MEI’s ‘Sport Business and Related Opportunities in Qatar’ seminar held at law firm Simmons & Simmons in the City of London provided practical insights into achieving successful outcomes in the country.
The keynote speakers spoke from their personal experience; a wide range of companies attended and MEI (Major Events International) CEO, Dennis Mills, provided plenty of opportunities for Q&As and networking. A panel discussion was chaired by former UK ambassador to Qatar, John Hawkins.
Gulf Times spoke to several of the keynote speakers who elaborated on their views about doing business effectively in Qatar.
Chris Scudamore, Partner, PwC, had some advice related to the Business Development stage.
“If you receive an invite via fax or letter for a PQQ meeting (pre-qualification questionnaire) you need to prepare for this very differently than you would in Western markets. More often than not there isn’t a ‘presentation stage’ to come and present your submitted bid to the client later on. The PQQ meeting is often the only chance to make a personal impression and clients may well make up their mind after meeting the teams at PQQ stage. So my advice is to treat this like your bid presentation. Bring your best people, fly in the experts from overseas … and most of all - be prepared with some slides and a laptop to plug in and present your capabilities to either a few key client personnel or sometimes an auditorium full of people,” he said.
He also gave some valuable advice concerning negotiation. “In terms of negotiation tactics, the procurement process here in Qatar is traditional (with the use of separate technical and commercial bids and Tender Committees) but is actually highly competitive on that basis. This style of bidding is not necessarily what Western consultancy firms are used to, whereas the Qatar clients know this approach well and this creates an advantage for the client. 
“If you find yourself in a one-off, transactional negotiation where there are limited existing relationships with the client and a formal procurement process is running - then it is very difficult to turn things to your advantage. The best chance of commercial success is to work with a close group of clients and build up an effective working relationship with them. Only by building trust over time can both entities start to understand each other’s position and negotiate deals that meet the needs of both parties.”
Andrew Wingfield, Partner, Simmons & Simmons, Middle East, based in Doha, gave a useful overview of Qatar from a cultural, political and economic perspective. “When contemplating investments or acquisitions in Qatar a primary consideration will be the foreign investment laws which restrict the extent of foreign ownership. The general rule, subject to exceptions, is that foreigners will not be allowed to acquire more than a 49% equity stake in a business. 
Despite these equity limitations, it is possible, subject to commercial negotiation and the exact role to be played by the Qatar partner, to structure legitimately things so that the profit distribution can be more along the lines of 90%-95% to the foreign investor. If the Qatar partner is actively engaged in the business then a more equal distribution of profits would be the norm.”
Scott Druck, CEO, Oxford Strategic Consulting, spoke about the importance of understanding Qatar’s national goals in building relations.
“Qatari employment is a major national goal and, as in all GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries, sincere support for national goals is imperative for demonstrating in-country value (ICV) and securing contracts with government or semi-government firms,” he noted.
He added: “Qataris represent a valuable human resource with unique skills and attributes, not least of which is the ability to understand and get the most from relationships with other Qataris, many of whom will be in senior positions within the country.”
He emphasised the importance of respecting the culture of Qatar. “Respect for national culture and individuals is a key responsibility of any company, particularly multi-nationals operating in non-home territories.”
He gave some valuable insights into approaches that are more likely to result in lasting and successful business relationships.
“Build authentic social relationships with Qatari nationals by expressing interest, empathy, patience and support for the goals of the Qatar Vision 2030, and resist the temptation to follow a specific commercial agenda in the first instance. “Qatar wants to ‘modernise’ and not necessarily ‘westernise’”.
Nurturing long-term relationships on trust, respect and mutual understanding are key for business success,” he concluded.
Charles Le Gallais, managing director, Via Strategia Ltd, spoke about his own direct experience of working in Qatar in his former role as director defence and security, Serco Group. 
“Serco and the Staff College Committee made a considerable investment in winning mutual trust, which led to a tough but successful negotiation resulting in the award of the contract to operate the College on behalf of the Qatar Armed Forces. In this case, particular care was given to understanding the strategic goals of the Armed Forces to ensure that the College was clearly sovereign to Qatar and respectful of her culture,” he said.
He also emphasised the importance of being present in Qatar and taking the time to build relationships. “Trusted relationships are fundamental to winning contracts, but they need to be sincere and have a purpose. Relationships should lead to a mutual understanding of the decision-making process on both sides of the negotiation: Who are the deciders and who are the gatekeepers; what are their agendas; and how best to influence a successful outcome,” he observed.
Chris Ford, business development & government liaison, Vauban Cyber Technologies and former Security and Police Adviser, UKTI, Doha, emphasised that Qatar, in accordance with its 2030 Vision, is delivering a massive infrastructure programme that is very much construction based as well as World Cup related. “So there are opportunities for companies to offer services and goods that are connected with infrastructure build as well as goods and services that are purely football related,” he said. 
He also pointed out that local companies, usually in partnership with other companies will (or have already been) awarded the contracts for building or renovating stadia (8 so far announced). Thus, he noted, “a good strategy would be to try to become a supply chain provider for those companies.”
With regard to the World Cup, it was noted that a Local Organising Committee will have day to day responsibility for games specific projects while the Supreme Committee will assume a more strategic role.

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