Thursday, November 6, 2008

2nd Interview: construction business

1st order: I had the pleasure to hold my second interview with a project manager working in the construction business. He himself is half German, half Iraqi raised and worked in both countries.
German Standard vs. British Standard
According to him two standards in the construction business can be distinguished: the German and the British standard. While the German standard combines design and building in the hands of one organization, the British standard splits the contracts for design and building to two organizations. According to him both standards occur in Dubai.
Construction projects in Dubai are by far larger in all dimensions than he used to have it in Germany and Ireland, he said. A project of around 200’ million United Arab Dirhams (approx. 40 million Euro) needs a management team of around 20-25 people and 1000-2000 workers on the construction site (building phase). The team is hierarchically organized in terms of operations with the project manager on top; below him two project engineers, which again have site engineers (around 4), who are supervising the foremen. Three levels of management are caused by the size fo the construction site. Then there are specialized roles such as quantity and quality surveyors (two each in respect to the mentioned project size), two accountants, one safety manager, and one safety engineer, plus the technical apartment (two according to the size). The management team is also responsible for the sub-contractors.
The company he is working for has approximately 120 people, responsible for the management. Twenty Germans, because it’s a Germany based company and the rest from very diverse backgrounds an equal mix of Westerners, Indians, Arabs, Pakistani, and Pilipino. He said that of course there are cultural differences, but in terms of work it depends on the personal qualifications and capabilities. There is no difference between background and culture on the one side and duties and job profiles on the other side.
The common ground and basis for communication is English. The company’s correspondence is in English, except for the official correspondence with authorities, which are most of the time bi-lingual. Arabic is seen as the officeal languages still. I’ve been introduced to three strategies, which seem to work quite well in terms of managing cross-culturality:
1) The project/management team needs a good mix of different cultures. Too many people from one nationality or background (e.g. Germans) would lead to difficulties when dealing with the outer world, suppliers, workers, sub-contractors, authorities, etc. The other extreme to have just locals would diminish the competitive advantage vis-à-vis other local competitors.
2) Too many people from one nationality tend to behave as a pride, which leads to a decreasing of awareness and sensitivity concerning other habits and behavioral patterns. Avoid the creation of prides if possible.
3) Clashing cultures: It is always a balancing act to keep your identity in terms of doing the things in the way you are used to (which is your competitive advantage) and the relativism how much you let go of your own culture in the sake of “harmonic and peaceful” collaborative teamwork. I’ve been told that this “battle” is to be fought on every day basis. He told me as of most importance: ‘never say that the things have to be done this way, because the company (with the respective cultural background) has always done it that way.’ Awareness and sensitivity is of most importance, don’t steamroll people.
Germans and Germans
About Germans, he said there are two types: the first one is open minded, interested in other cultures, curious about other people. This type sees working with people from different backgrounds as a challenging endeavor. The second type is there just for work, prefers to eat his local food, and be surrounded by people of his nationality. For this second type working with people from different backgrounds is rather an obstacle.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

1st Interview: sweeping through Middle East history

1st order: The first interview took part with the regional general manager of a German transnational corporation, who used to be in Dubai for 20 years now. It was heavily loaded with information: a sweeping look at the Middle East’s economic history of the last forty years.
Gate to the Middle East
According to him Beirut in Lebanon used to be the gate to the Middle East in the 70’s and 80’s. This changed for several reasons and at the beginning of the 90’s Dubai started to take over as gate to the region and hub for economic exchange between the continents Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. It was systematically built up by several international and national stakeholders. The secret of its success lies in its infrastructure and logistic capabilities. The pace further increased around the year 2000.
On Dubai-Indian bonds
As I mentioned earlier around 50 percent of Dubai’s population are Indians. I had the impression that Indians are basically providing the economy with human capital for low income jobs. But in the interview I’ve been told that the bonds are much closer and go through all walks of life. In fact to understand the bonds between India and Dubai one has to go back to history of British-India. To shorten it up, on top level Indians are not considered to be foreigners like Westerners or Easterners. There are close ties over generations between upper class Indians and the Royal family of Dubai as well as within the local economical elite in Dubai.
Western Experts and Consultants
While at the beginning of Dubai’s (and UAE) upraising Western experts were consulted for bringing in ideas and concepts this changed over the last years, I’ve been told. In our days the concepts are made by the decision-makers themselves. Western experts are consulted for evaluating the large scaling possibilities and risks of these concepts.
Tradesman intelligence
How do Emiraties deal with cross-culturality? They are very much informed about the idiosyncrasies of the cultures they are dealing and doing business with. Most of them are educated abroad not just in the West but also in the East. Some of their staff members for sure lived in the respective cultures for a time. They possess this tradesman’s intelligence knowing how to deal with the diverging cultural backgrounds, while their opponents most of the time don’t have the same knowledge, which provides them a comparative advantage.
To understand the coherences of Dubai’s development one has to take a geopolitical and geostrategical perspective, he told me. Geographically Dubai is centered between Europe and Asia, functioning as a hub between the established economical powers’ EU and Japan, as well as Europe’s connection to aspiring China and India. It is China’s gate for resource exploitations in Africa as well as organizing platform for Japan’s efforts guaranteeing the deliverable of natural resources. And one shouldn’t miss that Moscow is almost placed on the same longitude.