Personal Relationships Key to Business in Qatar

As Qatar invests billions of dollars in infrastructure and public works improvements for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the Middle Eastern country needs partners dedicated to long-term relationships and commitments.

And to do business effectively in the small but wealthy kingdom, businesses need to have people on the ground that can build strong relationships with Qatari clients, said former U.S.Ambassador to Qatar Patrick Theros at a June 22 educational meeting on doing business in the Middle East and North Africa in Sandy Springs.

“You will not do business in Qatar if you’re not there to develop the personal relationships that enable people to get comfortable with you,” said Mr. Theros, the president of the US-Qatar Business Council, at the event hosted by the Sandy Springs – Perimeter Chamber of Commerce at the headquarters of Newell Rubbermaid Inc.

“Comfort, familiarity and trust are more important that the actual bottom-line price,” he added.

A land rich in natural gas and oil reserves, Qatar has a gross domestic product per capita that ranks among the best in the world, according to the World Bank, but is looking to diversify its economy, he said.

The Middle Eastern kingdom has placed a strong focus on education and developing a service-based economy, he added, so businesses need to evaluate their investments with an eye toward the long term.

“The future for that country, in their view, is education and political evolution,” he said. “Their horizon is the generation beyond the generation now in school.”

In partnership with the Qatar Foundation, a semi-public nonprofit focused on education and community building, several leading universities have opened campuses in Qatar, including Carnegie Mellon UniversityCornell University and Georgetown University.

The goal of attracting these institutions, open to both male and female students, is to help create a sustainable economy not primary dependent on oil or natural gas exports, according to the Qatar Foundation.

However, in areas like public infrastructure, Qatar remains 20-25 years behind other countries in the region, an issue it hopes to address by hosting the 2022 World Cup, Mr. Theros said.

With plans to build several massive, state-of-the-art stadiums and numerous public works projects, the Qatari government has reportedly set aside $50 billion dollars for construction.

The tournament, which marks the first time a country in the Middle East will host the World Cup, is widely seen as a means for the country to increase its international profile as it seeks to become a larger player in the international community.

A close military ally of the United States, Qatar has also made strong efforts in recent years to engage itself with other Arabic and Middle Eastern countries diplomatically.

However, doing business in a country where friendships with members of the ruling family are often crucial to the success of a deal can be daunting to some investors, said Tamer Cavusgil, executive director of Georgia State University’s Center for International Business Education and Research, who attended the meeting.

“To do business there, it helps to be close to the decision makers, the members of the ruling family,” Dr. Cavusgil told GlobalAtlanta. “But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Qatar is a country that appreciates technology and is very sophisticated in many regards.”

“Qatar is not democratic but it is very stable, and it stands out from the other emirates as a progressive, forward looking state open to modernizing its economy,” he added.

Largely spared the effects of the Arab Spring uprisings still plaguing other Middle Eastern regimes, most notably in neighboring Bahrain, the kingdom of Qatar has taken a very slow transition to a more democratic government over the past decade.

Qatar adopted a new constitution in 2003 promising direct elections to the country’s limited legislative body, the Majlis al-Shura or Advisory Council, although the emir of the country has postponed them on several occasions.

Elections have been announced for 2013.


A version of this story first appeared at July 5, 2012.


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