A few months ago I was in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council = Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudia Arabia, United Arab Emirates) to meet with a number of investors. I tend to hit up the region several times a year to maintain existing relationships.
Trust is a critical part of conducting business in the Middle East. More so than other parts of the globe.
It could take you five to ten years before you develop the sort of working relationship that sees you doing transactions with some of the firms out there. That’s why very few people have managed to develop real connections in many parts of the Middle East. Many people I know gave up because they expected to meet someone, perhaps an investor or local company, and do a deal the next day. No way Jose. Ain’t like that. Not in the GCC. There are exceptions but they’re mainly that. Exceptions.
For instance, there are a number of very wealthy families in the GCC whom I’ve gotten to know over the years who will discuss an opportunity with me not necessarily because I’m the best person, but because they trust me. And that is because the’ve come to learn that I’m not there for a short term gain. I prioritise their objectives. Of course, I have to think about earning money on my end, too, but I always apply a long-term perspective. The money, I know, will come.
And so let me tell you about my recent trip to Kuwait.
There is an investor – a company – in Kuwait who I’ve been in contact with for over 3 years. During this time we discussed a number of investment opportunities ranging for global property deals to a Sharia-compliant hedge fund, and nearly closed a large transaction together on one occasion.
The first time I flew out to Kuwait City to meet one of the executives within the firm, let’s call him Mr. Kuwaiti Banker, the guy didn’t even show up to the meeting. I literally flew out to Kuwait for that one meeting.
This is what happened…
I arrived at my destination. Entered the building. Took the elevator up. Checked in with reception and was taken to a large conference room. I waited. And waited. And waited some more. Half an hour later someone entered and told me that, unfortunately, my host had been tied up in a very important working session with the CEO and would be unable to come down.
I headed back to the airport and flew out. Actually, I left out a part. On the way I asked the taxi to stop so that I could buy a falafel sandwich. And believe me it was delicious.
In summary, I flew out to Kuwait to enjoy a falafel wrap. From a business perspective, these kinds of expenses are not fun to incur.
However, while many other people would simply not return again, I didn’t allow it to faze me.
The next visit
Several months later I returned to Kuwait to see that very investor again. And just like the previous time, I had planned to spend only a couple of hours in the city before returning to the airport. A part of me was a little worried that the same thing would happen again. I’d arrive at their office to find out Mr. Kuwaiti Banker was called into another important meeting.
But this time it was different. Mr. Kuwaiti Banker – just in case you were wondering he had of course apologised and felt bad for not being able to make it – arranged a car to pick me up from the airport and take me to his office. When I arrived, we spent two entire hours together in a conference room, during which time he kindly asked several key members of the bank’s investment team responsible for Hedge Fund, Private Equity and Real Estate investments to come in one by one and describe to me, in detail, their investment criteria. What they shared with me was, let’s just say, invaluable. I meet with investors on a regular basis. This was something else.
When the meeting came to an end, I thanked Mr. Kuwaiti Banker.
“It’s my pleasure,” he said.
Then, as I tried to say goodbye, he stopped me.
“No, no, no,” he said. “You’re not going on your own. I’m going to drive you to the airport myself.”
“Are you sure?” I said. “Don’t trouble yourself.”
“It’s the least I can do,” he said.
And so we hopped into his car and had a very nice chat on the way. We discussed many things. Life in Kuwait City. Life in London. Our respective families. None of it had to do with business. He is a genuinely very nice guy and I felt that even if nothing at all came of the meeting in terms of business, my return trip to meet with him was already more than worth it for getting to know him.
Moral of the story
Think long-term. And show it. Invest in building healthy relationships through commitment. Everybody wants to know investors and everybody does the same thing. They’ll feign interest and as soon as things don’t go the way they like they retreat. Make the relationship the priority and not the deal, which may come and go. The relationship should be lifelong.