‘Climate of fear’ deters many from doing business in MidEast – Irish Times

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“Geographical lumping” was how Mishal Kanoo referred to it. The chief executive of the Kanoo group, the UAE-based shipping and trading conglomerate, was speaking about the climate of fear that surrounds the Middle East.

Europeans tend to view the region through the prism of one or two conflicts and this inhibits many from doing business there, he said.

“If something happens in Romania, should it affect me investing in Ireland?” he asked, noting the vast tapestry of geographies and cultures stretching from Morocco in north Africa to Oman on the Arabian Peninsula which the term, Middle East, encompasses.

Described as one of the world’s most influential Arabs, Mr Kanoo was in Dublin to speak at the 2016 Arab-Irish business forum.

He has natural bias towards the Gulf states, where most of Kanoo’s business is based.

“If I was an Irish company I’d be looking at those countries specifically because there is a lot of homogenuity between them and there’s a lot of discretionary income that exists over there.”

Apart from speaking English, he said Ireland had a distinct advantage over European rivals because of the high-number of family-run businesses here. Up to 75 per cent of listed companies in the Middle East have at least two board members from the same family.

The Kanoo Group is the oldest family-run conglomerate in the region, having been established in 1890. From its trading origins in Bahrain, the business, which spans shipping, travel, machinery sales and insurance, has spread across the region.

“When you’re a family-run business, you’re coming with a long-term view rather than short-term view and that’s exactly how we like to do business” Mr Kanoo said. He believes family-run businesses have different values.

“I’m more likely to protect my family name than I am to make money. So if I had to lose out on a tender because it might affect my family business and reputation, I will.”

He references the pain he feels when having to let people go. “I’m not simply firing 500 people, I’m firing 500 families whom I take care of. So many businesses in the Middle East are reluctant about doing this, even if it means short-term losses.”

He believes many Irish businesses have the same mindset, making them ideal partners for Middle East companies.

The forum was earlier told that Irish exports to the Middle East and Gulf will eclipse €6 billion by 2017, three years ahead of previous forecasts.

“Should this growth trend continue it is anticipated that by 2020, 16,000 irish jobs would be supported by Irish exports to the Arab world, almost double the current number,” Ahmad Younis, chief executive of the Arab-Irish Chamber of Commerce said.

‘Climate of fear’ deters many from doing business in MidEast – Irish Times}