The second half of Global Immersion UAE saw the group travel to Dubai, which though only an hour away from Abu Dhabi, indeed feels much different. For one, it is a city of 2.1 million, compared to the 920,000 of its neighbor, and is the second most expensive city in the world. It also lacks oil almost all together, its supply is expected to run out in the next three years according to some estimates. As a result, the emirate made an effort early on to become a financial and business hub. Our company visits were still quite diverse; Crescent Group started as a petroleum exploration company in the 1970’s, but has since expanded to become a holding company for enterprises as diverse as private equity, shipping ports, and emerging ventures; the middle east office for Boston Consulting Group, where we were met by Columbia alum Doug Beal; M Capital Group; the Dubai International Finance Center; venture souq, a growing angel network run by five millennials.
However, I think it’s safe to say our favorite trip was to the Emirates Airlines training school. Here, all flight attendants come for an eight week training program. Statistically, it is harder to get into the program than it is to be accepted to Harvard – 130,000 apply, 7,000 are interviewed, and only 4,700 are accepted. There are 160 nationalities represented amongst all the attendants, and by 2020 they want 35,000 crew in total. It’s a quickly growing company, though the standards and level of brand representation is still held very high. There is image training, because as they explained, “do you look like you’re worth $6.6 billion or $100,000?” There is a maximum of two rings allowed, one on each hand, all watches must be approved before getting on board, lipstick color matches the uniform hat, and there are only a few hairstyles allowed. On board, there must be minimum of six languages spoken to accommodate all guests, though on average there are usually 10 to 15 languages amongst all the crew. And finally, the crew even gets delivery training – there are 15 to 19 babies delivered a year.
After being taken through the mock (but life size) airplanes in which they conduct safety training and food and drink service, we met with the Senior Vice President of Learning and Development, who was a 20 plus year veteran of the company, having joined in the 1980’s when the airline was just starting. Essentially, the formation of Emirates was a response to Gulf Air protesting Dubai’s open sky policy and leaving the emirate as a hub. To avoid losing air traffic, Dubai started its own airline; the other Gulf states initially closed their airports to Emirates, forcing them to move from a regional to international airline overnight. Now there are 511 departures per day from Dubai carrying over 80,000 passengers. They can boast of a 3-4% margin, compared to the 0.7% margin for the airline industry overall. This year they are adding three North American, three South American, and double to trip the number of daily flights to some European routes. With their US customers, 75% of first time flyers return to Emirates. While not many of us knew much about the airline industry, I think we all left sufficiently impressed and looking forward to the day when we can afford the first class private cabin with walk in shower! That’s why we’re getting our MBA’s, right?