Spotlight On Nigel Sillitoe
1. Tell us about you, your experience and time in the Middle East.
I have lived in the Middle East ten years this month. I was originally transferred from London to Bahrain by Mellon, a US bank, to establish its first office in the region. Within weeks of moving the events of 9/11 happened which nearly resulted in my wife and I moving home. Even my employer insisted that we return to the UK. As it was, my wife was eight months pregnant, and none of the airlines would allow her to travel with them. But for that piece of luck, I wouldn’t have experienced the ten fabulous years spent in this dynamic part of the world.
I spent the first four years in Bahrain building Mellon’s asset management business. I then moved to Dubai during 2005 to open Mellon’s office in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) – which, at the time, was no more than a concrete jungle.
Whilst at Mellon I founded, along with several other investors, a market research business. From the outset we decided to specialise in employee engagement, as very few local companies, unlike their international counterparts, were conducting annual employee engagement studies. We believed this was a gap in the market: fortunately, we have been proven to have been correct.
I left the asset management industry during 2009, as I wanted the autonomy and freedom which comes from running your own business. I then invested more of my own money, and raised capital from some new investors to expand the business and offer other services such as customer perception studies.
2. How would you describe the culture of your business?
We are a project led-company. We are very customer focused, offering tailor-made solutions. We operate 24/7 – unlike a number of other research companies that offer off-the-shelf solutions.
3. Are companies within MENA engaged with their employees?
We have seen a significant level of interest from local companies for employee engagement studies. Whilst 2009 was a particularly difficult year for our business, a greater number of local companies within MENA now accept that employee engagement is a developed market “best practise” worth adopting. For example, we recently conducted the first ever employee engagement study for a family office, which has been in existence for over 30 years. The trend is one that we expect will continue going forward, especially if members of the management team have worked in countries which embrace the benefits of conducting research on a regular basis.
4. What are your biggest challenges in the next five years?
One challenge will be educating companies about the benefits of marketing research – particularly online studies which are now the preferred methodology. Another challenge is being at the forefront of innovation. For example, we have just launched a monthly engagement proprietary tool, Empulse, which can be used across all employees or departments such as sales departments. Besides producing monthly feedback every month, Empulse participants can participate using their Smartphones. Another challenge is making sure we remain entrepreneurial and remain committed to areas we have greatest experience – employee and customer surveys: we should not become a jack-of-all-trades.