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Businesses cannot get distracted by austerity talk

In such periods, a well-calculated spending drive can secure the future

Gulf News

There’s a lot of talk about the shift in spending patterns across the region, evoking dreadful thoughts. Frankly this talk is with merit as less money in the piggy bank, increased competition, and eroding margins from a maturing market are shifting what and how people are spending.

I’m even hearing the dreaded “A” word to describe the changing spending patterns, suggesting the region is entering a time of austerity.

The question is, “How will you respond?” This isn’t the first time we’ve faced austerity. The entire region lived in an austere reality for generations. Then there were two reactions: 1) create an industry — oil and gas, and 2) create an economy.

Again this time there will be two reactions: conformity or prosperity in the midst of austerity. Are you going to be limited by this shift in spending patterns? Or will you prosper?

To learn how to prosper, you need to be brave. Following the Pearling Crisis of 1928 which left Dubai devastated and deeply in debt, local merchants begged young Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum for help. “What are we going to do now?” Though his father, Shaikh Saeed Bin Maktoum, who was still the Ruler of Dubai, the community recognised Shaikh Rashid’s leadership ability.

“What are we good at?” Shaikh Rashid wondered out loud. Dubai had nothing. And then a community member called out an answer: “Pearls!” Shaikh Rashid thought for a moment. “You mean the sea ... Then, that’s it!”

The Pearling Crisis left Dubai no other option than to return to the sea to survive, but not for pearl harvesting — to fish. Fishing would employ men, provide food for the families, and produce a product for export. Although he had never been involved in the fishing industry, Shaikh Rashid decided to lead his citizens back to the sea in order to prosper in the midst of wide-swept austerity.

Shaikh Saeed invested the limited state funds in new fishing boats, but needed more if he was going to move forward. So, he did what many future leaders would do: he borrowed his way out of austerity, tapping into the bank accounts of wealthy merchants along the Arabian Sea Coast.

That way, he could invest in boats and employ people. He grew the economy.

Dubai grew during those austere days. It became the major trading port on the Arabian Peninsula, and its diverse souq retained a level of wealth envied by its neighbours.

That is what you should do when everyone else chooses to be conform to austerity: stay focused on the future and move forward. This isn’t the time to stop; it’s the time to work even harder. Frankly, this is your real opportunity for success, because what you do while spending patterns are shifting will determine your future trajectory.

This may sound counter-intuitive, but austere times offer you the best opportunity to change the game in your favour, with new products or services that will command market share. Many people look at times like this as something to get through, until they can go back to business as usual.

But “business as usual” never returns because markets are irrevocably changing. Why not create changes that move the market in your favour, instead of waiting and reacting to the changes as they take place?

This principle is wrapped up in the question: Do you respond by waiting on uncertainty to stabilise? In other words, by focusing on merely surviving? Or do you stay focused on your growth — the future?

Or what I label “succeeding”? Are you survival or success focused?

The talk of austerity will test your courage and commitment. You’ll either stay focused and get stronger or sit on the sidelines and wait.

Never waste an opportunity even when its dressed up as a challenge. The shift in spending patterns is your platform to get things and offers a sense of urgency to accelerate their implementation.

Be brave and pursue prosperity in the midst of austerity.

— The writer is a CEO coach and author of “Leadership Dubai Style”. Contact him at