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Quick Business Stats

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In the vein of “note to self”:

  • 96% of businesses in Bahrain are SMEs
  • 17,717 registered businesses (paid up at the chamber?)
  • 679 businesses employ more than 50 people
  • 3,475 employ 10 – 49 people
  • 13,563 employ 1 – 9 people
  • 30% of the SME workforce are Bahraini nationals
  • that constitutes 48% of the Bahraini workforce

Source: EDB presentation at the Chamber of Commerce launching the increased productivity program in the private sector.

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Come on now… let’s be professional

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How long does it take to get a committee at the Chamber of Commerce to meet? We’ve had the elections months ago and all committees have been assigned and their chairmen and their members decided.

At the Young Businesspersons Committee we’ve already held two constructive meetings, so why is it that the IT & eCommerce Committee has not held a single meeting yet? And why is it that when they do announce a date and time to meet, no one turns up including its chairman?

Come on gentlemen, get your act together, this is one of the key committees which must activate its proper role in the field, the first of which is have an inaugural meeting. How difficult could that be?

Or is it that its chairman is probably busier in political spheres?

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Diplomacy lessons

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I confess that I’m normally not a very good team player. I’ve always liked individual sports and individual pursuits rather than be a part of a team, hell, I couldn’t take the stupid politics while working for Gulf Air so much that I decided to leave and start my own company. So you will excuse me a bit for ranting once in a while about the committee I’m involved in at the Chamber of Commerce now. I must also confess that although I normally am diplomatic, sometimes my mouth actually works faster than my brain, as it seems to be at times closer to my heart than it is to the grey matter above.

I attended the second (frustrating) meeting at the chamber for the Young Businesspersons Committee yesterday afternoon – missing the F1 race in which my good friend Schumi whipped the fluke again – in which a hell of a lot of posturing was done. All jokeying for goodness knows what! I mean, I consciously put my name forward to this committee to actually do some community service and to help my fellow businesspersons in Bahrain. I had no idea what I got myself into… as far as politics is concerned at least. But I can certainly look at it from another point of view, and maybe I should, in that these 16 individuals who constitute the whole committee are dedicated young(ish) people who undoubtedly share my enthusiasm to get things done, and as it is only the 2nd meeting, and as the goals of this particular committee are quite wide, it has become apparent that it will take some time to hash out a mission statement, and then agree on specific and particular goals through which we can enact an action plan to do what we were put in this committee to do: help the young businesspersons in Bahrain.

Let me also confirm once again that this is the first time ever I get involved in such a committee and organisation, so I am particularly green in this area and my thoughts here might be off at a tangent; however, I’m determined to make a difference there, and learn to work within a team.

The first and foremost thing that pissed me off about the committee is that all communication to it must be (from now on) in Arabic! Although I speak it fluently of course, I do find it very difficult to express myself using it! I know, quite sad, but that’s the truth. I have no idea how fast I can type in English – I didn’t clock myself, but I can type just as fast as I think. However, when it comes to type in Arabic, a paragraph such as this would probably take me the best part of 30 minutes to do, it’s like chiselling on stone or pecking at keys with just a pencil stuffed up my nose and my hands tied behind my back!

So heeeellllppp, I need resources to teach me how to write in Arabic, else I will use Google to translate my thoughts, and that’s extremely time consuming as I have to bloody well re-edit everything Google churns out!

Ok, calm down Mahmood… one thing that might help is starting another blog in which I would write into it exclusively in Arabic. The problem of course is that will take a lot of my time to maintain two blogs! I’m not sure how I’d do it at the moment, maybe an article every week or so, like eMoodz has decided to do and it seems to have been working quite well for him so far (please help Mo! let me know how you’re getting along.)

The other problem is that if I start writing in Arabic I’ll start embarrassing myself and blowing every light bulb in the area (that’s slang we use in Bahrain to describe someone who doesn’t speak Arabic properly ;)) but not for my speech as I don’t have any problem with that aspect, but for my writings… please be gentle and don’t throw too many rocks at me 🙂

So, the second hindrance has got to be addressed, expressing myself in Arabic – the first of course is to learn to be more diplomatic and not telling people to their faces that their ideas suck and stop wasting our time!

Back to the meeting: I suggested to the chair (ably filled by Mo’anes Al-Mardi at the time) that we should all agree to the basic premise of the committee; write an unambiguous mission statement, then – as Sofyan later suggested – limit the number of goals that we have to attack in order to actually get things done. If we have far too many, we won’t get anything done at all, especially if those goals are impractical or too far fetched.

The other thing that came out at the meeting as far as my suggestions were concerned is that some members objected to them as it was assumed that anyone who started a business already knows the fundamentals of staying in business! It later transpired after some discussion that this is certainly the case but not for the sector of the market I was considering; Sofyan for instance was thinking about the higher-end of the scale of young businesspersons, while I was thinking of the broader end. I didn’t even think of the higher-end of the scale which was remiss of me as they too fall under our auspices, and as the committee’s goal is to serve all young businesspersons, I should have thought of those too.

Another way of looking at this of course – and maybe we should – is create sub-committees: one taking care of the broader low-end while another would take care of other sectors. The goals of both might be the same, the practical approaches to the problems will be different.

Maybe a vertical approach is what is needed here, as the committee’s mission is far too broad. And with the breadth of the business sector in Bahrain, it will be impossible to do justice to it all.. the demands seem to me to replicate all of the Chamber’s committees into sub-committees into the YBC! Can you imagine what would happen? We’ll probably have to create another Chamber of Commerce specifically for young businesspersons!

Anyway, my thoughts are now in mush-mode which need to be sorted, categorised and prioritised before the next meeting.. which I hope won’t be done once again on an F1 afternoon!

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Bahrainis are somewhat optimistic

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The BCSR has released another of its interesting statistics which they get commissioned to do from time to time; this time they were asked to gauge the optimism of the street in the country and its direction. The results are hardly surprising, in summary, they are:

62.9%Optimistic
12.1%Pessimistic
82.9%Believe Bahrain to be competitive
38.9%Don’t and consider it the government’s responsibility for the development of the country
11.7%Private sector will play crucial role in spearheading development
68.9%Think that Bahrain has strong assets
72.2%Urge to eradicate some weaknesses
Lack of government departments coordination
Lack of security
Empowering human resources and encouraging scientific research
Improve standards of living
Anchoring democracy
Anchoring civil liberties
Reducing unemployment
Alleviate housing crisis
Reduce traffic congestion

I have no idea why there isn’t a “maybe” column or statistic in there, nor do I know how big is the sample used for this, but I would suspect at least a few would not have made their minds. Nor do they publish the margin of error (in the GDN at least, maybe the exalted journal didn’t find a need to declare it, and the BCSR’s site is a bit lacklustre, and that is being generous!)

The surprising thing to me is that these statistics look real! What is this, a government organisation actually saying the truth? And thus gaining credibility? I sure hope so…

So a massive 88.3% don’t believe that private business can contribute to the country’s development?! That is such a disappointment, I’m not sure if those people polled rest that responsibility exclusively on the government, or even more damagingly think that the Bahraini businessman is an insignificant component of society. I wonder why this has changed in a generation. Businessmen before the advent of oil were the only viable force of stability in the island, but when the oil started to flow, the government just did not need them, hence they were sidelined completely, and the businessmen and women did not do themselves any favours by acquiescing to the situation. They should have fought for more power, and ironically, I think if they fought for real democratic institutions in the last 30 years especially, they would have limited the impact of the government on people’s daily lives and they would have rightly claimed their social status and responsibilities. We see the result of that inaction now in statistics such as these.

There is a twist though, the respondents seem to contradict themselves in this point when 61.1% do not believe it’s the government’s responsibility to develop the country! If they hold private business in Bahrain in such low esteem, and they don’t believe that it’s the government responsibility to develop it, pray who is actually going to do any development? Does anyone have an Aladdin lamp that we don’t know about? This is probably a clear indication of the inappropriateness of some of the questions in the poll.

On the democracy front, it is much more encouraging. The vast majority of respondents (72%) are very politically aware and are cognizant of the ills of this country and know exactly the things that need to be addressed.

Will this cognizance translate into electing the right representatives for the parliament come October?

One can only hope!

It is interesting to note; however, that the only point the government chose to address (yes, do read between the lines, someone has to pay for these pieces of research and their timely release is not by coincidence!) is the traffic congestion issue, and even that seems to be a very half-hearted attempt.

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Young businessmen’s committee suggestions

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Some of you know that I am now involved in a committee at the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry which is concerned with young businesspersons in this country. We have had our first meeting and have elected its chairman and his vice and we are about to have our second meeting on May 7th. In between the first and second meeting, we have been asked to provide suggestions on what the committee should be involved in and our views as to what constitute its goals.

I’ve been thinking a lot about these issues since the first meeting, and have come to a decision that what we can realistically only provide is support and training. We can’t do financing as we are not a bank, but can certainly help the businessperson in more tangible things.

Here’s an email I just sent to the group for their consideration; I am sure they too will have other ideas that we can all benefit from:

Gentlemen and lady,

First thank you for the constructive inaugural meeting we have had to establish the particulars and plot the future course of the Young Businessmen Committee. I would like to first congratulate both Sager Shaheen for his official election to the post of Chairman of the committee as well as Mo’anes Al-Mardi for being elected as vice-chairman.

I believe that the main objective of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry as a whole is to act as a support organisation for Bahraini businesses and businessmen in achieving better economic and social returns on their investments. Although this is its basic premise, quite a number of factors come into it in order to create a whole. One of these must be the provision of timely and good advice to the chamber’s members. One of the methods adopted to reach this goal is the establishment of various vertical as well as some broad-based committees to take up these concerns.

Our committee is concerned with improving the young businesspersons lot, and in order to do so we must understand what the young businesspersons actually require of us. If I may, I would like to submit the following suggestions for the committee’s consideration:

1. Establish a mechanism for committee members to interact with each other apart from the cyclical monthly meetings. The best way to do so I believe would be the simple establishment of a website (even behind a firewall and accessed only by those authorised) to disperse information and to act as a searchable repository. Systems are available (for free) to create that and I would be happy to volunteer to establish such a site, as well as a mailing list which would ensure that all members are reached, and that would archive all emails sent to/through it. This also is available for free through systems like Google. How that works is that any member can send an email to a single address and the system would ensure that it forwards that email to all members of the group.

2. As the main essence of the Chamber as well as the committee is to support young businessmen, we should meet with our target customer and see what they actually require. A simple design of a questionnaire would probably be appropriate. Once the questionnaires are received they should be processed and action plans enacted to address the points raised.

3. Again, in the support role, we should mount short and sharp courses to assist the young businessperson to better manage her business and increase her revenue and profit. I think the following courses/workshops might be considered:

– a – how to interpret financial statements
– b – how to keep your books (accounts)
– c – why auditing your accounts are important
– d – interviewing techniques
– e – customer service
– f – finding financing
– g – writing business plans
– h – budgeting
– i – commission structures for sales people / managing people
– j – how to create a pipeline
– k – how to generate leads
– l – competing for government business

and I’m sure quite a number of other subjects which are quite germane to the young businessperson.

Funding these workshops should be simple as they probably be best done by established consultancy and accounting firms; I am fairly sure that these firms would do these courses free of charge, after all, they will have a captured market and this opportunity would be a perfect lead generation for their own businesses!

4. Beyond training and workshops, I think most young businesspersons suffer from the absence of financing; it would be a good idea to explore ways in which the Chamber can act as a medium to enable this young businessman to get the required investment, the most appropriate way probably would be by assessing a business plan and helping the businessperson in distilling and embellishing it in a way that could professionally be presented to a financial institution, thus helping them in their research. The last thing I believe we should do is mirror what the Bahrain Development Bank is doing or any other financial institution for that matter, we are not a bank.

To end this, let me recap what the suggestions put forth here are, they are: support, training and research offered in a professional manner to the young businessperson in order for these businesses to grow and contribute positively to our economy.

See you on the 7th.

Best regards
Mahmood Al-Yousif

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Quitting Blogging…

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No, not me, I’ll probably never stop blogging as it has become such an important part of my life and a great creative release, not to mention a good ameliorator to frustration. But if you are considering quitting blogging, please take a few minutes to read the following from the Boston Globe (hat tip to John Chilton posting on the UAE Community Blog)

Blogs ‘essential’ to a good career
free registration might be required to read the full article

Blogging is good for your career. A well-executed blog sets you apart as an expert in your field.

Ben Day blogged his way into a career as a high-earning software consultant while maintaining the freedom to schedule frequent jam sessions and performances as a keyboard player.

Blogging gave him the opportunity to stand out enough to support the life he envisioned for himself. ”For your career, a blog is essential,” says Phil van Allen, a faculty member of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.

”It’s the new public relations and it’s the new home page. Instead of a static home page, you have your blog,” he said. It’s a way to let people know what you are thinking about the field that interests you.

Employers regularly Google prospective employees to learn more about them. Blogging gives you a way to control what employers see, because Google’s system works in such a way that blogs that are heavily networked with others come up high in Google searches.

And coming up high is good: ”People who are more visible and have a reputation and stand for something do better than people who are invisible,” says Catherine Kaputa, branding consultant and author of ”Blogging for Business Success.”

and they go more in detail, I’ll reproduce some of their points here, but do read the full article:

1. Blogging creates a network.

A blogger puts himself out in the world as someone who is interesting and engaging — just the type of person everyone wants to meet. ”A blog increases your network because a blog is about introducing yourself and sharing information,” says Kaputa.

2. Blogging can get you a job.

Dervala Hanley writes a quirky literary blog that got her a job is at Stone Yamashita Partners, a consulting firm that ”tries to bring humanity to business.” Hanley says the firm was attracted to her ability to put her business experience into personal terms on the blog.

3. Blogging is great training.
To really get attention for your blog, you’re going to have to have daily entries for a while. At least a few months to get rolling, and then three or four times a week after that. So you will really get to know your topic well.

4. Blogging helps you move up quickly.

Still want to give up blogging?

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From bitching to action

from Dubai

I’m being put to task. I’ve complained enough about the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and how it is disconnected from its constituents. I argued against some of its programs and personnel, and I’ve even argued against its existence, but I didn’t volunteer to actually stand to enter its board, nor did I suggest ways in which I personally can help things to change to the better… that is all about to change.

With the election of the new board it didn’t just get a bunch of new faces, but with those it got a goodly infusion of new blood and ideas. If you follow its news, you would have noticed that there are a lot more news releases about programs it has undertaken, and seminars it has mounted, as well as intrinsically changing the way in which its sub-committees exist. This is probably the most important change, as it is the work of these sub-committees which affect its members in a direct manner.

These committees are generally quite vertical: there is one for the construction industry, another for banking and finance and the like. A few however exist with a broader mandate like the Businesswomen committee as well as a newly inaugurated Young Businessmen Committee, it is this one that I have been selected to be part of, and in essence, put my money where my mouth is. No longer can I just simply bitch, because I now have the mechanism to effect change – nor matter how small that influence is – I now have a mechanism to get my voice to reach a proper destination.

The Young Businessmen Committee is composed of 16 members, making it the largest active committee in the Chamber of Commerce; and although we have not decided its objectives, the general one must be to find ways to help the young businessperson to grow, thus contributing to the creation of wealth, employment and ultimately increase the size of the middle class; thus, aiding in the better stability of society and country.

The inaugural meeting was quite interesting to me; this is the first meeting of this sort I participate in: we had the committees coordinators, a registrar/clerk, and had to vote on electing a chairman and a vice-chairman as well as put in a program and an agenda for the next meeting. We elected Saqer Shaheen to the presidency and Mo’anes Al-Mardi as his deputy. After which, the first task put to the table was to think of objectives in order to categorise and prioritise them in practical ways in order to activate them with proper action plans.

The next meeting is set to be on May 7th, then we’ll meet once a month in the afternoon of the first Monday of the month.

My interpretation of the roles of this committee is quite straightforward: (1) concentrate on helping SMEs achieve winning strategies for growth, (2) suggest markets which are under-represented in Bahrain and bring them in, (3) create practical seminars and workshops to help the young businessperson: how to read and understand financial statements, why is auditing important to a business, how to look for investors, how to secure needed cash for growth and the like. These points are just off the cuff and hope that I will come up with more by the time we meet again.

One thing that I hope to have made clear at the first meeting is that we can no longer depend on the physical meeting model where we meet for an hour or so once a month. This will not allow us as a committee to execute all that is expected of us, not by a long shot; the suggestion I have put through is the creation of a group email list and a website where all the members of the committee are welcome to utilise as frequent virtual meeting space; this will allow us to gel our ideas much quicker, and help us in better utilise the time of actual physical meetings. A website would of course also serve as a good reference and live gallery for all of our discussions and the various documents concerning committees at the chamber. Although I have not been tasked for doing so, once I come back from Dubai I intend to create at least a mailing list through which we can start to communicate.

Would you – as a Bahraini businessperson – like us to discuss anything in particular? What do you think the committee should concentrate on?

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It’s in good hands

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As part of a regular monthly gathering with business people and entrepreneurs I am involved with, the whole board of the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce & Industry were invited to mingle with us, and more importantly to share with us their plans and outlook in their latest term in office which brought in a number of new faces during the last elections as well as new leadership for that ancient (by Bahraini terms) organisation.

Dr. Essam Fakhro, the chairman of the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce & Industry - 2006To say that I was impressed with Dr. Essam Fakhro, the current chairman of the board would be an under-statement. The gentleman is focused and did not leave any grey areas in describing both the role of the Chamber itself and what he expects from the business community.

For the first time as well he stressed that we, as business people, should not shun politics! This is a major change in stance as traditionally Bahraini business people valued stability and the status-quo more than anything else, and rocking the boat – especially politically – was a big taboo. Dr. Essam stressed that there is no escape from politics, and that everyone should realise that in reality we are all politicians, so we should not be ashamed of stating our intention to support and lobby for those who would fight for our interests in parliament.

He also emphasised that there was no place to mix religion and business even though we, as business people, should recognise that we do not live in a vacuum and that our financial health is intrinsically entwined with the local culture and its idiosyncrasies and a balance must be sought to reach equilibrium.

Sharif Ahmadi, another member of the board explained further that as business people we should choose our “labels” carefully. As the word “liberal” has negative connotations in this community, we should not describe ourselves as such. He suggested that we adopt the terms “businessmen” and “entrepreneurs” which are more acceptable to the public, even though the by definition business people generally are liberal.

I even met with Abdulhakim Al-Shammary who sat next to me but unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to discuss the issue of his stance regarding the Danish boycott with him at the time (due to the various speeches, and dinner afterwards.) I did intercept him in-between and introduced myself to him formally and told him that we needed to talk. Another time perhaps.

Speaking to a friend and a current member of the board during dinner, Dr. Essam apparently stressed to the board that board-members should not speak in the board’s name without approval and should consider the positions they adopt very wisely as they do not only represent themselves but the whole business community in the country as well.

There are quite a number of things the Chamber is considering and will start implementing shortly for the benefit of the business community in general; I’m not sure if I am at liberty to detail what was said specifically, but generally a holding company whose founding shareholders will be Bahraini businessmen, the purpose of which is to incubate and promote projects which can compete effectively with internationals. Other projects are also in the pipeline and he encouraged everyone to use the resources of the Chamber, from utilising their research facilities and as importantly use the shared wealth of experience the members of the board in ascertaining feasibility of projects and help in establishing entrepreneurial enterprises.

To my ears, and those who were present at the meeting, this was pure music! It is high time that we have a Chamber who is focused, realistic and not afraid to pull its members’ weight in getting the political machine to at least recognise its presence, because without these important factors in place the business community will continue to flounder wasting opportunities and eventually go extinct in the face of continuing international competition.

My faith in the Chamber has been re-established not only because of last night’s speeches and discussions, but also from my following of their activities since the new board was inaugurated.

It is plainly clear that the new board, very ably led by Dr. Essam Fakhro, is much more dynamic and in-tune with the business community than it ever has been before, if only for its recognition that this is a new era that requires much more entrepreneurial skills, dynamism and tenacity to get things done, and much more importantly – as was stressed several times by Dr. Essam – without fear of competition regardless of where it comes from.

All this leads me to believe that the Chamber is actually in good hands, and that my trepidations have largely disappeared.

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New New Garden Centre!

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Yippeee!

I stopped over this afternoon at the new Jassim’s garden centre, opposite Bahrain Motors on the Budaiya highway and man, was it worth it! It absolutely floors the competition; they’ve got everything under one very modern roof. Well stocked, plenty of medicines if you need them, good selection and reasonably priced garden tools and pots, and walk to the back and out into their garden and select from a good selection of summer plants (but some were looking quite manky and needed attention).

jassim0.jpg

I think it’s just a soft launch, but if you’re into gardening, it’s worth stopping by and having a good look around. It is the cleanest, most modern and welcoming garden centre there is on the island.

About time!

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