The Future of Business in America

Bedouins treasure dates, camels and falcons. The date palms give shade and sustenance. The camel carries heavy loads over hot sands, and the falcon exudes valour and chivalry. All of this was on ample display as my wife, son and I visited the home of Saeed Bu Hagab Al Shamisi in the ancient desert city of Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates.

We were there as guests of Saeed’s son, Mohammed Bu Hagab Al Shamisi. In preparation for meeting Saeed, Mohammad shared with us that his father is a master falcon trainer and had personally taught falconry to the country’s Crown Prince. Photos on the wall of their beautiful home attested to that fact. In addition, we were informed that Saeed and his family own a camel farm on the outskirts of Al Ain, where they train these great dromedaries to race. They also own a date farm, also on the out skirts of Al Ain.

By the time I met Saeed I was fully aware that this was no ordinary man. But as we were introduced I was immediately put at ease by his relaxed, yet elegant manner.

I was surprised when Mohammad told me Saeed was 86 years old, because his appearance was that of a much younger man. He wore the traditional white desert robe (thoub), head covering (keffiyeh) and black cord (agal) that held Saeed’s kiffiyeh in place. His complexion was a deep bronze and he had no hint of grey in his beard. When walking he moved with a slow graceful gait.

Saeed has two living wives. We met both of them in a greeting ceremony in the reception area of their multi-building compound. They wore beautiful abayas (gowns that covered them from head to foot). I stuck out my hand to shake their hands in an act of greeting, but was quickly told that men and women cannot touch. They wore platted masks that covered everything but their eyes.

As we greeted the wives, Saeed turned to me and said, “you have a beautiful wife.” I thanked him for the compliment. At that moment the Arab translator whispered, “say something nice about his wives.” I paused for just a moment to think about what I should say. “What is appropriate? They’re wearing copper facemasks. Do I say they have beautiful eyes? A little too personal,” I concluded. After all, “I’m not even allowed to shake their hands.”

Saeed broke the silence and asked, “and what do you think of my wives?”

“Well”, I said, “they too are beautiful.”

At that moment, the group that had been gathered around us, including my wife and son, started laughing. I didn’t try to interpret what the laughter implied, so focused was I on what Saeed’s reaction would be. It came in the form of a smile that was a mixture of delight and playfulness. It dawned on me that Saeed was having fun with me and that everyone was in on it but me. With that I too started smiling, and at that point the atmosphere turned pleasantly informal.

We met and mingled with his sons and daughters, and ended the evening with a meal of the most delicious lamb I have ever tasted. (Actually, it’s the only lamb I’ve ever tasted. But, I was so relieved that it tasted good that I felt like it was the best thing I had ever tasted.)

As we were set to leave the wives regaled us with a variety of packaged dates and extended an invitation for us to return, only the next time they wanted us to spend the night in their guest house, and visit their camel and date farms.

Of course we’ll return!! Who wouldn’t! We had just experienced the private world of a family of one of the great and enduring cultures of all time. As we drove away, I thought of how T.E. Lawrence must have felt when he was first introduced to Arab culture. He never got over it according to his account in “Lawrence of Arabia”. I doubt I will either.

By the way, why were we in an Arab country ( The United Arab Emirates) in the first place? We were there on business for our company (Grenx). Early on, Mohammad had contacted us and set up a deal to sell our product (Green Tea HP) in three cities of the U.A.E., namely, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Al Ain. Until we visited the U.A.E. the only contact we had ever had with Mohammad, 33, was through the internet and mobile phone.

My son (Roger) had been working with Mohammed for close to a year, when he extended an invitation to us to visit him, his family, and his retail outlets where he sold Green Tea HP. While there we stayed in Dubai, and ventured out to Al Ain and Abu Dhabi by means of a car and driver provided to us by Mohammed.

Had it not been for the fact that we owned a company, I doubt I would ever have had this kind of experience. Which brings me to the point of this article; in the future, most small business people will also have these kinds of experiences. The main reason for this is that the world is turning into an interconnected communication network. Anyone who produces a product, and almost anyone who has a service of any kind, will likely become an “interconnected global business person.”

Information technology is close to having created the ability to automatically connect people in every corner of the world. As a result, the likelihood of solely being a local company in the future will virtually be eliminated. If you use the internet in your business, the statistical probability that your product will not get global attention is zero. If you can’t imagine this, just think Google, Wikipedia, Facebook, Skype, Twitter, Apple, and YouTube. Now double the power of these brands, their technologies, and their new competitors to increase communication and connectivity globally over the next ten years; and that will give you a glimpse into what is in store for small businesses in the not so distant future.

This goes against what a lot of my friends in traditional media believe. To survive they say, you have to be “super local” and meet local needs. For a small business, that’s not really the case. Your market will automatically be global, and your goal will be to give people what they want, no matter where they’re at. In fact, I will go even so far as to say that a “local” strategy will likely put people out of business. There will be no local monopolies. Global will become the new local.

If what I say pans out, interesting trends will emerge in America.

For one, the idea that a small company should consciously narrow its market and go after a defined niche or segment is quickly going to become wrongheaded. Rather, with digitization becoming more and more dominant, it is far better to cast your net far and wide, and let people decide for themselves whether they want to be part of your market.

That’s what happened with Mohammed. I doubt that if it were up to me I would have described someone living in the desert of the U.A.E. as part of our prime market. For example I didn’t even know that such a place as Al Ain existed. But, it does and so does Mohammed and he chose us. Such is the power of digitization for small business people in America.