“Baby, we’ve been here before,
“We’ve seen this room and we’ve walked this floor,
“We used to live alone before we knew ya ... Hallelujah” (with apologies to Leonard Cohen)
Leonard Cohen in his inimitable way showed us that we can find big and small things to celebrate in even the most different and difficult situations.
Markets struggle to regain momentum, buffeted by one surprise after another from different parts of the world — the UK, the US, China, Brazil, Syria, Europe and now India, with perhaps more developments to come. This is perhaps one of those times when we should look out for slivers of good tidings pushing through, knowing that the world has passed through many difficult periods before but always emerged on the other side stronger and better for it.
In the UAE, observe the new developments that were recently achieved, not planned, but actually delivered — the new Dubai Canal (and that too in record time), Dubai Opera, highways and roads connecting the different emirates, an additional terminal at Dubai Airport, bigger and better sporting events in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah, any number of new universities, schools, new high-tech hospitals, the UAE Space Agency now functioning in Abu Dhabi, the biggest ever Sharjah Book Fair ...
In the midst of the negativity saround the world, these are all Hallelujah moments.
Looking around the world too, we can spot many big positive signs signifying we are at the cusp of a new time and things are looking brighter for all of us.
The growing acceptance of low emission and renewable technologies, self-driven cars now actually being tested and used in different parts of the world, drones which are increasingly commercially viable, an explosion in nanotechnology in all fields of human endeavour from fabrics to plastics to medicine, the ubiquity of mobile and information technology connecting the world and becoming affordable for more, the complete eradication of many diseases, lengthening lifespans and growing confidence in matters related to space and with plans actually in place to go to other planets.
These are all reassuring trends that illustrate that despite the problems that we witness in parts of the world and the shenanigans playing out in political spheres, the world is still moving towards greater levels of human achievement. I am sure there are many who would jump to debate the contribution of some of these developments.
That would be an interesting discussion, but my purpose today is to demonstrate that the world around us continues to move ahead, while we may not notice the changes engrossed as we are in our daily challenges.
Why the need for such optimism?
Over the last couple of years, retailers have been feeling the intense pressure of weak markets and reducing demand. This is a global phenomenon. Talk to people in different parts of the world and unlike periods of the past when there were always bright spots somewhere or the other on the globe, today you will be hard pressed to find an area which can say that the trajectory in these past two years has been upward.
And it is the same in the UAE.
The days of high or even healthy margins seem to be a dream of the past looking across various segments, whether hospitality, food, fashion, automobiles, or jewellery. There is no success without erosion of the bottom-lines through aggressive selling activities or price reductions.
Even developers have their bottom-lines squeezed as differential percentage rents fail to kick in for increasing numbers of their tenants and it is difficult to move rentals upwards.
The question everyone is pondering, is how long will things continue in this way? I would be Thomas Friedman if I was to even try to answer this question — though I think in the present situation, even he would be reticent about trying to spell a time frame!
What is very clear though is that it is the time to reinvent strategies and redefine goals keeping in mind the long haul ahead.
What we do know is that this too shall pass.
The writer is a senior executive with a large retail company. These are his views.