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Tue 12 May 2015 04:16 PM

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The winner takes it all?

Shane McGinley asks whether every deal in the Middle East has to have winners and losers

The winner takes it all?
Shane McGinley

A few weeks ago, Ahmed Sharawy made a point in his column that some business leaders exploit power it to deliver value, while others abuse it and can be characterised in a spectrum from Darth Vader to Luke Skywalker.

Sitting in a Kuwait business room speaking to Abdulla Al Humaidi, who is part of the prominent trade family and operates a lot in Europe, pointed out that how Arabs go about talks for business partnerships should also be looked at and improved.

“Sadly we have this mentality in the Middle East where if you are doing any transaction that there is always a winner and a loser, and this creates huge problems. When you sit in the table the person in front of you, most of the time, they try to do anything to be the winner or they perceive themselves as the loser. This doesn’t create lasting relationships and this is a problem we face in the Middle East,” he pointed out.

As someone who is developing a multi-billion-dollar theme park in London, he is also used to business dealings in the UK and Europe and he says the attitude there is a lot better.

“Dealing with the UK market and doing business is much better than doing business in the Middle East. When we conduct anything with an institution or individual you leave the room and both parties think it is a win-win transaction to the people involved. So it is much easier in the UK and we are blessed with a professional team at our offices there... Sadly, we do find professionalism in Kuwait but it is rare. The case is different in the UK.”

Many businesses in the Gulf are family owned and this 'winner takes it all' attitude can sometimes lead to conflict. Loutfi Echhade, Saudi-based partner and family business leader for Middle East and North Africa at Ernst & Young (EY), observed in an article about this issue recently that “potential feuds and disputes between family members can result in the disruption or collapse of a business.”

Although, that’s not to say bitter feuds and litigations don’t happen in the UK. In March, we reported about the case of the Maybourne Hotel Group, which owns luxury London hotels Claridge’s, the Connaught and the Berkeley. The group of owners had such a bitter falling out over ownership that it resulted in lots of legal cases and investigations in Dubai, the UK and Ireland. Sometimes, it seems, it is not always obvious who the winner is when disputes like these go sour.

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