Life less ordinary
Absolutely. I had spent some time in the region before moving over so I had some idea what to expect. But things have taken me a little bit by surprise in two ways: one is the sheer regional variability of the Middle East – from some of the most developed countries in the world to some of the most challenged. So their needs are very different depending on whether you are in Kuwait,Qatar, the Lebanon or Libya.
The other is anticipating the cultural norms. It’s too easy to assume, sitting in the UK, that the Middle East is an homogenous territory, from a 'doing business' perspective. But there are parts of the region that, for example, place a strong emphasis on you being part of the domestic fabric. Abu Dhabi is a good example. Whereas some other countries - Kuwait is an example - are more comfortable with advisers doing business on a fly-in basis.
So do you find relationships harder to sustain in Kuwait where people are travelling in and out a lot?
A little, the population is more transient - there’s lots of people on the plane on Sundays and Thursdays. But it’s quite a small community, which helps.
How do the deals you’re working on differ to the UK?
My professional life is much more varied here. In the UK I focussed on policy work and transport transactions, here it’s smaller teams and smaller markets so you have to be more adaptable. One day you are a transport specialist and the next you are presenting on stadium financing or an IWPP.
Which do you prefer?
Absolutely. But you have to be quick on your feet, to learn quickly and to be able to call in expertise from other parts of the network when that’s necessary.
What do you like most about working life over there?
Definitely the variability. After you've led a diverse professional life it would be hard to go back. I enjoy the different challenges that clients present - from countries just coming out of conflict to some of the wealthiest countries in the world - and the sector variability.
Do you find clients more demanding - how do you deal with this?
Clients can be very demanding here, but generally that’s fine. Managing it is probably something I'm still learning. But it’s generally about relationships and commitment, and you try to deal with it through reasonableness, and discussion.
Have you found being British an advantage working in the region?
In the markets I'm in, it's an advantage. British expertise has a great reputation, and it's known that Britain has had a long programme of procuring projects with private finance. But you need to be wary of falling into the trap of just saying 'This is how we did it' because that can irritate people. You need to show how relevant precedents can be adapted.
What do you miss about UK?
Winter - but only for a day or two!
How does the social side to the job compare?
In Middle Eastern society the boundaries between work and home life are much more blurred. There’s both a strong expat professional community, and opportunities to interact with locals in different ways. And the UAE is a great base for travel; India, East Africa, the Levant and the Indian Ocean islands are all within two or three hours flying.
To find out how the British experience of Canada, Australia, Hong Kong and France compares to above, read the full Brits Abroad feature here.