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Khalid Al Ameri: What Emiratis can learn from a $40 barrel of oil
July 25, 2016
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In July 2008 I got my first “real” job. I was this wide-eyed newbie who couldn’t wait to work on global deals and rise through the corporate ranks. A couple of months later however the world came to a standstill; on September 15 Lehman Brothers, an organisation that had been around since 1850, filed for bankruptcy. Then on September 29 the world witnessed the largest ever single day crash after the US House of Representatives rejected the government’s 700-billion-dollar bailout plan, wiping away approximately 1.2 trillion dollars in market value.

I didn’t worry too much at the time; I was young, inexperienced, and 7,000 miles away tucked in the comfort of my cubicle. However the UAE being a global hub for business and a melting pot for so many different nationalities and organisations, our ties with global market forces are a lot tighter than we think. We may not feel these international issues immediately, but eventually the economic waves created globally will reach our local shores.

My work had been primarily focused on the logistics and trade industry, when people bought stuff business was good, so you can imagine when an economic crisis of that magnitude comes around trade just stops and the business I work with, UAE businesses, begin to suffer. Those were some of the most important years in the growth and development of my career. As they say anyone can brag about how good their career or organisation is when times are good, but it’s when hard time comes that the strong and determined are separated from the rest of the crowd.

Here are some of the lessons I learned during those difficult economic times. First and foremost you grow faster. It was like I was thrown into the deep ahead, timelines were tight and I had to learn twice the amount I normally would in half the time, companies, people and families depended on it. Every organisation that had done business with our company was also facing its own problems, whether they were banks or other service providers, so naturally things like renegotiation and relationship management became part of everyday work life.

I was constantly solving problems, and when I finished solving one, two more would show up. They liken the experience to ‘Fire Fighting’ every day, you wake up and put out fires, or in our world problems that if not fixed will have a big negative impact on the company and its employees. I remember one of my mentors saying to me at the time, “When you get through this everything will seem a lot easier.” She was right, if you can work with a team that is able to successfully navigate during the toughest economic times, imagine what you will be able to do when the good times come, so take full advantage of this time to learn and grow.

Secondly a crisis creates opportunity. On a personal level troubling economic times give you the opportunity to work on things that you may otherwise not have worked on, specifically to manage risks and implement strategies to deal with the current situation. More importantly it gives you the opportunity to look into the market and assess what opportunities you and your organisation could take advantage of in the current economic conditions.

This is where creativity and innovation becomes key, for example being in the oil industry and looking at new ways to minimise costs or developing alternative fuel sources. When there is no written answer to the problem, everything becomes possible; we had to look at new ways of doing business, changing the way we work, and developing the way we engage with partners and communities. One thing I’ve noticed throughout my career is that the greatest leaders remain positive and always try to find the bright stars in the darkness. If you can learn to constantly look for the opportunities no matter how bad a situation is you build yourself into a strong resource any organisation would love to have onboard.

Lastly at a national level you realise how resilient we are as a country and a people. Hard times come to all but what international media forgets time and time again is that we’ve been here before, whether it’s the introduction of Japan’s cultured pearls in the 1930s that pretty much wiped out the UAE’s pearl diving industry, a key economic driver at the time, or a similar oil crisis experienced in 1998, caused primarily by the Asian financial crisis where prices dropped to as low as 16 dollars per barrel. Furthermore not too long ago in 2008 the UAE witnessed a housing crisis of its own which for a short period of time brought development to a standstill. Time and time again we learn, we adapt, we grow, and we move forward. Dealing with hard economic times is part of the UAE’s DNA, it’s where you see the true strength and willingness of the leadership and its people, it’s where we remind the world how far we have come and that it will take a lot more than low oil prices to slow us down.

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The author is a columnist on education and youth development.

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