UAE #3: From Palm-Frond Huts to Urban Skyscrapers in 40 years

“We’re approaching the border between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. There is no real border in the sense of passport checking. But you’ll notice it because the trees disappear.” – Ute, our tour guide

On Wednesday (ET), we journeyed out of Abu Dhabi and headed out toward Dubai, making a quick stop at Sharjah for a bite to eat and a company visit. Three emirates in one day – what a treat! In our class discussions on the political structure of the UAE, we found in our research that though the 7 emirates are bound together by a Treaty of Union, they individually exercise a great deal of autonomy. The structure of dual judicial, executive and legislative branches (federal and emirate-level) as well as the emirates’ own determination of revenue priorities indicate that it is a more decentralized form of government.

We had the opportunity to meet with several firms in Dubai who were charged with developing Dubai and the UAE at large. It was truly astonishing to see how much the UAE has been able to grow over the past 47 years of unity. I recall visiting the Heritage Village on my first day in Abu Dhabi. It was a small village built solely to show how people lived in the region before the modern day development. Today, Abu Dhabi and Dubai look a lot like New York or Shanghai, with skyscrapers and extensive business districts. Our company visits allowed us to understand how these emirates have grown so successfully, thanks to a combination of strong financial structures, investment in the right areas, and visionary government, combined with the endogenous wealth of the region from its energy assets.

Relationship-driven banking

Our first visit in the emirate of Sharjah was with the Bank of Sharjah, a commercial bank that has supported the economic development of the area with a focus on corporate loans. We were excited to visit as the M&A function of the bank is headed by our very own Haig Nerguizian (CBS ‘17). Haig grew up in the UAE, and after a stint in New York (spent in investment banking and business school), Haig decided to capitalize on the opportunity to help grow the business at home.

This visit was quite different from others on our trip in that it was a purely private sector business with no support from the Emirate government. Because of this, clients are not a given and must be won. The way to do this is very familiar to those of us who worked in banking in the US – it involves getting to know a client’s needs a step ahead of their actions and then making the case to them, through presentations and discussions, that your bank is the best fit to take them through those future processes. Our Bank of Sharjah visit showed me that relationship-building and maintenance (coming into the office on Saturdays to have coffee with old clients – “old friends”) was a key component of the job and indeed, probably more important than the excel models.

Haig is in a very exciting place where he is helping to build out a full-scale M&A division, using his prior experience in banking. Bank of Sharjah has already been an innovator in finance, for example issuing the first convertible (??). We will surely be tracking Bank of Sharjah’s development as it accelerates in the future!

Up, up and beyond

By Thursday, we were all almost fully adjusted to the 8-hour time difference between Manhattan and Dubai. Just in time to visit the aircraft that brought us forward in time!

Emirates Training Center

At the Emirates Training Center, we learned about how the cabin crew of the airline facilitates the operations of the planes and provides a positive in-flight experience to all classes of the aircraft. The flight attendants have a detailed process for every stage of the plane, and a very well-practiced procedure for any scenario that could happen – smoke in the plane, emergency landing, water landing, etc. There were some fail-proof measures put into place that would have made my operations management professor very proud. For example, to reduce the risk of misplacing a name tag, the name tags are placed on all four levels of the flight attendant’s outfit – their outer coat, their vest, their shirt or dress. And each time there is a redesign of the uniform, all flight attendants turn over their old one for the new one.

The CBS Cabin Crew!

From oil fields to thermal shirts

A premier diversified Sharjah-based business named Crescent Enterprises hosted us for a lovely meeting to wrap up the day. Crescent was originally formed to financially support the oil production efforts of the emirates, but in keeping with the vision of Sheikh Zayed (as detailed in my last blog post, it has been diversifying its investments into other businesses. Indeed, today, Crescent is divided into two subsidiaries – Crescent Petroleum and Crescent Enterprises – with the latter focusing on diversifying businesses running the gamut from allocations to private equity funds to individual investments in very early stage ventures. The portfolio even includes some renewable energy.

My favorite is their new investment in performance material for clothing. As we learned, the UAE has an enormous migrant population, largely comprised of construction and temporary workers who are sometimes outdoors working in 130F conditions. Crescent’s investments here would directly help the people of the emirates by providing more comfortable clothing for the unforgiving desert heat if they must work outdoors.

What an exciting time to be part of the Emirates!



-Shelley Han ‘18

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