Common sense might say that starting a new business in the middle of the worst recession in 80 years is a bit of a long shot. For entrepreneur Jamie Groom, the glass is half-full.
"Why not start a business now?" he says. "It puts us in perfect position to take advantage of the market when it's on the way back."
The market, as far as he and partner Barry Prost are concerned, is the recruitment sector — specialising in engineering and construction professionals.
Over the past three months, the two have set up Propel Consult, a recruitment consultancy with offices in Bahrain and Dubai so far, and they're setting their sights on offices in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
But doesn't a recruitment consultancy go against the grain when companies are letting staff go?
"On the contrary," insists Groom, an avuncular Irishman with a decade in experience in the recruitment and human resources field.
"There is a huge talent of pool of experienced people who are looking for work," he says. "Companies do not have the time nor the resources to file through hundreds of CVs looking for the person best suited for a position. We do that for them. We provide them with the best matches for a position based on the company's own criteria. We match people, skill sets and needs," he says.
It's tough to argue with his logic.
"And what's more," Groom enthuses, "the recession has bottomed out.
"The first thing companies do when bad times hit is to let staff go. There has been a cleaning out of excess staff, and we're finding that the layoffs were a knee-jerk reaction and very often too many key staff were let go — almost as if companies panicked.
"Now that things have improved, there is a demand to bring back key technical and planning personnel. That's the main reason why we choose the Gulf, and more specifically, Dubai.
"I mean the reality is that things never slowed down in Abu Dhabi," he point out.
"The Gulf countries are a perfect opportunity for growth and future expansions," Groom enthuses.
"All of the macro-economic data suggest that these countries will emerge and are emerging from the worst of the recession. We aim to be perfectly positioned for this upswing," Groom said.
Adding to his optimism is the reality that setting up a new pan-Gulf business is relatively easy. "This region is pro-business," he adds. "Obviously, there are huge advantages in that personal and corporate income taxes are non-existent."
He points to a recent change in the law in the UAE, for example, scrapping the capital requirement of Dh150,000 for the establishment of a limited liability company.
"This is a huge advantage for small businesses and will spur further economic growth," Groom says.
According to the decree issued by President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the amendment is retroactive to companies established on or after June 1 2009, and allows new businesses such as Propel Consult to determine the capital required for setting up and sustaining their business.
More than 80 per cent of businesses in the UAE fall into the small- and medium-enterprise segment.
But there are challenges facing any new business with ambitions of reaching all quarters of the GCC.
"Obviously cost is a factor," Groom points out. One of the benefits of the recession is that office space is readily available in all sectors, he says, adding that owners of commercial space are now being flexible and realistic when it comes to leasing space, more willing to offer better services such as full office support to new clients.
But he points out that the sponsorship system across the Gulf can be a hurdle when it comes to matching people with companies.
"And there's also a price to pay on a personal level," Groom says. "Living in the Gulf or setting up a business here means being far away from home." Groom should know — he's the father of a very young daughter back in Ireland.
"Don't get me wrong," he says. "Family is important, but living in the Gulf also offers a fantastic lifestyle and that makes it a lot easier for us to attract the right technical specialist here to the right position.
"Language is a problem here too," Groom says. "Obviously, English is the language of commerce for international companies, but when you get down to a micro-economic level, you can run into issues, particularly in day-to-day dealings."
Making local contacts
Ten days ago, Propel Consult opened an office in Bahrain, setting up their operations quite quickly.
"I cannot stress enough how important is for new businesses setting up to make local contacts and take advantage of those at all times," he says.
"Our experience in Bahrain was very positive — we were very fortunate in having a local agent there — Tariq Al Gosaibi from Al Gosaibi Document Clearance in Bahrain — who streamlined the process for us, putting all of the paperwork and legalities in place for our Manama operations."
With the UAE and Bahrain covered, the next big objective for Propel Consult is Saudi Arabia.
"Culturally, there are challenges setting up a company there, but the rewards are good," Groom says.
Having grown up in Ireland, England, Pakistan and Malaysia, Groom is used to living and working in multicultural environments, a skill set which he plans to use to his advantage in breaking into the Kingdom.