1. Tell us about you, your experience and time in the Middle East.
I have spent most of my HR career in Recruitment (i.e. Agencies – specialist engineering, and generalist “high street”) but I have also been a hands-on HR manager too, so I have seen both sides of the fence. I have only had 5 employers in the last 30 years – I was fortunate to join growing organisations where I was able to learn by experience as they expanded.
My Middle East experience is fairly extreme. After serving some time on bachelor status in Saudi Arabia, I worked in the Islamic Republic of Iran from 1984 to 1988, on a port construction project as HR and admin manager, during the reign of Ayatolla Khomeini and during the Iraq-Iran war. That taught me a lot about Shia Islam, construction, war, human nature, having to cope and adapt to survive, how to cook camel meat and spot secret police in plain clothes (generally it’s the gun sticking out of the back pocket of the Levi jeans)
After that I had a 10-year spell in UK but I have been based in Dubai since 1998, as General Manager then (in Jan 2002) owner of Clarendon Parker Middle East, which I sold to the US-based Manpower group in December 2007. I stayed on for 2 years then left to start my HR Software and consultancy business, landed a project in Qatar which lasted nearly 2 years, so the new business has only had my 100% attention from March 2012.
2. How would you describe your business leadership style?
I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur until I bought Clarendon Parker Middle East (one office 12 staff) at the age of 50 and suddenly the realization hit me that there was no more head office, no more guaranteed salary, no more corporate perks, just falling sales due to market conditions and my personal funds flowing out of my account like water from a broken dam! To make it worse, 5 of my team became pregnant in the same month, and our lovely UK-based IT systems collapsed, so we lost all our client and candidate records overnight. So from a learning aspect, I had to learn new skills with a pretty desperate level of motivation and then lead the team by example. If you lead from the front, put your own reputation at risk, encourage challenge and consensus from your staff, life becomes incredibly hard because you are there, sat in an open plan office, under the microscope. Fortunately this worked, and the core team began to replicate the leadership style as we survived and hired new staff. One of the main reasons we were able to expand from one to seven offices across the GCC in five years was the commitment of the managers and the high team spirit. Work was a fun challenge. People were totally empowered to make their own decisions and learn from them – this was pretty scary in the Middle East, but successful.
3. What is your view on training and development?
I received so little training or development in my early career that I had no real clue how to go about it once a business owner, but I tried different approaches until I decided that internal resources were the best, once the company was mature enough that the trainers had 5 to 7 years with CP or many years as a corporate trainer in a similar sales environment. I had mixed results from external commercial training, some of which actually backfired in that the staff came back demotivated instead of inspired – it usually boiled down to the skills and attitude of the individual trainers, rather than the company that arranged the courses.
In terms of review and assessment, I found this very hard to implement and follow through in CP as we expanded from 12 to 100 staff in 5 years and the skills we needed had to adapt with each location and market forces. Also as a sales organisation, you are always focused on getting that last sale in before the month-end, or whatever, so the appraisals and reviews tended to slip behind schedule.
I am an avid supporter of training and development, I have seen many people who did not realize they had potential to go further until this was unlocked by learning.
There is a view in the Middle East (and many other places) that training is a waste of money. Why? Because the staff get smart, acquire better skills then apply for better jobs, ungrateful people that they are! To those employers I would say first look in the mirror. Do people really want to work for you in the first place? What can you offer them? Survey after survey over the last 50 years have shown that the most common reason for people leaving a company is NOT money. It’s how they are treated, at a corporate level and by their individual managers. If you hire average people, treat them badly, offer no support or encouragement, then train them, of course they are going to leave! Wouldn’t you?
4. What are your biggest challenges in the next 5 years?
There is a war going on out there, and we are all part of it. Hands up everyone who has a laptop, a smart phone and an iPad? The war is Microsoft, in the blue trunks in the Business corner, and Apple in the Red trunks in the Art, Design and entertainment corner. As our company designs and deploys web-based HR software, we are seeing the speed at which technology is being superseded daily, and the appetite for personal devices accelerate. If we design a system from scratch today, it will probably have a life of 2 to 3 years before it has to be upgraded or redesigned as a new product using even newer technology.
If your company is running on systems developed over 5 years ago, the IT world will view them now as practically antique.
This means that in the foreseeable future – which is only 2 to 3 years from my perspective – any solution will have to be Apple-friendly as well as PC-friendly, maybe even Android – friendly as well? L & D and HR systems will deliver content for training courses, appraisals, administration, Professional Development and so forth to any portable device, as phones connect to Smart TVs, iPads to PCs, and much more.
What’s your guess?