Skip to main content

Coffee, health and business

When I started to visit and work in the Arab region back in 2006, I had a lot to learn about building and doing business in a new market. I'm still learning. Working in Jordan is not the same as working in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia or Oman - just as working in Germany is not the same as working in Portugal or France.

The Arabic language is spoken with very different dialects across the region. When I spoke a few words of Arabic to my taxi driver in Muscat he smiled warmly and said: "Ah madam, I think a Lebanese taught you Arabic?" He was right. The Arab world is full of contrasts, different cultures, different modes of behaviour and doing business, and different traditions. Governments, corporations, institutions operate and perform differently.

Reading (yet another) piece of research this week that drinking coffee leads to longer life however, reminded me about one thing which is shared, in the same way, across the Arab region. Sharing a coffee together, sitting in one of the profusion of coffee shops in every Arab city is a great way to build friendships, grow trust, share experiences and gossip. All this is crucial to building a working relationships, the foundation of a healthy business. The first time a senior Arab suggested we met at a coffee bar instead of his office I was taken aback. Am I not important enough to come and visit you in your office, I thought? I was wrong. I was important enough for him to share a coffee with me.

The Arab world has a reputation of a difficult place to do business, Arabs find it harder to say 'no' than their Western counterparts - in an effort not to cause offence, decision-making can be slowed down sometimes to a standstill. Much of this is because time is needed to get to know people before commitments are made.

Networking gurus say this is the price for doing business. I say this is the bonus. Getting to know people, making new friends, drinking coffee... these are, for me, one of the joys of doing business in the Arab world.

Oh, and it you want a snapshot of coffee and the Arab world, read it here


Popular posts from this blog

Panic and the absence of leadership

I often borrow a line commonly used in crime movies when I see yet another leadership organisation fall from grace: "You could have done this the easy way, but you chose to do it the hard way".

Oxfam was a hitherto admired institution, having done impressive work around the world for more than 75 years, respected for its engagement with donors big and small, its courage in working in war- and disaster-torn regions, and its commitment to equality and fairness. The Haiti scandal has rocked it to its core, putting into question its ability to continue its operations, as governments are rethinking funding levels, donors withdrawing sponsorship and customers pulling out of their shops.

In other words, it is losing its licence to operate.

There are so many lessons that can be learned from brands which fail to protect their culture, vision and reputation. United Airlines CEO's response to the treatment of one of its passengers on a flight, Bell Pottinger's collapse through …

Moral authority and reputations

The world of corporate and national reputation is going through a whirlwind right now, even more so than usual. Two particular issues have rather preoccupied my mind recently.

One is the relationship between business and government and the other, going back to basics on the relationship between reputation and moral authority. 

Bell Pottinger has always been associated with the dark arts of public relations. Most of the industry, for decades now, have at least tried to be morally accountable in the way it communicates its clients' narrative and indeed, in selecting clients with whom it is prepared to work. Bell Pottinger appeared not to have ever been perturbed about representing clients who are morally questionable at best, and downright unacceptable at worst. It managed to weather several storms of exposure and criticism and on the way, continued to gather more and more questionable clients. Until that is, its recent South Africa debacle, made worse by a public spat between founder…

CEOs, role-modelling and bragging rights

Brian Groom reported the launch of OUTstanding in Business in today's FT, a senior network for CEO level corporate leaders aiming to encourage positive attitudes towards gay professionals. While there are plenty of gay network groups in almost every profession, such a senior level platform as this is a new and welcome initiative. The hope is that this will encourage more senior gay men and women in some of the more traditional sectors of the corporate world to come out and in turn, become role models for other young gay professionals.

Women are treading the same path and have done so for a long time. Today, there are women networks aplenty but there are still relatively few networks for senior women at the top of their tree, who can use their public image as role models for young women. I have long argued that increasingly, young women look more to public role models than their mothers and women closer to home, as has traditionally been the case.

Three years ago, I and a handful …