I had just dropped off my children at school. Pulling out of the school’s driveway, I took a right turn, abandoning my familiar route to the office. Fifteen years after my first degree, here I was, driving myself to school too. I relocated to Dubai in 2017 as an expat from my home country, Nigeria. Shortly afterwards, I enrolled at Cass Business School for the Executive MBA in Dubai programme.
My cohort recently completed just over one year of “academic workouts”. I have to say, writing exams with a pen after a decade and a half of using computers required “workouts” on a digital level (think finger digits), not to mention juggling work, studies and family commitments. I was all too glad that the first phase of the MBA was over, and we were moving on to international electives, such as the UAE Study Tour.
This elective presented an opportunity to gain practical insights into how businesses operate within the UAE’s cultural, economic and regulatory environment. Being a resident of Dubai, I was quite familiar with the general cultural and regulatory framework. Therefore, I was more interested in learning about the economy of the UAE. The UAE stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the best countries in many aspects, including tourism, security, infrastructure and leadership. I was curious to learn more about how they did it in a relatively short space of time.
Not long after handing over my car to the valet service at the Roda Al Murooj hotel, I bumped into Professors Steve Thomas and Roy Batchelor in the hotel lobby. The duo would chaperon a class of 20 odd MBA students, on an exciting four-day tour of selected parts of the UAE. Rain showers on the first day, a rare occurrence in these parts, set the ambiance for the week, peeling off the rustic silhouette of dust from the surrounding Arabian desert. The first two days were spent gathering first hand insights on the Dubai and Abu Dhabi brands, products of cleverly integrated branding, innovation, marketing, strategy and investment principles.
Memorable stops in Dubai included visits to the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, a digitally advanced city branding and marketing company that promotes and regulates all tourism related activities in Dubai, and the leadership institute/innovation center of Majid Al Futtaim, the leading retail and leisure pioneer across Asia and the Middle East. In Abu Dhabi, First Abu Dhabi bank (FAB), impressed strongly with its Aa3/AA-/AA- credit ratings by Moody’s, S&P and Fitch respectively. We also visited the Emirates Aviation College where I got to play pilot for a few minutes.
The other two days focused on the Arab consumer, Dubai real estate, and the Islamic economy. The ingenious expansion of Dubai’s coastline, and other man-made land-marks like palm Jumeirah and the world islands left me with zero doubts about the relentless efforts to diversify the economy, creating a model for the region. It was eye-opening to see how concepts in marketing, big data, economics and strategy were being brought to life at dizzying speeds in virtually all aspects of the economy. Visits to the Dubai Expo 2020 site, Dubai Islamic Economy Development Center (DIEDC), and Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC), made me understand more clearly the role of the government and their plans to remain relevant in all aspects of life and living.
The UAE is definitely a reference point for countries in terms of articulating and actively following a focused development agenda. They are so far on track to meet or exceed the development objectives laid out in the country’s 2021 and 2071 master plan.