World-class luxury. Explosive international growth. Human rights progress.
MBA students study in Dubai, the Middle East’s economic hot spot.
by Rob Humphreys
Dubai, a rapidly emerging global force in the United Arab Emirates, is at the center of Middle East economic innovation and cultural change. In early January, 21 MBA candidates from the Crummer Graduate School of Business experienced the region firsthand during a weeklong trip with Rollins’ Global Research and Study Project—the program’s second trip to Dubai.
Jim Johnson, professor of international business and director of Rollins MBA Global Consulting projects, put together an itinerary that featured some of Dubai’s most powerful business leaders, including dinner with Banawi Industrial Group’s Sheikh Hussein Al-Banawi ’78 ’80MBA, himself a Crummer grad. Students also visited the U.S. Consulate and heard from executives in the advertising, energy, finance, real estate, and tourism industries.
“Dubai is really one of the hot spots right now for doing business,” Johnson says. “I chose Dubai simply because of its phenomenal growth over the past 20 years. There was almost nothing there in the early ’90s, and now it’s the business center for the whole Middle East.”
Of course, no trip to Dubai would be complete without touring the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building), the Burj Al Arab (often called the world’s only seven-star hotel) and Ski Dubai (an indoor snow park). Rajshree Singh ’14MBA, a Crummer student who has a background in retail, joked that visiting The Dubai Mall—the world’s largest shopping center, based on total area—was her No. 1 priority. Overall, she came away impressed with Dubai’s business opportunities for women.
“Even though it’s always been projected as more of a liberal nation in the Middle East, you never really know until you go there,” Singh says of the UAE. “Especially as a woman in business, it was interesting going there. The majority of people we met with were women. It kind of gave you a different perspective.”
The constitutional monarchy of Dubai, population 2.1 million, is one of seven emirates, or principalities, in the UAE, a small country that borders Saudi Arabia and juts northward to split the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Unlike its oil-centric neighbors, Dubai has built its wealth primarily on tourism and financial services, a type of Middle East hybrid between New York and Las Vegas.
But attracting the world’s jet-setters, Fortune 500 companies, and international workforce—more than 80 percent of residents are foreigners—requires a climate that also fosters religious, ethnic, and cultural tolerance. In this regard, economic growth has been the engine driving larger societal change, in part by relaxing traditional Islamic restrictions on dress and alcohol. And although Dubai takes its share of criticism on the world stage regarding issues such as censorship, women’s sexual rights, homosexuality, and its treatment of non-native laborers, last year the UAE did rank 14th globally—six spots ahead of the U.S.—in a human rights study by Norway’s Global Network for Rights and Development. The next Arab country on the list, Tunisia, came in at No. 72.
“Dubai is at the forefront of overhauling the image of the Middle East in a positive way,” says Aaron Layden ’14MBA, who had never traveled overseas until enrolling in Rollins’ international business courses. He particularly enjoyed the presentation from Tarek El Masry, Middle East director for management consulting firm McKinsey & Company.
“When I came to Crummer 12 years ago,” Johnson says, “one thing that really appealed to me is that the program doesn’t just talk the talk, it walks the walk as well. Student have to go over there, experience it, touch it, taste it, feel it, smell it—and then they get it. What I love about Crummer is that we really do that.”