The prospect of doing business in the Middle East may be low priority if even considerable for many entrepreneurs and executives. For many, the perceived instability in the area coupled with the increased hostility of certain terrorist organizations make the Middle East an unattractive proposition for most Westerners. Entrepreneur Ali Tabbara disagrees and has found business in the Middle East to be a profitable and rewarding experience.
On a recent episode of my podcast, YPO's 10 Minute Tips From the Top, I interviewed Tabbara, one of the partners of Saudi Arabian-based audit and consulting firm UTC International about the benefits and challenges of working in the region. Tabbara, a member of Young Presidents' Organization (YPO), offered up five reasons on why entrepreneurs should flock to the Middle East to start businesses.
1. There is nothing to be afraid of.
Of course fear of terrorism is the number one objection associated with the Middle East. The prominence of ISIS has undeniably hurt the reputation of the region, making it seem dangerous for Westerners, especially Americans. However, Tabbara offers a differing perspective. "The world has changed. We live in a world that has ISIS and all these fanatical groups, but at the same time, we live in a world where security is heightened, governments are aware of these risks, and they are doing their best to mitigate them," he asserted. He also noted that there are many people who come to work in the region on one-year contracts and wind up staying for 15-20 years. "If it was that bad, they would have left. No one is forcing people to stay here."
2. There is a lot of opportunity.
Tabbara notes that the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia, is ripe with opportunity. He cited recent growth in healthcare and education and was also keen to note that a ton of business can be done in the operational and maintenance industries. "After you build all of these hospitals and universities and airports, you need people to look after them to stay in good shape," he remarked.
3. Beneficial reform for corporations is on the way.
A past argument against doing business in the region was the issue of governmental regulations. Entrepreneurs struggled with laws that gave the government control over your business. Tabbara points out that much of that has changed over the last decade with more reform on the way to help foreign businesses increase investment in the region. "Companies can now be 100 percent foreign-owned with only a 20 percent tax rate," stated Tabbara. "All emerging markets go through phases of improvements. We are on the right track."
4. Your kids will get a good education.
Sometimes, people are afraid of moving to the region because of the cultural disparity and the educational needs of their children. Tabbara points out, "There are obviously cultural differences between the west and our part of the world, but it is not so ridiculous to overcome." Tabbara notes that his children went to school in Saudi Arabia and have excelled academically. "They did very well in college," he revealed. "And to me, that's a sign that the high school was a really good high school."
5. You will grow close to the people you meet.
Going to a new country presents numerous challenges, including rebuilding your own community. Tabbara however indicated that the sense of community in the Middle East might be stronger than it is anywhere else. Without cinemas or other such diversions, people tend to socialize a lot more with their neighbors and friends, creating strong bonds. "Once you get to know the people, they're wonderful people, very hospitable. The friends you make in Saudi, they really stay with you for the rest of your life."
Each week on his podcast, Kevin has conversations with members of the (YPO), the world's premiere peer-to-peer organization for chief executives, eligible at age 45 or younger.