Letter from afar Qatar
There's a business maxim over here based on a rule of
fives. It says whatever you want takes five times as long, costs
five times as much - and you only get a fifth of what you want.
Enshallah (if God wills) is the expression suitable for all
situations, I'm remaining optimistic.
I arrived in Doha, the capital of this small peninsula state in
the Gulf, eight weeks ago, leaving behind a wintry but picturesque
Canterbury. My ambition: to start a vocational training company
focused on improving levels of business performance and quality
across a broad range of industries.
My immediate tasks; form a local company; obtain a Licence to
Operate from the Supreme Education Council; organise some
investment finance; find a base to operate from and recruit a team
Five tasks - I've never really been the superstitious type.
In these occasional letters, I'll report on my progress, but
also paint a picture of what it's like to be part of the business
community here. There's plenty happening - even Gordon Ramsay
opened a new "caff" last month - and, like his cuisine, the
environment is a fusion of Arab, Asian, African and European
Unlike Dubai, which caught a cold this winter over its property
debt, Qatar is aiming for a more diverse economic and social model.
The Emir opened one of the world's largest aluminium plants last
week, while his second wife was in London signing a deal with
Bloomsbury to translate books into Arabic and create a partnership
with the Royal Society for scientific collaboration.
Here in dusty Doha, there's the expected heat; noisy
construction; appalling driving; idiosyncratic bureaucracy and
hilarious communication difficulties. There's also a strong sense
of the importance of the family in all private and public affairs
and the duty to safeguard and develop children.
Qatar is a place that is not "home" for the majority of people
who are here, and since there is no definable indigenous culture
with which to identify, most people continue to live in their
communities and carry on with their customs.
That provides a colourful and intriguing mix of food, music,
clothes and language to absorb when on any excursion, business or
pleasure. It also presents business challenges, especially when
searching for good quality staff, in an economic environment which
is a far cry from chilly UK.
Qatar is renowned for its oil and gas production. It holds over
five per cent of the world's known total gas reserves, which, for a
country about the same size as Kent, geographically and in terms of
population, means that its GDP per capita is either number 1 or 2
in the world depending on whether you believe the IMF or the World
The government has just announced its annual budget - a
refreshing event which dealt with finance rather than political
flannel - declaring a capital investment programme of over $21.4bn
with a predicted surplus of $2.67bn. That's all based on a modest
price for oil of under $80 a barrel. Keep an eye of your petrol
pump over the coming months to predict whether that surplus goes up
Qatar has a 2030 Vision which talks of the need to invest those
enormous proceeds from carbon into a sustainable business and
social model. The rhetoric is impressive and the desire to feed off
global experts on the subject is ravenous. In my experience,
there's never a shortage of good ideas or money, the usual problem
is the skills and expertise to deliver action. That's the backdrop
to my new venture, the Qatar Skills Academy, so wish me luck in
defeating the rule of fives.