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Sun 20 Nov 2011 01:11 PM

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Arab Spring is doing it for the kids

Young Arabs are stepping away from the public sector to take up the challenge of going it alone

Arab Spring is doing it for the kids
Gulf states are struggling with nationalisation programmes

Just over a year ago, I interviewed one of the world’s top retailers Mohammed Alshaya. An engaging man, and apart from a great insight into his management style, it was Alshaya’s comments on the lack of Arabs working in the private sector that really made the story.

He told me at the time: “The public sector, it is security for life. That’s a big problem. How can I make someone secure in a job without measuring their productivity, and whether they are doing a good job and not whether they are secure? That is a crime. It’s criminal that this is being allowed to happen with our population in the public sector.”

I couldn’t have agreed more with him — around the same time, Asda’a Burson-Marsteller’s Arab Youth Survey had revealed that 61 percent of Arabs said they would rather work in the public sector.

A year on, a lot has changed. Tonight is the Arabian Business Achievement Awards, and without giving too much away, I have a feeling that when the winners are announced, Alshaya (like me) may change his views. Five of the fifteen awards are being made to men and women under the age of 30. Some are truly remarkable achievements: the Sudanese national who came up with his own diabetes monitoring device, an invention so impressive it has the global medical industry singing his praises. The two young Emirati girls who devised their own mobile phone application that has just been snapped up by one of the world’s biggest companies. The two brothers who devised an “incubator for creativity” that has given a break to so many budding entrepreneurs.

What is all the more impressive about these stories is most of the winners are not exactly on the breadline. They fit perfectly well into Alshaya’s category of having it all so easy, with the ability to lap up a job for life in the private sector. Yet they have decided to take risks, go out on a limb, come up with a great idea — and do whatever it takes to bring it to the market.

Through the judging process for this year’s awards, I was privileged to see dozens of similar stories: young Arabs working hard, and creating businesses that in years to come could be worth billions. I am not sure what has changed since Alshaya made his comments. But the evidence suggests that through the worst financial crisis in living memory, many young Arabs have taken up the challenge of becoming wealth creators. There is a long way to go, but change — for the better — is underway.

Boeing flies over Airbus

I ran into Jim Albaugh, executive vice president of the Boeing Company and president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, at last Sunday’s F1 race in Abu Dhabi. He had the biggest grin I’ve seen in years — and now I know why.

The Chicago-based manufacturer has forecast that the Middle East alone will order 2,520 new aircraft worth $450bn over the next 20 years. And Boeing seems to have the edge once again over Airbus in this battle.

On the first day of the Dubai Airshow, Emirates Airline stunned observers with a mammoth order for 50 Boeing 777 aircraft and an option for an additional 20. With a total value of $26bn, the order is Boeing’s largest single commercial plane order in the US company’s 95-year history.  Prior to the announcement, the Dubai carrier had 96 aircraft on order with Boeing and 143 on order with its French rival Airbus.

The deal was another blow for Airbus, which was already trying to recover face from the announcement that its latest A350 model was to be delayed for a further six months. This was also on top of the delays to the A350-1000, which competes directly with the 777-300ER.

Airbus has done a fabulous job in the last few years and the A380 is a plane that has already changed the course of aviation history. But I suspect that the very impressive Albaugh, who has only been in the hot seat for two years, is about to give Airbus a run for its money.

Anil Bhoyrul is the editorial director of Arabian Business. The opinions expressed are his own.

Jim Gilchrist 8 years ago

I believe that people around the world, from all ages and all walks of life, will become more entrepreneurial in order to cope with the challenging new economic realities. Whether starting new enterprises or bringing more entrepreneurial thinking to their current organization-based roles, this wonderful phenomenon will grow organizations and create new jobs.

It is critical that we provide them with the technical and managerial skills that will help them to be successful. Sustained entrepreneurship is not easy - but the again, nothing of real value ever is. Congratulations to these young people who have moved beyond talking about new enterprises to taking those all important first steps that will turn their dreams into reality.