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MENA Development Partners

MENA Development Partners LLC

Developing successful business relationships in the Middle East.

**NEW - Collaborative research project on fracking.**

Doing Business in the Middle East


Starting Business in the Middle East

Posted on May 19, 2013 at 9:23 PM Comments comments (53)
With such a lucrative environment in the Middle East, it is a great time to go for it if you and your company feel you have something to offer in the rapidly expanding Gulf economic region. Be ambitious, think big and be ready for a roller coaster ride! These are a few things I have learned from my own experience as I have started doing business in the Middle East.

In general, the "ease of doing business’", even though it may be very publicly boasted about, it is by no means like doing business in other parts of the world, particularly in the US and Western Europe. Recent government reforms have tried to greatly reduced much of the bureaucratic red tape, however doing business in Gulf nations is all about having a solid business plan, finding those partners who really are influential (and many make claims to be such, so be very cautious when you chose any and all partners) and I cannot say this loud enough... find it in yourself to have the patience of a saint! 

As I am experiencing first-hand is that closing business deals in the Middle East, as easy as sounds in our minds. is a challenge. As a newcomer in the region, I rely heavily on my experience and guidance of my trusted partners, just as they do mine when it comes to working with Western companies.

There are several things I have found very helpful as I have started doing business in the Middle East. It was an unfamiliar environment for me from not only a business aspect but also a cultural, ethical and religious. On that note, if you think that religion doesn't play a part of the business environment, think again. Religion is woven in to every single portion of every single transaction and you must be very respectful of this. From the times of day for prayer, to contracts to discussions, religion is omnipresent. LEARN ABOUT IT, it will serve you well.

Learn whatever you can about companies in the country you are trying to do work in. Because some of the large companies are actually owned by by the country (ie, Saudi Aramco), doing business with a nationalized company has very different expectations and guidelines. Be respectful of the companies' heritage and relationships. These are usually very, very big companies. (How does $10 trillion compare to even the biggest Western companies... ExxonMobil is under $500 billion. BIG DIFFERENCE!!)

At the same time as you are learning about the companies in the Middle East, realize that they probably have no clue who you are or your company. They know well recognized global brands like Coca-Cola, so unless you represent one of those, there is a very good chance they have no idea what you do. Show them, they like to see what you offer. They like to see impressive pictures, impressive numbers and show them that you can really do something amazing for them and you bring something to the table. Another note from my personal experience - DON'T RELY ON WEBSITES OR TECHNOLOGY BASED PRESENTATIONS TO TELL YOUR STORY. To simply point them to a website and or an on-line shareholder report will do nothing to help your cause. Not that those websites aren't important, they will be checking them out, so make sure they are very impressive, but don't present them as your only source of company collateral.

Last but not least the biggest thing I have learned from my experience in starting business dealings in the Middle East, find the best attorney who is familiar with Middle East you possibly afford. It will end-up saving you a lot of money and a lot of turmoil down the road. My Chief Legal Consultant has become my right and often left hand. You cannot even imagine the trouble I would have gotten myself into almost every single day if it wasn't for her. There are many, many laws and regulations that most people know nothing about when it comes to doing business in the Middle East. These laws have serious implications and go against some of the business expectations of the Middle Eastern companies. So inform yourself and don't try to do it alone.

For people who are doing business in the Middle East for the first time are usually unfamiliar with the business, cultural, religion and legal environment. These are just a few of the things I have learned from my experience. There are many more so research, research, research. The people you surround yourself with will help you make it or break it. From your local partners on the ground to the your legal team, chose them wisely! It is an exciting time to be part of such ambitious opportunities so do it right and enjoy the ride.

Saudi Arabia stays out of other countries' affairs

Posted on April 28, 2013 at 9:47 PM Comments comments (38)
I read the following announcement today & felt it was important enough to share.

"Riyadh: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement today in response to what has been recently published by the British ‘Financial Times’ newspaper, claiming that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia made contacts with members of the Bahraini AlWefaq Opposition Society, an official source at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the Financial Times newspaper’s article about such contacts is altogether untrue and baseless and that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not interfere, in any way, in other nations affairs and that is a basic and constant principle of its foreign policy." --SPA

I must admit that the whole Laissez-faire (Literally, French for "Let do") has always been something I am torn about. I definitely believe that it needs to based on situation-by-situation/ country-by-country. Part of me wants to believe that countries should "fight their own battles", while the other part of me realizes that the environment is near impossible in a free economy. Fundamentally in theory, it seems to make perfect sense to stay out of other countries' internal affairs. But at the same time, in this day in age, is it even possible?

It is one thing to declare that a country doesn't interfere, I believe a country such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has too much leverage (particularly financial leverage) to absolutely not have some kind of influence on many, many countries' internal affairs. But again, just my personal opinion.

Saudi Arabia's Economic Cities Continued

Posted on April 12, 2013 at 9:36 PM Comments comments (52)

All of Saudi's new Economic Cities are being built with strong environmental specifications. One of the key ideas around building these cities is to create private sector opportunities (via jobs, new businesses, new ways of living as well as private investment opportunities.

King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) is divided into six main components:
  • the industrial zone (including mfg., R&D, business services, hospitality, etc.)
  • the seaport, which will be the largest in the region
  • the residential area for 500,000 people
  • the sea resort, expected to be a major tourist destination
  • the educational zone (including several universities with R&D facilities)
  • the central business district

KAEC is the only one of the new cities that does not center around a specific industry. It is in an ideal for diverse commerce because of its location on the coast of the Red Sea.

In Hail, you will find Prince Abdul Aziz Bin Mousaed Economic City. The goal& planning is is to have a population of over 80,000 people. The intent is to be the hub of transportation routes in the Middle East through:
  • transportation,
  • logistics,
  • petrochemicals,
  • agribusiness,
  • minerals and construction materials.

Near the holy mosque of the Prophet, in Medinah is the Knowledge Economic City. Interesting, particularly given its proximity to the holy mosque, this city is planned around Islamic themes, Islamic civilization studies and eventually a theme-park based around the Prophet and Islam. Medinah will also have science, health & medical, technical and other colleges. This Economic City should have a population of around 200,000. (With that kind of population & the tourist and holy attractions, hotels and retail are also being planned.)
On the Red Seat in the southwestern part of the kingdom will be the largest of the new Economic cities, Jazan. Jazan's industry will be the more labor-centric, focusing on things like energy, agriculture, commercial fishing (both packaging and distribution). And of course, in Jazan, given their location on the Red Sea, there will include (my favorite), water desalination plants and power distribution centers. 

These are all very aggressive initiatives. It takes significant and long-term commitment to growth (both through population and economic) and innovation by both the government and the private sector. These initiatives could not happen in a country that did not have serious money to invest in the infrastructure and development of these cities. We need to applaud the progress in the Kingdom and hopefully when we come out of the economic toilet in the US & Europe, we too will be able to take-on such aggressive projects to also see cities of the future.

Why so much on Saudi Arabia vs. other countries in the region

Posted on March 23, 2013 at 9:42 PM Comments comments (68)
I feel like I need to add a bit of explanation why so much of the section on the "Business News in the Middle East" in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Without sounding too simplistic, because there is so much more in business news coming out of Saudi than other countries in the region these days.

There are always times when one country's economic boom is much sexier and interesting than another's. And this happens to currently be the case in the Kingdom. (While they probably would not like to refer to their boom as sexy, it certainly is much more compelling.) "

Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency's policy is likely to mirror that of the US; consequently, we do not foresee any changes before 2014,” the National Commercial Bank (NCB) said in its report yesterday.

Arab News also commented "The robust economy facilitated the possibility of maintaining an elevated level of credit expansions as investments increase within the Kingdom. Local banks are expected to maintain the current level of credit with a more selective approach for 2013."

So I believe it is Sutton's Law that simply states "Go where the money is... and go there often." Although this saying may be an urban myth, I ask you, need I say more?