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What I learned from five years at the top

The outgoing chairman of the British Business Group Dubai discusses the importance of loyalty, advocacy and resilience for companies and individuals

Dubai's Sheikh Zayed Road in 2020 Pixabay/Makalu
Dubai's Sheikh Zayed Road in 2020

I have chaired the British Business Group Dubai & Northern Emirates for the past five years. It is a position I have held with great pride and, over the years, I have seen huge changes in the region reflected through our ever-evolving membership.

As my BBG tenure ends, I am leaving a very different organisation from the one I was elected to lead in 2017. Three themes strike me the most when I look back: loyalty, advocacy and resilience. 

Loyalty

In terms of loyalty, it is worth remarking that some BBG members have been with the group for its entire 35-year existence.

The BBG was created to support the pioneers of British industry in the region to provide a slice of home for the career-change seekers and original entrepreneurs.

It has since grown as a network and an ecosystem supporting British-owned Dubai-based business, UK professionals and UK PLCs since 1987 – with some definite ebbs and flows.

Sheikh Zayed Road in 1990, three years after the founding of the BBG Dubai. Picture: Creative Commons

I had to navigate the hard way back in 2001 as I set up my company formation business – an idea generated through my own need and experience.

While I don’t want to take away from the pain and frustration that today’s entrepreneurs feel in setting up in the UAE – it is definitely a lot easier to be a business person in the region today.

We are supported and encouraged by the UAE government’s mission to gather information, reflect, improve and enhance the processes around being an entrepreneur.

British people are naturally attracted to international business standards, familiarity and experience, which is why the BBG continues to provide for a loyal following.

Advocacy

Advocacy is an integral pillar of business in the UAE – and before social media and e-comms, it was even more important to cultivate brand ambassadors out of your clients and employees.

I always appreciate the time it takes someone to provide feedback or make a referral, as this can only inspire or improve your proposition and increase prospects. 

We celebrate member advocacy and are aware how fragile that position is. Just as quickly as someone can have a positive experience and tell five contacts, they can have a bad experience and share a negative view that is extremely difficult to undo.

I would say that this region is particularly sensitive to advocacy and strives for optimal experience.

Resilience

The theme of resilience has featured throughout the 35 years of the BBG. It is a necessary quality for companies navigating in an unknown region, as well as families moving from the UK.

Then there are all the transition logistics. However, the coronavirus pandemic certainly threw new light on the issue. 

Our membership engagement made us aware of how many businesses were hit extremely hard by the lockdown, the uncertainty and the travel restrictions.

As they begin to recover, there has been a huge adjustment period linked to working arrangements, employee management challenges and, of course, huge financial pressure. 

However, the BBG members that showed the greatest resilience across multiple sectors are now enjoying growth, consistency and some even possess greater confidence to look further afield in to new markets across the GCC and even back to the UK. 

I look forward to continuing to support the BBG membership through my newly appointed role of director, government relations on the BBG board, where I will be focused on the existing UK-UAE trade corridor and development of GCC free trade agreements, working closely with the British embassy, Department for International Trade, UAE government and Dubai Chamber of Commerce.

John Martin St Valery OBE is director, government relations, on the board of the British Business Group

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