Five pathways for Israeli businesses to be successful in the UAE

Photo: iStock by Getty Images (Giang Nguyen)
Photo: iStock by Getty Images (Giang Nguyen)

With the passing of the Abraham Accord, many Israeli businesses across all manner of sectors are now actively looking at how best to enter the UAE market. Whilst much will be published on the mechanics of company formation, legal frameworks for doing business and associated matters, more important to any Israeli business, is going to be achieving a deep understanding of the UAE market and how best to achieve success in it.  

The purpose of this piece is to provide insight into what it takes to be successful in the UAE and how Israeli businesses can be best prepared to enjoy long-term success.

As with all new territories, it is crucial to be aware of your new market, its business norms and the local economic, political and social climate. Consequently, the following are a number of key considerations for entering the UAE market irrespective of the business sector in which you work.

  1. Have a UAE-specific plan. Set measurable goals and realistic targets for what you want to achieve, ensuring that your plan is focussed on the UAE market and not simply a cut and paste of what has been done elsewhere in the world. With this in mind, ensure that in pulling together that plan, you do your research into the market: talk to people, take time to get to know the players in your sector/customers, consider reaching out to existing connections with interests in the UAE to help get a feel of the business environment. Be aware of at least the basics of doing business from a legal standpoint. For example, have awareness of the legal framework of the UAE; how companies are formed and related foreign ownership restrictions; employment law matters; and tax issues.
  2. Be visible. Whilst traditional face-to-face meetings are problematic given the current pandemic, video conferences and email will only get you so far in a market built on personal relationships and contacts. Getting to know people, developing a rapport and trust is crucial. It is part of the Arab culture and as such this must be treated carefully. Building these relationships is key to long-term business success.
  3. Expect the unexpected. Patience is key. Expect things to change and expect a different style of decision making and negotiation to that found in other parts of the world — particularly Europe and North America. Expect for meetings to be moved, for decisions to take time and for a number of meetings to take place before business is actively discussed. As such, make sure that any expectations on timings are tempered and that you can be flexible and take such issues in your stride.
  4. Hire the right advisors. Whether it be lawyers, accountants or other business advisors, hire people who not only understand the Israeli business mentality but who can also help guide you through the local nuances of doing business in the UAE, are well connected and can help you navigate the market and add value to your business. These will be people who understand and fully embrace all of the points made in this article.
  5. Understand the local culture. Whilst the UAE is a global hub for business and home to more than 200 nationalities, the underlying local culture is rooted in Islamic traditions with courtesy and hospitality highly prized. It is important to embrace and understand the same when doing business.

Whilst its global achievements are principally centred around iconic projects which do much to “shout out to the world” —whether it be the Burj Khalifa, the Burj Al Arab, the Palm Jumeriah or Ski Dubai — in terms of doing business, a good dose of humility regarding yourself and your business and an ability to listen more than you speak are valuable lessons that will stand you in good stead.

Crucially, as in any part of the world, act with respect, whether that be to the people you interface with or the culture you will now be working in.

By fully understanding and actively embracing the foregoing, any new entrant into the UAE market will be well placed to take advantage of one of the most vibrant and diverse economies in the world, a true hub for global trade and commerce that is very much open for business with Israel and the Israeli business community. 

About the Author
Chris Williams is a corporate lawyer and managing partner of Bracewell LLP's Dubai office. Chris has particular experience in advising on mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, complex commercial contracts and corporate advisory work, as well as experience advising on labour and employment matters (contentious and non-contentious), and managing litigation disputes in the UAE.
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