Here's What It Takes For A MENA-Born Business To Become A Global Champion As a new generation of Mideast entrepreneurs thrive in the post-colonial era, it's time to take our renewed talent back to the heart of the global trade.
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It is right -and important- for us in the MENA region to ask important questions about our competitiveness and skills.
For instance, who are our global champions?
Will the MENA region launch a tech success like Google?
Do we have what it takes to create global winners?
As it so happens, the answer to all these questions is a resounding "yes."
Saudi Arabia's Aramco is the world's third-largest company by market value. Its sister company, SABIC, is a global leader in chemicals. Meanwhile, ACWA Power, also based out of Saudi Arabia, is a highly respected leader in the renewables and water processing space.
In the UAE, Emirates has set new benchmarks for global excellence in aviation. Jumeirah has done the same with hospitality.
Qatar hosted what is widely regarded as the best FIFA World Cup. Meanwhile, Egypt's Orascom reaches homes across the world with its telecommunications, cement, and energy enterprises.
The list can go on and on- but the point remains the same.
The MENA region is already home to numerous global champions, and many more are being developed as we speak.
Indeed, knowledge industries are the next wave of global champions.
While the region has seen many global champions in traditional industries such as aviation, hospitality, and industry, we are seeing a new wave of new and developing champions in the high tech space, defense, healthcare, and other knowledge industries.
Organizations like SAMI and Tawazun are strong players across defense industries, Hekma Pharmaceuticals is a leader in medicine, and many tech-driven companies like Souq.com (which has gone on to be acquired by Amazon), Aramex, and more represent a new generation of knowledge-based companies.
The champions are there, but they are not enough- and a new wave will come through during the next few years.
The formula for global success
All the MENA-born global champions mentioned above offer a similar pathway to success on the world economic stage. Let's review the key elements of this formula:
1. OFFERING REAL VALUE It's not about going global for the sake of it- rather, it's about offering global stakeholders value that is compelling. Emirates created the first truly global aviation network, Tawazun is transforming federal budgets for the better with homegrown industries that export to regional and global markets, and Aramco provides global energy security while supporting numerous corporate social responsibility (CSR), sport and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) activities worldwide.
2. DIFFERENTIATION A successful global business must be different from its competitors. Emirates brought a combination of a global network, and fused it with luxury services and affordable prices– none of the legacy carriers in the US and Europe have succeeded in replicating that model. It has only been mimicked from the MENA region with challenger airlines like Etihad and Qatar Airways.
Related: Trust Is Built, Not Bought
3. FOCUS ON QUALITY In a world where global players are increasingly offering commoditized solutions and products, MENA-born businesses must maintain high quality across every aspect of their offerings. The minute you get into discounting, the game will be over, and while you may go global, you will not have the profits or cash to sustain growth.
4. MANAGE YOUR COST BASE While maintaining quality, leverage the competitive advantage of lower labor and operating costs in the MENA region to build your operational and service backbone. In many markets, particularly in the European Union (EU), a blizzard of over-regulation and crushing taxes, combined with ill-conceived welfare policies post the COVID-19 pandemic, are sapping the energy of the workforce. It is not a surprise that innovation and competitiveness are in decline, while costs and bureaucracy are on the rise. We in the MENA do not have these obstacles, and we should take full advantage of building lower-cost, higher-scale businesses that can serve the world.
5. CLIENT SERVICE I find it incredible how in some markets like the US, client service is increasingly automated and impersonal. While chatbots and auto-support solutions are appropriate for some client service tasks, the fundamental reality is people continue to operate based on trust, relationships, and familiarity. Most MENA-born global champions invest heavily in excellent customer teams that are multi-everything, operate on a 24/7 basis, and care deeply about customer happiness.
6. AMBITION The most important part of the global success equation is the belief that we can do it! The famous ask -i.e. "why not?"- is resounding and compelling. Why can't we have the best tech, hotels, airlines, industries, energy leaders, and consulting services? Our parents, grandparents, leaders and governments have worked incredibly hard during the post-colonial era to elevate healthcare and education to levels not seen since the golden ages of the Islamic Renaissance. This opened the door to a wave of entrepreneurship, infrastructure, globalization and most of all, ambition.
If you are operating a fintech startup in Cairo, or a blockchain business in Dubai, an energy leader in Saudi Arabia, or an art lab in Beirut, the reality is you can and must go global- why limit your talent and value to local or regional markets, when technology allows you take your services to the world?
I have often heard investors in the region talk about building "fortresses of value" in Mideast markets, which can be acquired by international operators. I believe this to be a gravely mistaken strategy; in the digital world, there are no boundaries. International competitors can set up a sales office in the region, and compete with any local or regional player. But instead of relenting and doing nothing about it, let's take our value to the world– it is often as good as, if not better than, international operators, and the best of us will find we are the ones who end up acquiring business in the West and Asia, as opposed to the other way around.
Throughout history, the MENA has been at the crossroads of civilization and trade. Our entrepreneurs were renowned across all global markets for their savvy, quality, and workmanship. As a new generation of Mideast entrepreneurs thrive in the post-colonial era, it's time to take our renewed talent back to the heart of the global trade. It's already happening, and the momentum will only intensify during the years to come.