Dubai: “DubaiFirst” remains the abiding policy for multinational companies when setting up base for the regional headquarters. If anything, this mindset has only been reinforced in recent times.
“Which other country [apart from UAE] can you recommend to set up a base?” asks D.Y. Kim, President of LG Gulf. “The country itself is growing, transport and logistics are better and well-placed here.
“Saudi Arabia is a very large country but it is difficult to get a visa and business regulations are not as easy as Dubai. Dubai is the easiest place to set up a business,” he said.
For Google, too, the UAE is central to the company’s business in the Middle East and North Africa region.
“We are seeing more people transfer from other Google offices to Dubai, as it provides an attractive place for them to work in,” according to Joyce Baz, Google’s spokesperson for the Mena (Middle East and North Africa) territory.
“While regulatory ease is a prime motive, so are the infrastructure, both the ‘hard’ one as represented by its transport and logistics links and the ‘soft’ in the form of access to innovation driven processes. That is why Dubai has become the regional headquarters for some of the biggest tech companies in the world as well as an attractive place for start-ups,” Baz added. “One of our top priorities is to foster local entrepreneurship and encourage small businesses to maximise their presence on the web. The Smart City initiative is expected to allow for key opportunities in technology and innovation, and for taking public services to the next level.”
Dubai is rated as one of the most hyper-connected places, with one of the highest internet and mobile phone penetration rates. The emirate has for some time established itself as the largest ICT (Information and communications technology) hub in the Mena region, and the gateway to Africa, Middle East and Central Asia. The decision then to set up headquarters in Dubai has come quite naturally for multinationals.
It is Dubai’s consistency in creating the bells-and-whistles of a connected economy that attracted MasterCard International to the city’s potential as a regional base.
“What first attracted us was the e-government initiative set up in 2000 which shifted government services to the online sphere, making information and services more accessible for everyone,” said Eyad Al Kourdi, UAE Country Head at MasterCard.
“Now they’ve taken that a step further with the m-government project where everything is going mobile.
“A National Innovation Strategy has also been launched recently that aims to make the UAE among the most innovative nations in the world within seven years. This is in line with MasterCard’s vision - we’re passionate about innovation.”
Before moving to Dubai, the MasterCard team was briefly based in Bahrain. “At the time, Dubai made the most sense… it was poised to become exactly what it is today – the financial and business hub for the Middle East,” said Al Kourdi. “The UAE is still a predominantly cash-based society, and so shifting the behaviors of some of the target markets is going to take time and a careful planning. You also need to take into consideration the infrastructure involved in technological advancement, especially with the rate of growth the country is currently seeing.”
Stephen Reynolds is the regional director for Middle East, Africa, India and Asia Pacific at Bentley Motors, which recently confirmed Dubai as its base.
He said the emirate really stood out as a “fantastic spot to gain access to wider countries in our region”.
“It attracts a lot of talent with international experience. So it is a great opportunity to buy talent from the local marketplace to grow and support the brand,” Reynolds points out.
Dubai has thus become the place where key relationships are established, decisions are made and deals are closed that impact the region as such.
Qualcomm Technologies has made Dubai the regional headquarters for its operations in MEA and Southeast Asia. “The location of the city along with similar dynamics between the two regions, made Dubai an ideal choice,” said Jay Srage, President at Qualcomm Technologies, who’s handling this territory.
The benefits of setting up operations here in UAE are “multi-fold”, he said. “I view this location as a business and technological aggregator, one where we can build relationships and strategies with partners and customers, and that can be implemented across the whole region. This effort would otherwise be fragmented.”
According to Alain Penel, regional vice-president for Fortinet Middle East, “As a company, we don’t see challenges to setting up a base in the UAE, as compared to other countries, as there is good competency in the market. The ecosystem is ideal for an international company to set up a regional presence, and its connectivity to other major cities and countries in the Middle East makes it the ideal location to have a regional hub.
“When you consider the demand for enterprise, IT products and solutions, Saudi Arabia has a healthy local appetite due to several large public and private organisations. However, our choice would still be the UAE owing to the opportunities, infrastructure and the ease of setting up a business presence.”
When Western Digital set up a base in Dubai 15 years ago, Dubai was its one and only choice. “If we had to make a decision today, our first choice still will be Dubai and next could have been Istanbul,” said Khwaja Saifuddin, senior sales director for Middle East, Africa and India.
Baz said that it’s hard to imagine today the Arab world or the GCC without the UAE.
The latest one to ride the Dubai boom is American sportswear company, Skechers, which has chosen Dubai for its operations centre in the Middle East. According to a recent report by news agency WAM, Michael Greenberg, president of sports shoemaker, Skechers, said the decision to open a centre was based on the emirate’s attractiveness to investors, accelerated economic growth and ability to keep up with international fashion trends.