Servcorp: An Australian Success Story in the MENA
About six weeks ago, the D&A blog featured an interview with Paul Slezak, founder of RecruitLoop. Paul shared his thoughts on RecruitLoop's expansion into Saudi Arabia and you can listen to the interview here.
Servcorp is another Australian firm that has done exceptionally well in the MENA region and this week, I spoke to Laudy Ladho, General Manager of Servcorp, Middle East about how Servcorp got started there.
CD: What motivated Servcorp to start exporting to the Middle East? How did you get started?
LL: Servcorp already had a strong presence in both Japan and Australia, and so the next market with high growth potential was waiting to be discovered. Although our CEO Alf Moufarrige always planned to expand to the Middle East, it was only by chance that he noticed the iconic Emirates Towers building in transit from a flight on his way to Europe. Wanting to get into the market early, it was then that he decided to open our first location in the Middle East as the first tenant in the prestigious Emirates Towers. After finding significant demand for our premium office solutions here in Dubai, we then began to open more locations across the Middle East, soon to total 20.
CD: Where was the first office in the MENA region?
LL: As I previously mentioned, our first office in the region was in Dubai’s Emirates Towers. The building is the most prestigious of its kind, and is a testament to Dubai’s renowned architectural landscape. We are proud to say that we were the first tenants of Dubai’s most iconic tower.
CD: How is exporting to the MENA markets different to your work in other regions in Asia and around the world?
LL: To be honest, operating here isn’t much different from working elsewhere, and that’s because international business is global. We also don’t differ in how we work a lot from other locations around the world because we want to offer our clients a consistent experience globally; after all, consistency is a core element of professionalism. Having said that, we do adhere to the motto “Act locally, think globally.” Tailoring our services and how we work to the local market is still extremely important, and that is definitely reflected in how we operate here in the Middle East. For example, our teams are trained to understand cultural differences, are multilingual to allow them to communicate more effectively with clients, and are highly experienced and knowledgeable of working in their respective local markets.
CD: What was your first impression of doing business in the UAE?
LL: Firstly, I can definitely say that it is not as complex nor daunting a task as many people made, and continue to make, it out to be. While many aspects of running a business were the same as I had experienced during my time in Australia, I did encounter a few distinct differences. I soon realised that punctuality and meeting deadlines were not as essential as what I was accustomed to, for example. That proved to be challenging.
CD: What were the biggest challenges that you / your company faced as you set up your business in the MENA?
LL: Back in 1999, Dubai’s landscape was still more desert than urban business hub. To name one of the biggest challenges that we faced 15 years ago, I’d say educating the market on the serviced and virtual office concepts was difficult. It was very uncommon at the time and people were unfamiliar with it, so that also posed issues with licensing. Another major problem was the shortage of resources, chiefly in the human resources pool. This made it difficult to find talent with our required skill set to operate the business to our standards. Finally, the infrastructure in Dubai during that time couldn’t compare with other cities around the world, yet here we are now, where Dubai ranks 3rd in JLL’s top 20 dynamic cities.
CD: How has expanding to the MENA region changed Servcorp?
LL: The Middle East is a major business hub in the world, and that’s mainly because of its central position that makes it a gateway to the rest of the globe. Taking advantage of the ever-booming demand in the region, Servcorp has seen a significant proportion of its global profits shift closer and closer to the Middle East in such a short space of time. In this time, we’ve cemented ourselves as the industry leader in the region and this footprint has assisted our clients in expanding both within and out of the Middle East. Servcorp is becoming recognised less and less as an Australian company and more as a global corporation, which is due in large part to the success here in the Middle East.
CD: What do you love most about working in the UAE?
LL: First and foremost, I love the local Emirati culture. The Emirati people’s warmth, sincerity, and hospitality are what make it enjoyable to work in the UAE. Their respect for professional business is also a key factor in allowing operating here to be both successful and a pleasant experience. On a personal note, I love that living here allows me to embrace my Arab heritage to not only build rapport with the local business community, and fellow expats of the same background, but also to make use of and improve my grasp of the Arabic language.
CD: What’s one thing you wish you’d known before you got started?
LL: The one thing I wish I’d known before I got started would without a doubt be not to take things at face value. It’s so essential to do all of your own research and reference checks before making any decisions because it’s not enough to accept what somebody tells you. You also need to feel comfortable questioning what doesn’t look right, and though I didn’t know that then, I certainly do now.
CD: What’s your advice for companies thinking of operating in the UAE?
LL: The most helpful piece of advice I can give is source help locally. Finding someone who can speak Arabic as well as being familiar with the local regulations and general business practices will be invaluable. You should also adapt your marketing strategies to the UAE market; by getting a .ae website developed locally you can rest assured that your online presence meets the expectations of local customers. You also have to remember that a professional business address will help you show your clients, both current and potential, that you are a reliable company with a presence in the city, rather than managing from abroad.