Middle East corporations exemplify global aspirations

Published March 18th, 2012 - 03:27 GMT
2011 witnessed two major changes in the rankings of the world’s economies
2011 witnessed two major changes in the rankings of the world’s economies

2011 witnessed two major changes in the rankings of the world’s economies. In February, China overtook Japan as the world’s second-largest economy, and in Dec-ember Brazil became the sixth-largest economy, surpassing the UK.

As the emerging economies have rapidly grown over the past two decades, they have also thrown up corporations and brands that have been competing ably with some of the more established names of the developed world. With a robust diversification strategy, the Middle East, and particularly the UAE, has also successfully nurtured some of its local companies, allowing them to emerge as global players. More regional players are striving to make a similar leap.

Consisting of more than 400 alumni (in the region) of the prestigious Indian Institute of Management, the Pan IIM Alumni Network, under the patronage of Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, is organising today its third Gulf summit titled ‘Global organisations from emerging markets’.

This year’s speakers include K.V. Kamath, chairman of ICICI Bank, and Arif Naqvi, Group CEO of private equity player Abraaj Capital. Rashmi Malik, former head of strategy at the National Bank of Dubai and now an independent management consultant, is currently the president of the Pan IIM Alumni Network-UAE. As someone who has worked and lived in the UAE for 20 years, Malik shares her thoughts on how some of the local corporations have been able to achieve international success.

Gulf News: Looking back, how would you describe the journey of some of the region’s organisations?

Rashmi Malik: Over the past 20 years I have personally witnessed the transformation of organisations in the UAE. Initially they had regional ambitions. In the last decade many have developed global ambitions and some have clearly achieved these. Dubai has had such a strong trading ethos that at one time it was difficult to find organisations that understood the power of a brand or were willing to invest in it. In fact, there were more businesses’ than organisations or corporates here. Today a lot has changed — we see several family groups who have strong regional brands, we have seen the emergence of public companies like Emaar and Aramex with regional footprints and we have examples such as Emirates airline which is already a global brand and Etihad Airways working to get there.

What qualities in general amid constraints and crisis of these companies stand out?

I would say there are three mainstays — consistency in strategy, professional management and a strong brand. To stay on strategy is very difficult when the world is collapsing around you — and you need a visionary in the driving seat to stay the course. I think we have seen clear evidence of some of that here in Dubai. Professional management is equally critical, so that decisions are evaluated for their long-term impact, and not based on emotional knee-jerk reactions. Strength of the brand is what really pulls you through as it protects the top line while you re-tool your operations.

How would you say these companies have overcome the challenges they faced?

Those who had strengths in the three areas mentioned above have weathered storms with far greater ease. If you have invested in credibility with your stakeholders — whether they are shareholders, customers, suppliers, employees or financiers — you have the ability to grit your teeth and pull through!

Why just a few from the region that could be called truly global? What has stopped others from attaining greater heights?

Strong foundations are required to take a leap forward. Most successful global organisations have demonstrated strength in their home markets first, and generated cash surpluses that gave them the ability to expand internationally. This takes time — companies in the UAE and India have begun this journey only in the last 10-15 years. Taiwan and Korea for example have been ahead and we have seen brands like Samsung, Hyundai, Acer emerge from there.

China and India have several mega brands, but only a few have transcended into the international arena [Haier, ICBC Bank, Infosys, Tata Motors, ICICI Bank to name a few]. In the UAE, which is not a consumption or manufacturing economy, there are fewer homegrown brands being created in the first place. Airlines and hospitality groups have a natural global orientation by virtue of the customer segments they cater to, and that is where we have seen the primary successes. But strong domestic brands are emerging in areas like telecom, retail and logistics and we may soon see some of these growing internationally.

How much is it a matter of intrinsic worth of the product and how much is it a matter of working out a brand strategy?

It really is very difficult to separate the two — you cannot have a poor product and win on brand strategy alone, nor can you have an excellent product and expect it to be a winner without investment in a brand strategy. Of course there are those where, in my personal opinion, success has been product led e.g. Samsung and others where the product quality and brand strategy have created great synergy e.g. Emirates airline.

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