Written by Fathi Hilal Buhazza, founder and chief executive officer of UAE-based Maximus Air
Last December, the UAE held rousing celebrations to mark its 40th anniversary. And there is much to celebrate. In a mere four decades, the UAE has grown to become one of the leading Middle Eastern countries. It, as one, participates globally in politics, business and humanitarian efforts. It has some of the most modern and sophisticated infrastructure in the world. It has - especially in aviation - some of the leading companies in the world.
And yet, here in the UAE, there are some who still focus on internal rivalry. They pit Abu Dhabi against Dubai, business against business. And thus jeopardise the overall growth of the country - and themselves. But the message from National Day came across, loud and clear. We are one. There is strength in unity. Collaboration, not competition, is what will take us one step closer to our goals. This idea is becoming more prevalent across the world and across business, as faltering economies trigger changes in strategy. In the airline industry, one of the key ideas right now is how, together, one can increase the size of the industry, while leaving competition to carve up the individual portions. And that is what companies in the UAE should be doing.
The global economy has entered a new paradigm over the past couple of years, and it seems clear that companies which collectively comprise the UAE’s economy will only be able to respond to this new era of challenges if we set aside our rivalries, and work together to face outside competition. Of course there may be competition between individual companies, but we need to work out a strategy that ensures these businesses complement, rather than cut into, each other. There remain people who warn against other UAE businesses: “Dubai is a competitor,” say some, “we can’t trust their businesses, let’s look elsewhere for that service.” But why? There are no conflicts of interest between the cities here. It is one country; we all want the same goal. Those who perpetuate rumours of rivalry do nothing but undermine the strength of our country. What is their motivation? Sometimes it is to their advantage, but more often it is a lack of understanding of what could be achieved together. Imagine, for example, what could be achieved if Emirates and Etihad became one. What a giant that would be!
There is an economic model called “coopetition”. It holds that the total economy gains from allowing small businesses to become large businesses, and that it is a fallacy that one man’s gain is necessarily another’s loss. Competition is good for the economy - unless it eliminates competitors. Businesses grow, not by killing the competition but by concentrating on quality and service – they are improved by their competitors. Consider the long distance runners at the forthcoming Olympics – and business is a long distance event if any – the runners compete, but they also work as a pack. They run faster by running together, not by trying to trip each other up. The UAE and its cities can perfectly adapt this as a corporate model. Yes, there are seven emirates, 10 cities and multiple companies - but it is only by working as a team that the whole will grow. In such an uncertain economic climate this model will help all UAE companies improve their footholds in the global marketplace.
Our rulers understand this. We have heard, clearly, that companies should collaborate. And this belief permeates the UAE’s current Government Strategy, with its focus on integrated policies, effective coordination and cooperation. As early as 2010, Marwan Ahmad Lutfi, deputy CEO and head of business development at Dubai International Financial Centre, said: “Rivalry is something of the past, given what has happened in the global economic crisis. The more global companies there are in this region, the better it is.” And this certainly chimes with what the late, great Sheikh Zayed believed. He asked the people to act as one, that the union stand the test of time, and that the spirit of the union lives on.