How can UK firms succeed in MENA?

3 min read

How can UK companies succeed in the Middle East and North Africa? How can you navigate different business cultures and achieve sustainable growth? Mace's Regional Director Mark Taylor explains his five top tips for companies considering entering the market. 

This year marks two decades since Mace began working in the Middle East and North Africa.

Our Jumeirah Beach Residence project in 2003, the largest ever single phase residential scheme of its kind in the world, put us on the map in the region. And it didn’t stop there - Mace’s team continue to deliver some of the biggest projects MENA has to offer, most recently taking on Expo 2020 and Ain Dubai, the world’s largest observation wheel. With a proven track record and expert team, Mace is now firmly established in the MENA market.

With that in mind, what have we learnt about delivering growth in the region? 

Have a clear offer

It’s hard to enter any new market and MENA is no different. Bid selection is vital. Be clear on what you’re doing and, as importantly, what you’re not doing. And make sure you have the right manpower for the job. You won’t get off the ground taking on work that you can’t deliver.

Having a well-defined offer will help you to pick the right projects and set you up for success.

Know your supply chain 

Develop a strong understanding of your supply chain partners’ real capabilities. Thorough research is key, with different levels of supply chain maturity throughout MENA countries. Some underpinned by robust laws and regulations, others with less transparency around capacity and performance than in the UK. The MENA supply chain is also under strain, for a variety of reasons linked to cash flow, material supply, and volume of work inside a demanding market.

Knowing your suppliers and the challenges they are facing will help you to create realistic project plans and deliver quality work.

Adapt to market practices

Understand the pace of the MENA market and adapt accordingly. Recognise that processes around finances or contracts may be slower than what you’re used to. Be patient and build this into your plans and forecasting.

Every market operates differently so be ready to adjust.

Recruit wisely

As with any company, in any country, people are your greatest asset. Get the blend of your employees right with a mixture of UK and local expertise. UK businesses in MENA can have a high percentage of British expats so workforces tend to be quite transient. This constant change in personnel can make building business relationships difficult. 

Recruit people who can develop connections quickly and ensure you build long-term relationships with organisations, not just people.

Be a leader 

The marketplace is a forever evolving landscape, don’t be left behind. Take the opportunity to be a problem solver – not a bystander. Be prepared to have difficult conversations with your clients and supply chain around doing things differently. Introducing best practice from the UK or new technology shows you won’t rest on your laurels.

Working with your client and supply chain to make a difference – whether it be an innovation or a community initiative – will make you stand out.

The scale of opportunities available in MENA is immense. There is huge scope for UK businesses to utilise MENA as an export market, particularly post-Brexit. Entering into a new market is never easy but with a clear focus and a willingness to learn UK companies can capitalise on these opportunities – you just need to go out and grab it.

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