “free zone” for education from where global players, especially in higher education, can operate at costs which will attract students from around the world.

Four years into education in the UAE, after thirty years in various parts of the world, I am confronted by a thought provoking situation. The UAE has some of the world’s best schools in terms of infra-structure, the government earmarks approximately 25 percent of the total government spending on education, has achieved over 90 percent literacy, stands high on the United Nations’ Education Index, has a very high rate of female education, and gives free education to its citizens. The Ministry of Education has adopted “Education 2020” with emphasis on Mathematics, English and Teacher Training. All of this is greatly commendable. The next step would obviously be to move towards becoming a destination for the global diaspora seeking a quality education. It is one of the best parts of the world to live in; it must become a supply center of a globally employable workforce.

Four years ago I was Head of an international school in India which had 63 nationalities of students. Most of these were people of Indian origin coming in from around the world for a taste of India and for an affordable world class education. There are many schools and colleges of this kind in India and they attract a healthy clientele. There are two key words here: world class and affordable. This is what brought in huge numbers of Korean students as also students from other non -English speaking countries where quality education either does not exist or is very expensive. There is further synergy with a plethora of higher education opportunities, both traditional and those which can be exciting for the seekers of the more exotic courses; and all of this at an affordable price.

Let us now look at the scenario in the Middle East. The region has some wonderful schools but faces the “in between syndrome”. In terms of affordability the area is disadvantaged by far cheaper options in other countries; in terms of quality there is a lack of synergy with higher education within the countries of the region and a lack of confidence which makes parents move children to their home countries closer to the school leaving stage. This is to a large extent because the variety of tertiary education in the region is limited and because it costs a fraction in many other countries.

It would perhaps he good for the region to create a kind of “free zone” for education from where global players, especially in higher education, can operate at costs which will attract students from around the world. As of now the conditions prevent education companies from lowering fees and from introducing new and quality courses to attract foreign custom. Add to this the shortage of university courses with global placements and you have the reasons for the “in between syndrome”.

If countries with much poorer infrastructure and little political will can attract students who want to become eligible for global careers, the Middle East has all the essential requisites to make it big in this field. If a degree in medicine costs 50000 dollars in the US, it is much lower in Ireland and in parts of Southeast Asia.

But cheaper and quality education needs support. One would be the creation of a special package for education companies. With a large percentage of expat population, that too of diverse ethnicity, competition with home country options becomes fearsome both in terms of quality and costs.  The second would be a quality control regime which is not based upon a system with limited success, but a system modified to suit local needs. The region has to cater to varied output standards at the K-12 level to suit differently perceived success criteria in home countries. Alternatively, the region must provide attractive options for tertiary education in conformity with standards established locally at the K-12 level. Together this could lead to a new era of education in the region.

The article is written by Dr. Aninda Chatterji for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

Being an Entrepreneur in the Gulf

Being an Entrepreneur in the Gulf

  • There are numerous challenges in the Gulf blocking the entrepreneurship path for development.
  • Entrepreneurship is about leading, accepting high levels of risk and living up the challenge.
  • Gulf governments are not doing enough to support gulf entrepreneurs; albeit some good initiatives.
  • Entrepreneurship should be looked at as an integral part of the economy, leading to innovation and job creation.

For those of us who have studied abroad, being an entrepreneur in the Gulf has its own set of challenges. I still remember the first six months I spent in Kuwait after coming back from Denver in 1999. Everything was so different from what I had become used to. It felt like being in another universe. Not only was I suffering from reverse culture shock, but I was also surprised at how different my expectations had become. Coming from a place where you can get anything done over the phone or by email in a matter of hours or days to a place where getting anything done takes months, requires your personal presence, and involves a lot of paperwork. I had to completely readjust to my new reality and reassess my priorities.

At the time the best way to grow was to join a large company. Starting a business was very risky at the turn of the millennium and you couldn’t do it as your main source of income. I literally made good use of the phrase “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” If I learned anything about diversification it was to mitigate the risk of a high probability of failure for startups. As I uneasily joined the rest of the country in looking for a secure job, I began to wonder how I could pursue my own personal dream without the necessary ingredients to do so. Having a good idea simply wasn’t enough. The lack of the necessary entrepreneurial infrastructure and a clear path for startups meant that even the best of business plans would face enormous risks. But what is an entrepreneur if not someone who has a proclivity for risk-taking?

Entrepreneurs are contrarians by nature and always go where everyone else says there is nothing to go to. But even contrarians have their limits. Entrepreneurs are generally creative, extroverted, risk-takers by nature and they tend to see opportunity where others do not. The only way to have more of them is to reduce the impending risks that they have to overcome. This is where governments need to step up their efforts. The Gulf countries have undergone a drastic modernization phase over the past sixty years to catch up with the rest of the developed world. Obviously there are still significant issues in the developed world that remain to be overcome—one of them being the lack of a sound ecosystem for entrepreneurs to thrive in.

The Gulf countries that control the largest oil reserves in the world—with billions of dollars in revenue—certainly have no shortage of funds. With such huge surpluses accumulating over the years, there was no urgency to cultivate the private sector or free enterprise. People who traditionally had small businesses saw a better opportunity in a safe government job. When the governments provided more than people’s needs while the cost of living was cheap it tipped the risk-return equation in the favor of a safe job. Those with larger businesses were better positioned to take part of the growing petro-economies. The result is a huge government sector with a few very large family oligopolies controlling the rest.

The Gulf, for the most part, is tax-free. Therefore, the governments have no real incentive in maximizing tax revenue. Cultivating small businesses was low priority because there was no added value. As the population grows, with the biggest chunk under the age of 25, the cracks in the system are beginning to show. The increase of cost of living over the years through inflation as well as an increase in jobless figures means that the only way governments can sustain the storm is through the proactive development of SME’s. More importantly the governments need to provide the right ecosystem for entrepreneurs. A focus on the needs of entrepreneurs would lead to job creation and, eventually, a good tax revenue source that would benefit the whole economy.

Four essential elements are needed:

  1. Ease of setup
  2. Funding
  3. Skilled labor
  4. Real estate

Entrepreneurs can’t be created out of thin air. It takes time to cultivate entrepreneurship. But reducing barriers to entry and risk levels would be taking huge steps toward cultivating that entrepreneurial spirit. However, there are some very good initiatives in the Gulf such as Thukhur for Entrepreneurship & Corporate Innovation, the national program for entrepreneurs in Kuwait and Dubai SME, a Department of Economic Development agency in Dubai. These programs not only build the foundations for entrepreneurs, but also serve to motivate new entrepreneurs by highlighting the success stories and the importance of entrepreneurship in society.

Entrepreneurs have been and will always be the driving force in an economy. I took the rough road to building my business and despite how difficult it was, I would do it all over again without hesitation. It’s not just the money, it’s the satisfaction of creating something out of “nothing.”

The article is written by Basil Al Salem for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

Hashtag Abuse

Hashtag Abuse

  • Hashtags are supposed to be helpful for topic search and are generally used for branding.
  • It remains a challenging task to make people abide by the rules of ‘hashtags’.
  • If hashtags were used properly, it would save considerable time when searching for specific things. 

What are hashtags? What are they used for? How useful are they really? Why are they being abused? Like me, these questions may have crossed your mind many, many times, so let’s first describe what hashtags are.

Hashtags are the words, pictures, or phrases found on social networks that are prefixed with the symbol #. Adding a hashtag helps to group those words, pictures, or phrases together so those interested in a particular topic or discussion can easily search them later. Another way to look at it is that you are “branding” or “tagging” certain words, phrases, or pictures , which then allows others to quickly search for the hashtag and find the collection of messages that includes it. This can be helpful when you are searching online for a particular topic that is of interest to you or when you are looking for other people that share similar interests to you. Many social networking services like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Flickr, Tumblr, and Instagram—just to name a few—use this form of tagging.

Sounds simple and useful, right? Well, it can be a double-edged sword. Giving those pictures and words a hashtag is supposed to group those pictures and words, giving them a “label” that is searchable. Unfortunately, it is all unmoderated and uncontrolled. In so many cases, hashtags are used poorly to the point where they get lost and lose all the meaning with it. When, for example, social network users in Kuwait, and the surrounding region want to look for a specific event in Kuwait, they can simply search the words #KuwaitEvents on twitter and instagram. But you will be shocked to see the search results for this hashtag because you will be directed to numerous pictures of different food items in restaurants, cafes, shopping finds, quotes, business offers, and many other unrelated topics! Try #Kuwait on Instagram and you will be directed to millions of unrelated pictures! Someone who wants to check the hashtag #Kuwait probably wants to know more about the country and see pictures of Kuwait, Kuwaiti lifestyle, museums, monuments, people, or information about the country … not pictures of coffee cups, designer shoes, or unrelated love quotes, with loads of selfies (self-portraits taken with a camera phone and uploaded to social network sites). It is even worse when you try searching hashtags of big company names or specific CSR campaigns—so many unrelated search results, which defeats the whole purpose!

In short, before diving into the hashtag trend, we need to be sure we know the real purpose of—and how to use—hashtags. We need to know that tagging pictures and words is basically done to help classify and group topics of interest together so that others that share a similar interest or curiosity in those topics can easily find them later when searching a particular hashtag. If done properly, when you search for a specific topic or discussion you should be directed to relevant search results and not have to endure the misery of sifting through millions of pieces of unrelated information.

The article is written by Ansam I. AlRadwan for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

Plugging in is nothing if you don’t turn the switch ON

Plugging in is nothing

  • Professional networking and connections are critical elements of your business success
  • Always look for the win-win in business referrals.  Even if you aren’t initially one of the “wins”, people remember those who helped them.
  • Honouring your network by switching ON-  following up diligently when introduced- will lead to more open communication and beneficial referral networks

Business referrals are your reputation

“I know someone there” may be music to your ears if you’re looking to get your foot in the door of a new company; or checking out a prospective new employer.  In today’s work world, it really is often about who you know to get that first break in a sea of similarly qualified talent.  It’s a fact of life people make time for trusted referrals before a cold call, email, or CV.

“But what about my merits? My education, work history and professionalism?” you may ask.  These are all critical to be sure, and combined with a strong professional network, this is an encouraging word for you to be both be a connector and someone who readily turns on their follow up switch when they’re referred professionally.

For years now, I have been instructing graduate and undergraduate business and, during this time, I have been fortunate to have exceptional cohorts and find the experiences quite rewarding.  There are a few litmus tests I like to use when assessing my willingness to connect any student or professional contact to a someone I know.  They’re pretty simple and relatively few.  Actually there are only two:

1. Will this person represent me well?  After all, this is my reputation I am entrusting to a person.  Professional contacts are valuable and, before I just go on and give you the keys to open the door, I need to be relatively secure in the fact you will conduct yourself well and be a positive reflection of me to the person I introduce you to.  It’s about trust.

One recent example of this causing some stress was when I had a student look through my Linkedin contacts and send me a list of 50 people they wanted me to introduce them to.  First, let’s get some focus here.  If you’re asking for help, the “throw it against any wall and see what sticks” approach is far from recommended. Certainly, I wasn’t about to refer anyone to 50 contacts straight away.

What made this especially delicate is the fact this person was a B- student at best.  They were clearly not focused on the course, on participating, on their assignments, on helping others in class, and there was simply no way I was going to refer them to anyone, anytime soon.  I let them know “you’re asking me to trust you with my reputation and introduce you to these professionals?  At this time, I don’t have the confidence you would properly take care of my reputation, sorry”.    It was an honest and certainly eye opening conversation.

2. Will this person actively follow up appropriately with intelligent communication with the person to whom theyre referred.  See above of course as to why this is important; however, it’s a deeper issue. With all due respect to younger professionals and graduate school students who’ve worked a bit, if you are connected to a senior executive, someone with a far more senior role, and they make time to offer to meet you- drop everything within reason to accommodate their availability.

Admittedly, this is harder to read.  Will someone, when given the change to meet an executive, make every effort to make it happen? This would seem like a no- brainer right?

You are offered a chance to meet a senior executive in their office when they return from overseas or regional business travel.  You’d jump to make it happen right? Well this example went very differently and I must thank my brother, President of an advertising agency, for his patience.

Not too long ago, an excellent student of a respected colleague was recommended to me for assistance in their career planning.  The student came to speak with me while I was guest lecturing at my Alma Mater. They presented themselves well, seemed focused, and asked me for an introduction to 3 specific people I was connected to via Linkedin.  “Wow” I thought, “they have it together!” A quick check with my colleague validated their hard working nature and industriousness. As mentioned in point 1 above, my colleague trusted this person and their reputation to me.

As it were, one of the contacts with whom they wished to meet was my brother, who is also an alum.  Now I reserve the holy grail of referrals, my brother, for one or two people annually.  Not only does this referral carry the usual weight of professional contact, but I really don’t want to hear how I wasted his time over Holiday dinner when I am looking to enjoy our family time.

To his credit, my brother took time from his extremely busy schedule to make a few attempts to connect before asking me if he could “cut them loose”,  I concurred it was time to do so because his offer to meet this senior student 3 times was met with “that’s not a convenient time for me” FROM the student.  I almost thought he was joking.  Actually, after the second call from him, I did think he was gaming me.  I was shocked.

My colleague and I were both embarrassed.  This student carelessly jeopardized the reputation of their professor who in tern recommended the student to me and jeopardized my reputation.  In an attempt to curtain such behavior in the future, I made a call to the student to let them know they would not be meeting my brother and to try and not make a habit of this again.

The bottom lines, look for the win-wins and how you can help people. And when someone offers you help, follow up like your reputation depends on it. Because it does.

Connect; switch on; and succeed.

The article is written by Jonscott Turco for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

Al Etihad Credit Bureau: Making the UAE Creditworthy!

Al Etihad Credit Bureau

  • The absence of a formal consumer credit rating system in the UAE resulted in consumers having easy access to loans without any check on the repayment capacity. However, the launch of the Al Etihad Credit Bureau is expected to change the scenario by providing banks access to consumers’ credit history, thereby curbing excess lending and raising the quality of retail lending in the country.

Al Etihad Credit Bureau (AECB) will start providing consumer credit reports to financial institutions from September 2014, and this is expected to have widespread implications for consumers, banks, and the UAE’s economy. However, in order to assess the impact that the Al Etihad Credit Bureau (AECB) is expected to have, it’s important to understand the history of credit check activities in the UAE.

The first step in the credit check history of the UAE was the creation of the Emirates Credit Information Company (Emcredit) in January 2006. Emcredit, the first private credit company in the UAE, was expected to be compliant with international standards of data protection and security. It provided industry information to a federal technical advisory committee working for creating a regulatory framework to share credit information across UAE. Between 2006 and 2008, Emcredit established a database of 5.6 million consumer identification records, and also gathered payment behaviour information on consumer and commercial borrowers, and held 35 per cent of mortgage data in the UAE.

However, the global financial crisis in 2008 impacted the UAE as well, most notably the real estate sector in the country. As the real estate bubble burst, the regional economic boom in UAE came to an end, and banks suffered the most with large scale debt default. This forced the banks to revisit their existing portfolio and take a strategic decision on their future lending activities.

Among other things, it made the government and lenders (banks and other lending institutions) realize the importance and urgency of strengthening the process of gathering and sharing credit information on consumers. In March 2009, the Credit Information Law was approved by the Cabinet, allowing the establishment of a Federal credit information company that would provide comprehensive services and solutions related to credit information. In July 2010, a law was passed making it mandatory for all the lending institutions, utilities and telecoms companies, to share client information within the UAE with Emcredit.

Timeline of Credit Check Activities in the UAE

Al Etihad Credit Bureau-1

Source: TheNational, Arab Business Review Research

With increasing need for a centralized consumer credit information system, bylaws were prepared for establishment of a federal bureau and Al Etihad Credit Bureau (AECB) was established in 2012. The ministry of finance established the AECB with a paid-up capital of Dh200 million. It started compilation work in 2013 and is expected to start providing consumer credit reports to financial institutions from September 2014. In addition, the bureau is also expected to come up with regulations to curb excess lending and rising consumer debt.

AECB is aiming to achieve its goals in a multi-phase process. The first phase will be launched in September 2014 allowing the banks and financial institutions to access existing and potential customers’ credit reports electronically. This information can be purchased as credit reports on submission of required documents. The lending institution will, however, need a written consent from the borrower to obtain the report. The customers can also access their credit reports by paying a fee through customer service centres. The report will include name, current address, and employment, credit repayment history for last 24 months, credit and loan histories, and overdues and default records for past 24 months.

To start with, the reports will be based on UAE data only, however, in future there is a plan to work closely with international credit bureaus like Experian, Equifax, CIBIL, SIMAH etc. to provide a more complete report. As of now, the credit report issued by the bureau will have no relevance overseas as the bureau will not get access to credit history of the banking consumers outside UAE.  By 2015, the AECB is expected to provide credit coverage on companies as well.

The retail lending environment in the UAE is expected to undergo a radical change, as the bureau becomes operational and start issuing credit reports.

For banks, the credit reports from bureau will provide much needed inputs in the lending process and therefore improve the quality of credit. The reports will highlight unclosed bank accounts, non-cancelled or unused credit cards, outstanding payment and loans on several credit cards and overdraft facilities. Therefore, it will enable the banks in decision making and reject requests for loans and credit cards to individuals having a poor repayment history even if they have the capacity to pay. It will also help the banks to charge high or low interest rates depending on the risks associated with each consumer. As banks will have more clarity on consumer’s payment history and current loans status, they can ensure that they do not over-lend, and therefore have a relatively high-quality loan portfolio.

It is also likely to lead to a growth in the personal loans for debt settlement with consumers consolidating their debt positions. As a result, products such as Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank’s Al Khair Liabilities Settlement are set to benefit from the AECB’s consumer data reports.

For consumers, these reports will act as bitter pills as they will stop individuals from applying for multiple loans beyond their repayment capacity, and ensure that they do not fall into a debt trap. Individuals with better credit profiles will be rewarded as banks will be keen to lend to individuals with a good credit profile. Further, with the UAE Central Bank setting limits on the share of government-related enterprises (GRE) lending in banks’ loan portfolio, banks will seek to increase their lending to private companies, SMEs and individuals – once again, companies and individual with a strong credit history will stand to benefit.

The short-term impact will include slower credit growth, which could have its spill-over impact on the overall economy; however, in the long-run, the bureau will help improve the credit environment for consumers and lenders, alike.

As the UAE transitions from its current lending environment to a new one, credit growth is likely to be impacted as over-indebted customers may not be able to get new loans. This will impact banks like Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank and Dubai Islamic Bank that have retail loans as a major contributor to their loan book. For consumers, access to credit will no longer be as easy it was in the past, and growth in credit for existing borrowers will be much slower. A tightened lending regime will likely reduce liquidity and thus spending, and might pose a short-term challenge to UAE’s economy, that has recently shown signs of recovering from the 2008 financial crisis.

However, on the positive side, growth in new customers without any credit history will be rapid. Also, credit reports will make UAE nationals more aware of financial management and ensure that they maintain a good repayment profile to improve their future credit prospects. In the long-run, the system is expected to lower the default rates, improve customer pricings and improve the risk charged on personal loans.

In a nut-shell, if executed well, the AECB’s roll-out will put an end to free-for-all lending and support the economy via a more sustainable credit cycle.

The article was originally published at: Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

How to fail like Steve Jobs

How to fail like Steve Jobs

  • Great companies have taken risks and failed. The greatest companies encourage creativity, reward innovation, and see failure as a part of the process.
  • Many people equate success not as a measure of doing great things, but by not making mistakes.  Do you work from a place of creativity or a place governed by fear of failure? 
  • Do you encourage your team to take creative risks in order to achieve greater results?  

Creativity – new competition collateral

When’s the last time you made a mistake at work?   I mean an actual mistake of commission and not omission.  A misstep because you tried something new, something innovative, and didn’t just follow the pack or old way of tackling new problems?  If fear of failure is part of your career DNA, perhaps taking a look at creativity as a method of competing to win and overcoming your fear of failure may just do the trick.

If you remember the story of the genesis of Apple computer, you may recall Apple’s flop the “Lisa”.  Now Lisa failed brilliantly for a host of reasons, but the key is what it was intended to be.  Jobs had a vision for a machine to change the world…..again.  After the many failures, the real win was the refocused efforts that followed and resulted in the first Macintosh.  The rest is history and the stuff of well-deserved legend (he says as he types on his MacBook Air).

The secret Jobs knew way back then is there’s a new competition collateral and its intelligence expressed through innovation and creativity.   This means addressing what you bring to the table; how you think outside the box to help your organization thrive and lead in the marketplace.  Even how your creative solutions may change the world.   It’s a new model in competition to achieve success—overcoming your fear of failure to contribute creatively to success.

It is no wonder why Jobs’ Apple or Google and others foster competition among employees and creativity as critical employee characteristics.  Not too long ago, Google even posted a billboard outside of its one-time rival Yahoo with an equation to solve by applicants interested in jumping ship.   While this tactic clearly tested intellect, it was a creative conversation it initiated as a way of engaging candidates in an interesting way.  And on their commute no less!

Do mega-corporations want smart people? Of course they do. But they and smaller organizations need creativity even more so, because they know thinkers and not robots make the biggest differences within their employee portfolio.  They understand problems are better solved, not when all in the room agree, but when there is heterogeneity within their ranks.  The data proves over and over those groups offering the best solutions are found to be those showing diversity in thinking. Creativity within a loose corporate framework may provide a logical direction when it comes to problem solving with the corporate milieu.

There is, in many organizations, a consensus driven non-creative bias.  These organizations are designed for efficiency and productivity, where process takes priority.  To resist the pull of this bias, I often share what has helped me, the advice I received earlier in my career, when I thought success depended on conformity and compliance.

Shortly after taking on a new role, where I was playing by the rules and felt I was meeting or exceeding expectations, I received one of the best pieces of advice ever.   “You really haven’t messed up yet!  If all you do is follow the rules and you don’t try anything new or out of the box, you will never do anything great.”

All the things I had learned had programmed me to think my success was tied not to doing something creative or great, it was linked most directly to following the rules and not messing up.   It was like playing football— keeping my defense back near the goal the whole game.  They could be helping score; helping to create plays, but I was leaving them back to be sure I didn’t fail.

And though taking creative risks, being innovative, and really trusting others to be on board with new ideas so the great things can be accomplished is scary and hasn’t always worked out, I know failing is a part of learning and I want to fail like Steve Jobs.

The article is written by Jonscott Turco for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

A Banker’s Primer to Saudi Arabian Family Offices

A Banker’s Primer


  • Major global banks have established a presence in the Kingdom, only a few years ago, though with an almost exclusive focus on corporate and private banking.
  • The predominant banking business model involves a partnership between a local bank with an International partner, where critical areas such as risk and asset management are under the purview of International partner.
  • At the apex of the wealthy client pyramid are Family Offices, vehicles established to formally manage the day-to-day investment affairs of the richest families.
  • There are several type of family offices in Saudi Arabia, and they are constantly evolving due to the influence of the Western world.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was never a banking hub for the GCC in the tradition of Bahrain, and later Dubai. That is, foreign banks were never historically established in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam with active mandates in servicing the local economy or with the intent to be utilized as a springboard for access to other nations in the GCC. Instead, the commercial linkages between the seat of Islam’s holiest sites and the rest of the world were first based on the general trade in goods, and later—the defining moment in the nation’s history—the discovery of crude oil occurred in the early twentieth century. In the wake of oil’s discovery was the founding of the energy behemoth Saudi Aramco (the Saudi Arabian Oil Company), having begun operations in 1933 as the California-Arabian Standard Oil Company.  With the technological advances and labor-intensive expertise required to extract and manage the world’s most precious tradable commodity came legions of skilled workers from the United States and other nations, critical in establishing what was once considered the consummate American outpost in the Middle East.

The Aramco camps in Eastern province were akin to transplanted Midwestern US cities.  Based on this model in the utilization of crude oil and the reliance on its financial dividends for economic development and later growth, no absolute national consensus was ever formulated on the internationalization and broad-based opening of the Kingdom’s market to foreign banks with the aim of establishing bricks-and-mortar presence.  It is only in the last several years that a few of major global banks established a presence in the Kingdom, with an almost exclusive focus on corporate and private banking.

Historically, the predominant banking business model in Saudi Arabia has been for local banks to include a non-Saudi partner institution, typically with a stake of 40 percent. Critical areas of bank management, including, heads of finance, risk management, asset management—just to name a few—were within the purview of the banking partner by contract. Over time, wealthy Saudi clients have become accustomed to dealing with their local banks for corporate loans and regional brokerage and investment services. When it comes to sophisticated investments, packaged as funds for example, the reliance continues to be on US and European private banks—many of which have been reliant on the “briefcase banker” approach. This entails flying bankers to the Kingdom for a few days of marathon one-on-one client meetings to introduce a product and collect a tidy sum of money—with the hope that the fees generated from client investments will ultimately cover the banker’s costs.

At the apex of the wealthy client pyramid are Family Offices, vehicles established to formally manage the day-to-day investment affairs of the richest families. In Saudi Arabia there are several types of these entities and it is worth our while to outline them.

The Mega Family Office:

The minute a foreign banker lands at an airport in the Kingdom, these family offices are the first few stops to make as they represent the wealthiest fifty families in the Kingdom. By their very nature, they were established decades ago and have highly sophisticated departmental structures, for example splitting managerial investment functions among Equity, Fixed Income and Private Equity teams. There is a formal investment committee process in which new proposals are discussed on voted on and IT expenditure to support detailed reports and investment analysis are standard. In a few cases, these billionaire families have offices in Dubai, Europe (primarily London and Geneva) and the US to complement their Saudi presence. The logic behind this is approach is to remain closer to their investments abroad while vetting ideas from the source. But also from a practical standpoint, many senior investment staff members are precluded from leaving their families due to personal obligations in their home countries.

Multi-Generational Office:

This structure supports various owners from many branches of the family. In the Kingdom Due to the participants in this office structure, the internal challenge is to accommodate various points of view regarding investments (type, time horizon and risk). These types of offices at times allow other families, generally maternal relatives, to participate while functioning as a multi-family office to increase the purchasing power of the owning family group. In effect, multi-generational offices reflect the current state of Saudi Arabian family businesses with young sons and daughters, typically freshly minted university graduates, being brought into the family business in the hope of an inter-generational succession proceeding smoothly one day.

The Corporate Group:

This type of entity supports the shareholders of operating business. The primary role is to maintain business control through effective wealth transfer, providing strategies for internal stock transactions among shareholders or leverage as needed to generate liquidity for owners. The office also supports owners’ financial needs for income, diversification of assets, and risk management.   A head of finance for these groups will typically handle both the company’s day-to-day affairs as well as individual investment management for the Chairman and associated family members.

The Single Provider Office:

In the last few years, some families have decided to stop granting bankers calling for an appointment to hold sales meetings, as a matter of policy. Instead, they have relied on an internal staff member to vet various product providers and settle on a single institution to manage the office’s affairs. It then becomes the mandate of the bank advisory professional handling the relationship to suggest investments from third party banks or investment houses. This “gatekeeper” approach has a major benefit for the families involved as there is a simplification of the process and reporting is handled by the hired bank, an ostensible cost savings.

Philanthropy/Foundation Office:

The Kingdom has an immense number of philanthropic institutions that families have established apart for their corporate alms-giving that is compulsory in Islam. Many of these offices are distinct from the family’s investment arm and, as would be expected, their investment universe is typically more limited. When it comes to the plethora of foundations which dot the Arabian landscape, the majority that bankers deal with are affiliated with religious or university funds. Bankers visiting Saudi Arabia are frequently surprised by the risk-return profile of these investors, with many delving into products that are far more esoteric than one would expect. Of course Sharia-compliance remains of paramount importance.

The Royal Family Office:

The trend today within these offices is launching new businesses and offering value-added projects for the benefit of Saudi society. Most of the initiatives undertaken by these investors will target a particular rate of return on a project or a feeder fund to a project, instead of seeking an income-generating fund investment—for example. The due diligence on the banker at the beginning of an introductory meeting is critical and being asked for a return visit is not assured. Knowledge of local market deal flow is key in these relationships.

The evolution of the family office unit, much like business itself, relies on constant change. There are trends in Europe and the US that are having an impact both on the vision and operational aspects of establishing, managing and growing a family office. Despite the influence of corporate practices and financial institutions on the most sophisticated investors in the Kingdom, most of them continue to hold sacred one slogan: “Made in Saudi Arabia.”


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The article is written by Ragheed Moghrabi for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review