Growth of the Indian Basmati Rice Market in the Arab World

Growth of the Indian Basmati Rice Market in the Arab World

  • Basmati rice is grown in the Indo-Pak subcontinent and is considered the most preferred variety of rice consumed in nearly all parts of the Arab world.
  • Due to the phenomenal growth in sales the Indian basmati market has moved from being just a commodity to being a branded commodity.
  • Indian basmati continues to enjoy a robust growth in the Arab markets, especially in the traditionally non-basmati markets like Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq etc. This trend is likely to continue in the next few years and thereby offers tremendous opportunities for the rice traders in the region.

Rice has been a staple grain in Arab cuisine for ages. This is true not only for the Gulf Arab states, but also for the Levant (also known as the Eastern Mediterranean) and other Arab markets. The region has fulfilled its needs for rice largely from the Indo-Pak region, Egypt, and Thailand. Each of these rice growing regions provides rice of different varieties with varying properties and is thus used for different dishes. But the most popular variety of rice consumed is the basmati from India/Pakistan because of its distinct properties.

Some of the common properties of Indian basmati rice are:
  • Non-sticky, fluffy, remains separate after cooking
  • Elongates almost double on cooking
  • High volume expansion
  • Possesses the natural fragrance (aroma) characteristic of basmati
  • Easily digestible
Basmati rice is grown in the Indo-Pak subcontinent and is considered the most preferred variety of rice consumed in nearly all parts of the Arab world. It is used for making a number of dishes that are an integral part of Arab cuisine. Also a large number of the spices used in Arab cuisine are also those emphasized in Indian cuisine. This is a result of heavy trading and historical ties between the two regions, and also because many South Asian expats live in the Gulf Arab states.
Some of the common rice dishes in the Arab world are Mandy, Bukhary, Kawazy, Zurbian, Chicken Biryani, Mutton Biryani, Fish Biryani, Vegetable Biryani, Pulao Biryani, and plain rice both white and Sella (parboiled). Although Indian basmati rice has been the hot favorite of the Arabs of the Gulf Region, over the last few years we are seeing a phenomenal rise in the consumption of it in the Levant countries. The below chart elucidates this trend in the region.
Growth of the Indian Basmati Rice Market in the Arab World1
Growth of the Indian Basmati Rice Market in the Arab World2
Source: DGCIS Annual Export/APEDA
One of the reasons for this changing trend is the return of a number of native people who have been living in the Gulf back to their home countries, these people have developed a taste for dishes like Biryani—for which basmati is the most suitable rice.
The consumption of Indian basmati is also growing in the traditional basmati markets of the Gulf and Iran. This trend is likely to progress with the passage of time as people in the Arab world are likely to continue to patronize the Indian basmati rice and consumption continues to grow.
Due to the phenomenal growth in sales the Indian basmati market has moved from being just a commodity to being a branded commodity. There has been the emergence of a plethora of brands in this category across the Arab world. Tilda was the first mover in this direction immediately after the first gulf war in 1991. It has been the dominant player since then despite the entry of other brands like India Gate, Dawat, Kohinoor, Himalyan Crown, Indian Star, Dunar, Radikal, and Raindrop to name a few.
The entry of these new brands has also fragmented the Indian basmati rice market with most players bringing in more than one variety of Indian basmati. While Tilda was selling only the traditional Indian basmati, India Gate came into the market with a new variant called 1121 Indian basmati. While the former offered aroma as the key product attribute, which is most suitable for plain steamed rice and green peas pulao, the latter offered elongation post cooking (2.2 times the raw grain size) as the USP (unique selling point)—which is very suitable for all types of Biryanis.
The other brands like Dawat, Kohinoor, Dunar, etc. came in offering multiple variants of Indian basmati, which can be differentiated by the different packaging colors. Indian basmati is also sold in different forms with each country having its own market dynamic. While the lower gulf markets like the UAE, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait are raw rice markets, the other markets like KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia), Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Jordan, etc. are parboiled rice (also called Sella rice) markets. Parboiling is obtained by steam boiling the rice paddy before processing. This makes the cooking of various dishes like Mandi, Khabsah, etc. much easier.
Indian basmati continues to enjoy a robust growth in the Arab markets, especially in the traditionally non-basmati markets like Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq etc. This trend is likely to continue in the next few years and thereby offers tremendous opportunities for the rice traders in the region.

The article is written by Subbooh Moid for Arab Business Review

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

Processed Frozen Food in the Gulf

Processed Frozen Food in the Gulf

  • The growth of processed frozen food industry in the Gulf is driven by convenience, as more and more families are now having both partners who are full time employed there is a growing demand for quick and easy cook meal solutions.
  • Going forward the growing health and wellness trend is expected to positively influence the eating habits of consumers who will be seeking fresher and leaner meat, lower-fat chicken and gluten-free products, as well as more vegetables.
  • Frozen processed food will remain more affordable than fresh produce, hence, consumers will still be willing to purchase frozen processed food even if they have to compromise on the health benefits.

The process of freezing food in order to preserve it is an age old practice, it freezes all the moisture present in the food to ice. This in turn slows down the growth of bacteria which is responsible for food degeneration. The method is mainly used in preserving food such as meats, seafood and vegetables.

In Processed Frozen Food industry the various products are frozen at extremely low temperature (- 40 degrees) through a method called flash freezing or blast freezing. Food Products frozen in the above manner do not require any further preservative to be added. Since microorganisms do not grow at temperatures’ below -9.5 degrees and the standard for storing and transporting frozen food products is -18 degrees, the products continue to maintain their original state so long as the cold chain remains intact.

In the Gulf this is a growing category and convenience seems to be the key driver of this growth. As more and more families are now having both partners who are full time employed there is a growing demand for quick and easy cook meal solutions. Processed Frozen Food is being seen as a key category which is fulfilling this need cutting across all nationalities.

The Product Group with its various sub groups & segments is highlighted below:

Product Groups Meat Seafood Dough Vegetable
Product Sub Groups Chicken Beef Shimps Fish Flat Breads Other Dough Prod. Vegetable Others
Product Segments Chicken Beef IQF Shrimps Fish Fillets Paratha Croissants IQF Vegetables Samosas
Burgers Burgers Breaded Shrimps Whole Fish Chappati Filled Puff Pastry SpringRolls
FrankFurters Kebabs Marinated Shrimps Fateera Pastry Sheets
Kebabs Meatballs Bread Sticks
Nuggets Pizza Base
Breaded Fillets Muffins & Cakes
Meatballs
Samosas
SpringRolls
IQF Cuts

The Frozen Food category in the GCC consists primarily of the above Product Groups, Sub Groups and Segments. However based the contribution of these Sub Groups and segments may vary from country to country in the region.

While Chicken Frankfurters is the biggest category contributing almost 45% of Processed Meat Group in UAE and Oman, Mince is the biggest contributor to the group in Saudi Arabia. However between Frankfurters, Mince, Burgers, Nuggets, Breaded Fillets & Kebabs they contribute more than 75% of the Processed Frozen Meat category throughout the region.

Processed Frozen Food in the Gulf1

Processed Frozen Food in the Gulf2

Frozen Sea food is another major category in most of the countries of GCC because of the strong consumer preference for seafood like Shrimps & Fish Fillet etc. Although its contribution to the overall Frozen Food market is not as big as Meat.

In the Frozen Dough Group flat breads sell across countries in the region due to the large population from South Asia, followed by others categories consisting of Croissants, Bread Sticks, Muffins & Cakes, and Pizza Base, etc which are mainly used by the Foodservice sector. The sales of Puff Pastry Sheets is predominantly during the Ramadhan season by both Foodservice and end Consumers.

In terms of the brands that are available in GCC we can classify them as follows:

  • International Brands
  • Regional/ Local Brands
  • In House Brands

Amongst the International brands we have Sadia from Brazil at the top of the list followed by Doux from France and Emborg from Denmark offering an assortment of products. There are also a host of other international brands present only in the Chicken Franks segment from Brazil, Denmark, France, Turkey, etc.

Regional brands are those which are produced within the region and have a region wide presence, like Americana, Al Kabeer, Al Areesh, Khaleej, Al Islami, etc. Then there are some local brands that are available in a select few countries of the region like As Saffa(Oman & UAE) and number of local brands in Saudi Arabia & Qatar. These brands offer an assortment of various products mainly in the frozen meat Group.

Processed Frozen Food in the Gulf3

Processed Frozen Food in the Gulf4

A number of major retailers have also extended their In-house brands into the Frozen Food category and are gradually taking over large part of the frozen food shelf. All major regional retailers like LULU, CARREFOUR, CO Ops, PANDA, etc have now got their in house brands contract manufactured and are occupying prime shelf space, however they are restricted to their own out lets only.

Going forward the growing health and wellness trend is expected to positively influence the eating habits of consumers who will be seeking fresher and leaner meat, lower-fat chicken and gluten-free products, as well as more vegetables. Vegetables are likely to replace carbohydrates, which will boost sales of frozen processed vegetables.

Furthermore, the convenience factor will continue to drive this Segment as consumers will lead busier lifestyles and seek easier meal options. The product offering of Frozen Food is likely to see a change from the current “Ready to Cook” products to “Ready to eat” or “Heat & Eat” kind of options so we are likely to see a growth in Flash Fried products in the meats subgroup or Pre baked Parathas etc. in the Dough sub group.

Frozen processed food will remain more affordable than fresh produce, hence, consumers will still be willing to purchase frozen processed food even if they have to compromise on the health benefits. However the demand for lower-fat and organic frozen processed food items is likely to grow steadily over time.

The article is written by Subbooh Moid for Arab Business Review

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

Health Tourism in the UAE

Health Tourism in the UAE

  • Some Arab countries have all the factors required for a successful health tourism industry and Government support can help these countries become popular health tourism destinations
  • The U.A.E. is positioning itself to become a hub for global medical tourism and a preferred destination for domestic and foreign patients seeking high quality and cost effective procedures and treatment
  • While Dubai has many things going for it which make it an excellent health tourism destination, there are some challenges it faces such as competition from some South Asian countries and availability of affordable medicine

Health Tourism is increasingly becoming a successful investment strategy in the west and far-east countries. Governments have supported this sector primarily for its anticipated contribution to the development of the economy through generation of revenues and for its potential impact on improved quality of healthcare services. However, some of the Arab countries are also in a position to make this sector a very successful industry as they do have all the factors that can make it happen. Some of these factors are; natural hot spring and mineral waters and state of the art medical centers as well as the abundant resources for investing in cutting edge healthcare services. The GCC spends an approximately USD 30 billion on overseas treatment yearly. Therefore, there has to be some strategies to shift the burden from the Government, one way of doing that is by promoting health tourism in the GCC through developing this sector and support it with all required legislations and policies that are conducive to creating a favorable environment for its growth.

The U.A.E. is positioning itself to become a hub for global medical tourism and a preferred destination for domestic and foreign patients seeking high quality and cost effective procedures and treatment. The U.A.E. is already home to a number of high-profile partnerships which seek to bring Western technology, practices, and standards to the U.A.E. in an efficient and culturally relevant manner. The Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi and Mubadala—is scheduled to open its 360-bed multi-specialty tertiary care hospital in 2015 , The Johns Hopkins University Medical School works in partnership with Tawam Hospital, a 466-bed facility in Al Ain. The Dubai Healthcare City; consists of two free zones—a medical cluster and a wellness cluster—on a total of 23.2 million square feet of land and has attracted a number of top U.S companies and institutions as its key partners.

The U.A.E. has positioned itself as an attractive investment prospect for U.S. companies seeking to expand their footprint in the Gulf region. The country presents a substantial growth opportunity within the framework of strong regulatory oversight and ambitious plans to expand and improve healthcare coverage for its growing population. Through strong partnerships and direct investment opportunities. As per business monitor international report its expected that the health spending in the UAE will reach 11Billions US Dollars by 2015. Therefore, health tourism was consider as a sector which can contribute to the economic growth of the country.

Dubai has taken the initiative of promoting the city in the medical tourism hub in the 2012. Dubai is the most diversified economy in the GCC. Currently over 2 million residents from over 150 different nationalities lives in Dubai. It has its own Independent regulatory body established to ensure international standards in patient safety and quality of care. The health outcomes compare well to international benchmarks and clinical guidelines have been introduced. There are Over 4,750 doctors/ physicians speaking over 40 languages and centers of Excellence offering treatment for a wide range of specialties. This is to ensure that our community and our health tourism receive the best of care and feel safe. Geographically Dubai is only four hour flight from one third of the world’s population and within 12 hours for the remaining two thirds. As a health tourism it save on average between 30 to 60% on the cost of treatments when compared to the US. The high standard of living helps in attracting and retaining physicians and nursing staff compared to the other countries in the Middle East. And above all, the growing tourism sector and the expanding airlines networks (The Emirates and Al-Itihad airlines) make an excellent opportunity for promoting a travel driven medical tourism hub in the UAE.

Despite these forth mentioned favorable conditions, however looking at the market, there are challenges that Dubai will face and could be hard to change without a comprehensive plan, these include;

  • Competitive prices for treatment in the region; offered by India, Thailand and Singapore.
  • Nationals still seek health care in competitive countries.
  • Availability of world class, quality medicines at affordable prices.

The article is written by Laila Al Jassmi for Arab Business Review

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

Embracing Solar Power – What can MENA nations learn from the World?

Embracing Solar Power

  • MENA countries have come out with ambitious solar energy targets that can created a stir in the global solar markets.
  • The targets are justified considering the advantages of solar energy adoption of these countries
  • However, with solar energy revolution loosing direction at the global level, the MENA countries have the luxury of learning from the mistakes made by early adopters. 

As discussed in our previous article on renewable energy in Middle East, the region has come alive to the idea of adopting renewable energy and solar energy is the form of renewable energy which most countries are keen on investing-in in a big way. According to the Mena Solar Energy Report 2014, published by MEED, the region is expected to have solar capacity of 15,000 MW of solar energy by the end of the decade. This is significant growth compared with current installed capacity of 271 MW as of January 2014.

Embracing Solar Power1Source: GreenProphet.com

Adoption of solar energy brings along many advantages for Arab countries, some of which are:

  • Long term energy security
  • Efficient utilization of higher irradiance
  • Environment friendly energy
  • Employment generation
  • Attract foreign investment
  • Access to latest technology

The solar power revolution in the region was started mainly by net-oil importing countries such as Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia, and Lebanon and now nearly all the countries have joined in led by Saudi Arabia. Most countries have pretty ambitious targets, and see solar power taking a meaningful place in their energy mix. While these targets underline the right intent of MENA governments towards solar energy, achieving these targets in the most beneficial way is going to be a challenge for most of these countries.

Globally, the solar power revolution is sort of loosing direction, with projects in several countries failing due to poor economics, policy instability, and quality issues. Big solar power promoters such as Germany, US, Japan, and Australia are discovering that successful, profitable and sustainable adoption of solar power is easier to talk about than to achieve.

  • Germany, the world’s flag bearer for solar power adoption is already witnessing a decline in newly installed capacity as the subsidies phase out in the coming years. According to a Forbes article, even after years of solar power subsidies Germany’s residential electricity cost is about USD 0.34/kWh, one of the highest rates in the world. About USD 0.07/kWh goes directly to subsidizing renewables, which is actually higher than the wholesale electricity price in Europe. To make matters worse, billing rates are expected to rise another 40% by 2020. As a result, more than 300,000 households per year are seeing their electricity shut off because they cannot afford the bills. The subsidizing approach has clearly not worked for Germany.
  • United States where the solar panel generating capacity exploded from 83 megawatts in 2003 to 7,266 megawatts in 2012 is now discovering that the poor quality solar PV panels from China are failing raising a big question on quality and sustainability of the installed capacity. SolarBuyer, a company based in Marlborough, Mass., discovered defect rates of 5.5% to 22% during audits of 50 Chinese factories during 2012 and 2013.
  • In Japan, when public confidence in nuclear energy weakened after Fukushima disaster in 2011, the government turned to solar energy giving huge subsidies which led a rush of developers with plans to deliver solar energy equivalent to 21 nuclear reactors. However, due to lack of experience and expertise the developers are now facing issues such as lack of funds, grid capacity limitations, land permit issues, wait lists for Japanese brand equipment and a shortage of qualified technicians. As a result only around 20% of the projects are able to supply energy to the grids and the deficit is expected to cost the utilities USD 3.5 billion annually on coal and gas imports.
  • In Australia, another proponent of solar energy for a long time, the government is looking to withdraw its earlier announced renewable energy targets midway. This policy instability has killed investor confidence in Australian renewable energy sector and several projects and under a risk of being scrapped or lay unfinished due to lack of investment.

As the MENA governments start to traverse the solar path it is essential for them to learn from these global experiences and they have in place proper policies and initiatives that can help them avoid known failures. The major check-points that come out of the above examples are:

  1. The policy focus should be on increasing efficiency of solar power projects and not solely rely on subsidies through feed-in tariffs. Achieving this should be easier than in countries such as Germany and Italy, because the Arab region gets one of the best solar irradiance in the world.
  2. The quality of solar installations should not be compromised for cost, and there should be proper control over the quality of equipment being used. Qatar Solar Energy Company has presented the perfect example in this case by setting a solar PV manufacturing plant which will satisfy local demand as well as give them complete control over quality of equipment.
  3. Transparent tendering and ongoing monitoring process is essential, to ensure that projects are awarded to only capable vendors are completed within planned time and cost.
  4. Policy stability is required to attract and sustain investor confidence.

The Sun has always shown brightly over the Arab world and it has the potential to remain an energy leader in the world – only if realized properly.

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

The Dutch Disease that plagues Rentier Iraq

The Dutch Disease that plagues Rentier Iraq

 

  • Some of the symptoms of Dutch disease are that it creates very rich countries but poor citizens, and high financial revenues with few job opportunities.
  • Oil export increase raises the value of the local currency but it makes the national industry less competitive with goods of other countries.
  • To worsen the situation, the government of oil-producing country is not linked to citizens as it does not need them, because it receives its vast resources from oil industry. 
  • Getting rid of the resource curse that has hit the economy of Iraq and infected its political system requires several solutions including the diversification of the country’s exports to be free of the single-source economy, which depends on oil. 

Iraq seems to be hit by many curses. Among those, the most serious is the resource curse, or what is so called (Dutch Disease).

This word was first used as a term in 1977 and can be defined as a set of negative effects that badly influence the establishment of proper economy. Some of the symptoms of Dutch disease are that it creates very rich countries but poor citizens.

It also provides greater financial revenues with few job opportunities. That’s applied in Iraq. This disease has previously struck other countries in addition to Netherlands, such as Spain, Australia and Nigeria.

Oil export increase raises the value of the local currency but it makes the national industry less competitive with goods of other countries. On the other hand, the oil market is unstable with volatile prices. Also this industry is one of those, which doesn’t absorb unemployment, requires intensive and immense capital and labor at professional level of skills.

Perhaps the most serious symptoms of Dutch disease are those related to the side effects of the disease, as the crisis transit from the field of economics to the field of political practice. Rentier states and those countries, whose economy depends entirely on oil, suffer from some governments that give all their efforts to the perpetuation of the existing political regime at the expense of the fundamental goals of the state.

In addition to this, the government of oil-producing country is not linked to citizens as it does not need him, because it receives its vast resources from oil industry. When citizens do not pay taxes, they have that feeling of separation along with their government, especially when the state/ Government turned into a shop that sells oil.

The government, then, is not afraid of citizen accountability, because citizen does not supply the country’s economy. Thereof, it is reflected in the political performance of the governments of such Rentier states. That actually leads to a political climate in which the authoritarian tendencies and dictatorial aspects are vivid in addition to mating between wealth and power.

So Dutch disease contributes to the creation of a more centralized state, through which the government spending is doubled. Moreover, it makes the citizen’s capability of formulation of public policies shrinks and that generates an atmosphere of discontent among those who are marginalized- the people, and helps the government to enhance its repressive means to keep the situation unchanged. This situation has plagued Iraq since several decades when oil was discovered. Current and previous governments of Iraq have abused the oil fortunes to create regimes and to ensure their stay in power as long as possible. These governments are used to distributing donations to those who are close and loyal to them neglecting the vast majority who is getting crumbs in their rich country.

Although the new political system in Iraq, after the fall of the former regime, is based on a democratic basis and a constitution, which guarantees the independence of the three powers (Legislative, Executive and Judiciary) and allow those powers to derive their legitimacy from the people as the source for all authorities, influential political blocs are formed. Those blocs collected fortunes through their political status, and acquired huge privileges concerning oil, as well as the exploitation of public money in the purchase of consciences especially in the election season to get the votes of the electorates, in addition to widespread administrative and financial corruption.

Getting rid of the resource curse that has hit the economy of Iraq and infected its political system requires several solutions including the diversification of the country’s exports to be free of the single-source economy, which depends on oil. It also requires a policy of decentralization in the organization of the oil industry and the applying the principle of transparency in handling this industry, in addition to the establishment of an oil fund that ensures a fair distribution of oil profits to the citizens along with developing a tax system in order to re- link the citizens to their government.

The article is written by Falah Mousa for Arab Business Review

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

Amazon is stealing your customers by paying their employees to leave

Amazon is stealing your customers

  • Regional competition for customers shows focus on customer satisfaction as the key business driver
  • Developing a customer centric corporate culture is essential for success
  • Motivate employees to care and be creative to keep customers happy and develop employee growth
How committed to your customer are you?

No company wants to say that, do they?  And while the Region sorts out logistical, cultural, and human capital specifics, Amazon.com and their CEO Jeff Bezos are already doing a growing business here.

Now, while you may say the GCC and Regional organizations have adopted a steep learning curve to meet customer needs and things are improving; the reality is simply this: you’re customers are there already and they’re waiting with high expectations for you to take care of them.   And if you don’t, Jeff et almost certainly will.

Today, commitment to the organization’s success is expressed directly as commitment to the customer.  And in our Region and around the world, it has to be.  Otherwise you won’t survive for long in today’s highly competitive marketplace.

The secret is to bring smart and creative customer driven employees and timely value based solutions to customers so they are happy and continue to buy from you. Simply said, you need a customer-centric culture to drive organizational success.  Commitment to your customer must be paramount.

Take Zappos, which has been acquired by Jeff Bezos’ amazon.com, and how they both feel about the importance of customer service and the need for staff to buy into their concept.  For Tony Hsieh, Zappos’s CEO, this meant taking his customer-centric philosophy to another level. Zappos employee training and orientation process sought to retain only the best employees with the most customer oriented mindset.  This paradigm was so engrained in its culture,  Zappos designed a program unheard of in the industry.  Hsieh referred to it as the “walk-away option” where newly trained employees were offered up to one month’s salary to walk away after completing their intensive training program.

That’s right, after finishing Zappos’s comprehensive and intensive training, newly hires were given the option of leaving the company to pursue other job possibilities.  About 2-3% would take the offer, but the vast majority, or upwards of 97-98% decided to stay.  For Hsieh, this method created an internal culture driven to be the best and drove out anyone who wasn’t as committed to their programme’s customer-based ideals.

This unorthodox approach, along with Zappos strong brand attributes, caught the eye of Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos.   After Bezos acquired Zappos, he tweaked Hsieh’s idea and adapted it to the Amazon culture.   Bezos has adopted a similar pay-to-leave program aiming to copy its subsidiary’s selective recruitment and retention strategies.

Once a year, Amazon’s front line employees have a chance to reflect on their work, their company, and their coworkers to decide if they are committed or if they wish to take a pay-to-leave package.  Those who choose to stay and forego the quick cash remain a more closely tied group of committed employees.

This kind of environment  is one wherein Amazon and Zappos are not only saying “there’s the door if you don’t like it”, but “here’s how much we care for our customers.  If you’re not fully on board, here’s the door and cab fare as well to take you home.  Thanks for coming.”

Creative retention and employee training programs like these may be a key driver to attract people to your company.   Furthermore, this could be key in developing an internal brand identity whose hallmark is serving customers’ needs.  And of course, no matter what your business is, when customers’ needs are met or surpassed, business succeeds.  We can thank Zappos for a creative option to building a culture of customer service and yes, Jeff Bezos for building on a solid construct in customer-centric thinking.

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

Thinking Small

 

 

Thinking Small

 

  • Marketing executives often look for that one big brand building activity that will catapult the company’s reputation into the stratosphere, such as names on sports arenas, pricey event sponsorships, and broad reaching brand campaigns.
  • But before you even begin thinking about investing in big ticket items, I recommend you begin by thinking small and invest your limited resources looking at your company’s reputation from the perspective of your current or prospective clients.
  • Go online. Do your homework. Encourage your team to do the same. Then document the results put a plan in place to clean up your online reputation before you start thinking big.

I am always surprised at the amount of money companies invest in brand campaigns while completely ignoring fundamental brand enhancing strategies that cost virtually nothing to execute.  I’m equally awestruck at the minimal attention paid to a number of easily accessed postings on web and social sites that if left unchecked can completely destroy a company’s reputation.

All too often executives look for that one big brand building activity that will catapult the company’s reputation (as well as their careers) into the stratosphere.  Names on sports arenas, pricey event sponsorships, and broad reaching brand campaigns are just a few examples of the big ticket plays that more often than not leave brand managers scratching their heads or worse yet, unemployed.  It happens time and time again.  Why?  We want to believe in the brand illusion. Like a mirage in the desert, many big ticket brand plays look like a much needed oasis in the desert from a distance. Unfortunately, and usually too late, when we reach that oasis it’s nothing like we expected.

I’m not saying that all big ticket brand building activities should be ignored.  Sometimes that oasis is just that – an oasis!  With the right research and insights, a brand manager can realise excellent returns on these investments.  But that assumes time and effort is invested in researching the opportunity and understanding the target audience prior to making the investment, a step too often ignored or underplayed.  It also assumes your marketing team knows how to leverage the event to extract maximum exposure and goodwill from the investment.

But before you even begin thinking about investing in big ticket items, I recommend you begin by thinking small.  Rather than send your marketing team or agencies scouring for some major event to sponsor, first invest your limited resources looking at your company’s reputation from the perspective of your current or prospective clients.  Start by simply going to Google and typing your company name. Look closely at what comes up.  Is it your company or some other brand? Also look at the paid search sections to see if any of your competitors are targeting you and how.  Now click on the news section at the top. What are reporters saying about your company?  Click on the articles and read the comments. Now click on the images.  What images are associated with your brand? Finally, go to the video section.  And once you’re done with Google, go to Yahoo, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and as many of the highly visited and viewed social sites as possible. Do your homework and document the results.

Next, take the time to visit your own web site or sites and sign up for all of your own marketing and social media programs.  Add your name to all of your company’s contact lists.  Then monitor the quality and quantity of the communications you receive.  Watch your company through the eyes of your customer. What you’ll likely find out about your company may surprise you.

We went through this exercise and discovered numerous misrepresentations and misleading information about our company.  In cases where we signed up for our own programs, we discovered that nothing was being communicated.  Apparently our Marketing and Customer Relations Management teams were not communicating with each other so the events we were sponsoring, the ones in which we created cool web applications inviting guests to sign up and learn more, were actually doing more harm than good by creating an expectation that was not being fulfilled.

As we looked closely at all our findings, we also uncovered a number of difficult but true facts about our customer service that had been in our corporate blind spot for years.  We had always thought our company’s brand was second to none and that our customers’ perceptions of our company were nothing less than spectacular.  By investing a little time and almost no money, we discovered the true was far from our reality.

Immediately we jumped into action cleaning up misinformation and contacting companies that had incorrectly posted false images, videos or statements about our company.  Sometimes the effort paid off and sometimes it didn’t. Not every company or person we contacted was willing to work with us, but most were and we found the improvements we achieved in the quality of information about our brand to be well worth the time invested.

We also began formulating new practices and policies to improve our customer service to stay on top of future issues. We also connected our Customer Relations Management and Marketing teams and we improved our coordination with our customer relations and PR teams to resolve issues before they became viral problems.

This process wasn’t nearly as exciting or newsworthy as sponsoring a football league, which incidentally we also did, but it was probably the most important and least costly investment to ensure our brand building activities were structured upon a solid foundation.  Yes, big ticket items can provide big returns. But it’s the little things that too often go unnoticed that can have a negative impact to a company’s image and completely negate all of the positive equity that has been built through years and years of good brand building activities.

So my recommendation is to always start by thinking small.  Look at your company through the eyes of your clients and prospective clients.  Go online. Do your homework. Encourage your team to do the same. Then document the results put a plan in place to clean up your online reputation before you start thinking big.  I’m confident you’ll eventually find the returns of your big investments to be much better and less risky if you do.

The article is written by Don Romano for Arab Business Review

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

Trapped in an old leadership? Think outside the box!

Trapped in an old leadership

 

  • Successful business owners should be able to win over and work with people who they do not have any leverage over. This skill can positively surprise you by opening new business avenues.
  • Showing an interest in others will be huge step towards bridging the gap of trust and building a relationship
  • Leaders that are skilled at demonstrating their appreciation for others will gather more cooperation and results than the commander style dictator in most situations.
  • This is why responsible business owners are encouraged to adopt and practice appreciation and humanity with the very people that they have gathered to fight for their everyday interests and those of their business survival.

One of the best ways for leaders today to embrace the concept of inspirational leadership could be to imagine the character played by Tom Hanks in the film, “Castaway.” He plays the central character, a logistic company employee who survives a plane crash, and finds himself marooned on a deserted island. The story unfolds predictably as to how the victim or hero rises to meet the challenges of surviving alone without anyone in sight coming to the rescue.

Moving slightly away from the script, imagine, how a business owner would welcome one or two people they might accidentally meet on the island, who could offer assistance to reach home. How could a business owner achieve this without having power over them or being able to use money as an incentive? After considering modern day leadership demands, it seems to be a wonderful canvass of opportunity to explore this scenario.

Logic can lead us to the possibility that these new people would be instantly appreciated by the business owner with enthusiasm. What tools would or could they use to win over the cooperation of these strangers that have no allegiance or interest to assist their departure from the island? They have no leverage, no ability to give rewards, so what then could happen?

It seems that in order to gain cooperation willingly, the stranded business owner will soon discover that showing an interest in others will be huge step towards bridging the gap of trust and building a relationship.  If they decide they are too important to take time to do that, they may find the other potential helpers either turn their backs and walk away, or eat them.

However, if they play their cards right, and show a genuine interest in the people whom they are recruiting to collaborate with, chances are much higher that they will in-fact begin to see successes. So how does the modern day business person survive in everyday circumstances that involve the challenge of leading people while engaging their willing cooperation and involvement?

It begins with the same behaviors that were deployed by the stranded business owner alone on a deserted island. Leaders that are skilled at demonstrating their appreciation for others will gather more cooperation and results than the commander style dictator in most situations. Empathy, coaching, inspiring and motivating with more than financial gain as the carrot, will drive business faster and further to growth. Employees today need not wait on the weekly newspaper ads to find their own boat off of the island; they can go online and do an immediate search the instant they feel unappreciated or unable to grow.

This is why responsible business owners are encouraged to adopt and practice appreciation and humanity with the very people that they have gathered to fight for their everyday interests and those of their business survival. Inspirational Leadership employs many more tools, one of these is establishing the big picture and how each of these people play a vital role in insuring that goals of the enterprise are reached. As the landscape of leadership today is a potpourri of different styles, there is one thread that can tie all situations together to form a rope of unity.

Empathy. The very thought of deploying this human quality for some employers may frighten them, as their style may lean toward the commander genre. However, the opportunity for SME owners to adopt the concept will motor their voyage further and faster than the stick that drives employees out of the revolving door.

When people in an organisation are appreciated and then challenged to participate in the process of excellence, innovation, loyalty and the extra mile will become part of an amazing transformation of organizational strength. The owners’ ego which dared to envisioned the start up and creation of the business and their natural obsession to be controlling would require an adjustment in order to openly invite others to cooperate and participate in their voyage of greatness. However the rewards could become magical, if they will only dare to ‘cast away’ old leadership models for new and empowering inspirational leadership within their organisations.

The article is written by Michael J. Tolan 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

Countries Leading the Second Wave of Corporate Governance in the Middle East

Countries_Second Wave of Corporate Governance

  • Corporate governance (hawkamah in Arabic) in Middle East is no longer a term that requires defining, or has an unclear business case
  • All Middle East countries except Iraq have issued a General Corporate Governance Code, with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and UAE being the front runners.
  • UAE has emerged as one of the least corrupt and most globalised economies in the Middle East, ranking 26th out of 177th in the Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Middle East is making consistent progress in the implementation of corporate governance initiatives. In part 1 of our Corporate Governance article series, we had talked about the meaning of corporate governance and emergence of a second wave of corporate governance reforms in the Middle East. And now, in this second part, we will look at the progress made on actual implementation of corporate governance practices by Middle East nations.

Corporate governance (or hawkamah in Arabic) in the Middle East is no longer a term that requires defining, or has an unclear business case. Even from the perspective of a family-controlled business, the case for better governance requires much lesser justification today as compared to a decade ago, as discussed in our first article. Moreover, over the past few years, regional regulators have been abolishing the voluntary nature of corporate governance standards — The Emirati, Saudi, Jordanian, Omani and the Qatari securities regulators have moved to a mandatory corporate disclosure requirement regarding compliance with local corporate governance codes.

All Middle East countries except Iraq have issued a General Corporate Governance Code, with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and UAE being the front runners. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (members of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council)) and Egypt were among the first few Middle East nations who developed and issued Corporate Governance Codes and Guidelines for companies in their territory. The Egyptian Institute of Directors was the first in the region to launch a corporate governance code targeted specifically at state-owned entities in 2005, based on OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance of State-Owned Enterprises. While Saudi Arabia published its Corporate Governance code in 2006, the UAE published corporate governance guidelines in 2007 for joint-stock companies and in 2011 for small and medium enterprises. The table below gives a quick snapshot of the region’s progress so far:

Countries_Second Wave of Corporate Governance1Table 1:  Corporate Governance Codes and Guidelines in Various Middle East Countries

Source: OECD

The UAE has emerged as one of the least corrupt and most globalised economies in the Middle East, ranking 26th out of 177th in the Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index. Qatar followed at 28th, with Bahrain, Oman and Saudi Arabia not too far behind. If we look at the actual steps taken to control corrupt practices, we find that while corporate governance centers and institutes of directors have been established in most countries of the region, UAE has more than one corporate governance institute i.e. the Hawkamah Institute, the Abu Dhabi Corporate Governance Center, GCC and BDI.

Despite progress made by the countries, corporate governance still leads the list of factors required for improving investor trust and confidence. The importance of corporate governance was highlighted in a recent survey conducted by the CFA Institute to evaluate opinions on key issues currently facing investment markets in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The results showed that investment professionals believe political stability and good corporate governance can have the most positive impact on MENA’s economy. Similarly, the majority of respondents (70%) reported that improved corporate governance practices can improve investor trust and confidence across markets in the MENA region. Interestingly, this issue garnered the highest support among all issues in the whole survey.

Question: What do you think would improve investor trust and confidence across markets in the MENA region? Select all that apply. (N=188)

Countries_Second Wave of Corporate Governance2

 

Chart 1: Corporate Governance leads the list of Factors for Improving Investor Trust and Confidence

Source: CFA Institute, MEIC Pre-Conference Survey

We believe that growing awareness at a country level, and increasing investor demand for transparent corporate governance practices will drive adoption among corporates in the region. In the next and final part of our coverage on corporate governance in the region, we will look at case studies of companies in the Middle East that overcame hurdles and improved their governance practices in ways that boosted their performance and growth.

 

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