- Tell us about you, your experience and time in the Middle East.
31,000. The number of days if we live to be 85.
13,140. At 58, the number of days I have lived in the Middle East.
My crystal ball shows I am likely to notch up at least 3,000 more. And, I so appreciate each one.
My 23rd birthday was spent in Bahrain, with new-found friends, bobbing around on a boat on the Arabian Gulf.
I arrived a few months earlier in July, stepping into the summer heat and my first Ramadan (the Holy Month of Sawm, or Fasting).
I loved that summer of ‘81 and I adored my Ramadan inhiation. Just as I cherish each since. Heat ‘n all.
Akin to most 20-somethings, I literally danced through the 80’s forging lifelong friendships and etching unforgettable times. Bahrain provided me a post-grad at the University of Life.
My entrepreneurial savvy was also tickled into action.
In tandem with amazing corporate roles, each feeding my fledgling leadership edge, a fiery yet innocent courage reared. Over the decade to 1992, I stoked at least four successful start-up partnerships, straddling bespoke haute couture to Public Relations!
Fast forward - as I fast forward to my 60th birthday, looming in 2019 - my business-entrepreneur Hat Collection grows with me.
A quick count assigns a start-up to each of my ten fingers. The legacy line-up spans the region’s first photographic image library, to three precious Montessori schools in South East London.
1995 saw the launch of Strategic Solutions, a corporate communications advisory that continues to perform with a joyful resilience.
Indeed, thinking about it, 22 years for a privately-owned PR firm to remain in play, is sacred.
It was easy to be swallowed up by a larger player, the GFC (global financial crisis), or just pure ‘I’ve had enough’ feeling. Well, it feels a privilege actually. A privilege to have sailed this ship across all sorts to waters with a myriad of crew and eclectic fellow passengers.
Daily, the Middle East continues to capture the ‘photo album’ that is my life – or in today’s digital age – cloud-storing Facebook Memories and Videologs!
2.How would you describe the business culture of the Middle East.
The region’s business culture is woven of a myriad styles, textures and colours, literally!
Depending whose eye, whose count on what day, and who is counting, the Middle East embraces 20 nations. I notice that each is different as is similar; the similarity stemming from the inside out – in difference we are on
I adore that each nation is ‘uniquely’ rich in national culture, most overflowing with a deep-rooted national pride, in turn with a deep-rooted penchant of past constellations comprising family, his-story, relationships and experiences.
It warms to to know that guidance and experiences are born as much in the ‘majlis’ (the neighourhood sitting room – one each for men and women - where daily news is shared and counsel absorbed, guided by the elder’s saging), as in the home, in school playgrounds, in commercial and capital market places, as well as the board room.
And, of course, guidance continues five times a day with the Call to Prayer – vocal across all Middle East nations. Islam is the religion that guides most nationals across the region**. Word of Mouth continues to prove its good worth, even in the marketing industry! There is nothing more precious than a positive referral, or the sharing of a post!
Sharia’a law, born from Islam, also underpins much of the region’s family-centered, respect full lifestyle. It also guides business practice although commercial law plucks much of it’s code and conduct from the globally-respected English legal system. In compliment, English language is widely spoken, and the Premier League Football revered!
As a woman walking the Middle East market place for near-on four decades, I have encountered as much opportunity and I have resistance – both external to me and internal of me.
Also, I have received a warm welcome by men and women, alike.
On the flip side, I have experienced close encounters of all kinds, with both men and women. All part of life’s rich tapestry. I swiftly learnt that I can bring my own yarn to the party.
I can only imagine that this would be much the same had I focus career growth in London, or New York, for that matter.
Indeed, often my work – and penchant for study - takes me overseas.
Yes, the beat and amp may be different (than the multi-national Downtown Dubai) on Oxford Street, again on Fifth Avenue, and most defiantly on the Champs Elysee but as long as I wear my heart open and connect-to- connect, eye to eye, I find No Alien. Barriers to entry are lifted. Like my experience as an entrepreneur in the Middle East. If business wants to be done, it will be done.
It’s then up to me, the collaborative, and our co-creation to make something that sticks.
Sometimes we are using non-stick pans, and it doesn’t.
That’s (show) business! Most certainly, that’s life!
More good news; the Opportunity Culture in the Middle East is alive! The curtains remain up and the daily dance with eclectic profiles, personalities and personas constantly uncovers new steps, new rhythm, new camaraderie, and new opportunities to go out and play.
(**Side note: Israel follows Judism. Meanwhile, Lebanon has evolved as the most diverse religious society in the region – just over 50% follow either Shite or Suni Islam, more than 40% Christianity, and a small percentage either Druze, Sufi or Alawits. Five of the Gulf Cooperation Council States – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the UAE, have long-since established places of worship across the variety of denominations practiced by the crucial, welcomed diverse visitors, residents and work place.)
3. What are your biggest challenges in the next 5 years?
I’m a bit of a Word Smith. It’s the legacy PR Person in me!
So, when I look at the word Challenge, I actually see ‘All Angels’ (ch-all-angels).
In tandem, I hear the positive polarity of the word: I hear an invitation to take part …to do really, really well, sprinting over barriers, removing obstacles. Even collaboratively re-writing the rule book in favour of the knowing what is right to do, for the common good for the common purpose (of the challenging opportunity)!
Given that, here’s a ‘blink’ of my top three Angels in the next five years:
Energy Retention, fueling Energy Increase. Our collective wisdom fueled by the ‘time this is’ – the Internet of Things (IoT), Smart Everything, Nike Trainers, Global Connectivity (transport, digital, media et al) – means the proverbial ‘New York Minute’ has long since bitten the dust, and even the Facebook Moment has been ‘under siege’ from SnapChat’s Second In Time. Meaning … I (we) not only must keep the mo-jo elated, but energy levels must show aging, that speed is not best measured in MPH (miles per hour) rather in Flow and Felt Shift (FFS) - in myself and others, constantly moving us forwards and upwards, together. Indeed, absolutely all energy (re)sources deserve such consideration – be it from food, fuel, finance or freedom.
Bridge Building For Social Sustainability By Conscious Social Responsibility. It feels imperative that everything I/we do is a brick in the foundation of a sustainable forever, experienced today. The All-Angel, All Angle Challenging Opportunity is to ensure a bridge is built from here to (t)here, always, all ways for all people. To help support this, I have joined a collaborative of strong, wise women and together we are committed to (writing the) new guidebook to energise true, lasting social value.
Implementing Inspiration. The world remains hungry for new ideas, new services, new product, new blood, new systems (political, economical, financial, societal…) even new borders, and most certainly new leadership. The All-Angel, All Angel Challeniging Opportunty is ‘how’? How do we best observe in harmony, what fits, now and tomorrow? How do we most elegantly identify the new-paradigm leaders? How do we encourage and energise them to lead so we can follow, with grace? How do we energise more excitement and courage over the polarity power points of sadness and fear? How, How, How?
I know you didn’t ask, but I feel full with some ‘strategic, so(u)lutions’. Here’s my ‘off the cuff’ suggestion this morning. See how this sits, fits and stirs creativity masked as chaos!
We find truth in observation, not opinion.
We appreciatively welcome at least three languages of the world, of the people – Computer Coding (we are not going anywhere without this now!); Sign Language; English – which we look to rename, so it losses the connection to a nation and becomes the common language of People, while national languages are embraced and encouraged with love.
We morph the various (creed) commandments, mix with AA’s 12 Steps, stir in EQs schema solutions, pepper with the 21 skills of SQ (spiritual intelligence), sit in stillness (source) for at least 15 minutes a day, move more (ideally in dance with Mother Nature), eat natural and whole, we go out to ‘play’ with our friends in leisure time affording the same joie de vivre to our colleagues and customers at work (in government, in commerce, in community) while engaging in generative conversation not stoking debate-ladened dialogue.
We stand really brave, and detox and re-model or financial and economic ‘systems’.
4. What is your philosophy?
My inner knowledge and my living reality has long-since whispered that helping to increase the level of love, prosperity and peace on earth for all, among all, by all is the reason for my existence. I am now alive to this and in service to this, for all my life time(s).
About Susan Furness The Consciously Strategic Marketing Coach www.strategicsolutionsonline.com
Susan is a born and bred Londoner, who swapped the River Thames for Dubai Creek in 1992, but not before spending a glorious decade living on the archipelago of Bahrain, in the Arabian Gulf. She has navigated an eclectic career path, fusing the corporate world of the Middle East with the entrepreneurial opportunities that an ‘emerging market’ brings in its wake. Presently she can count at least a dozen business start-ups under her watch, including the legacy business launched in 1995 in Dubai and still going strong today – Strategic Solutions. Susan’s professional education and implementation focuses the Retail sector, Marketing, Advertising, PR, Digital and Social Media, as well as Early Years Education, Tourism & Hospitality, Publishing, and the Finance and Solar Energy Markets. In tandem, Susan’s tipple is Learning and Development. Especially since the early 90’s she has gathered pace – and depth – in Internal Communications, Spirituality and Wellbeing. In the Gulf Region, she is currently the only certified coach in Spiritual Intelligence (www.deepchange.com), Edgewalking (www.edgewalkers.org) and Integral Facilitation, where she holds a professional development certification (www.tendirections.com). Most recently, Susan brought a new three-realm modality into her portfolio. Selfistry flows between meditation, movement, and observation. Susan is certified teacher (www.selfistry.com). Susan’s approach to marketing communications, brand management and PR is ‘dramatically different’ and crucially needed in today’s ‘crowded and clouded global marketplace’ because she encourages her clients and their teams to ‘look in new places for the right answers’ (to business strategy, message development and campaigns). She sits on the board of a handful of Family businesses, plus advisory councils, and most recently joined the Executive Team of the Global Prosperity and Peace Initiative (GPPI), plus taking the reins of the remit in the Middle East