On 25 February 2013, 37 of us left snowy Fontainebleau and sunny Singapore to spend our entire P2-P3 break in Abu Dhabi for the second leg of the module.  The week, with a typical day starting at 9am and ending close to midnight, revolved around a 16-session Negotiations module and 6 negotiation role-plays, follow-up meetings with our project sponsors, a visit to BCG Dubai and a panel discussion on M&A in the Middle East.

Many of us had heard excellent reviews of Professor Horacio Falcao and his Negotiations class, and we all felt privileged to be given the opportunity to learn from an international expert in negotiation.  Horacio, as he preferred to be called, did not disappoint.  We imbibed the 7 elements of negotiation, namely Interests, Alternatives, Options, Legitimacy, Commitment, Relationship and Communication, and learnt valuable tips on salary negotiation (never accept the first offer, except for firms who have fixed offers for all MBAs, and even then, negotiate on benefits!).

The M&A Panel, represented by an airline veteran and a Middle East and North Africa (MENA) private equity (PE) head in a bank, highlighted that the airlines were the least profitable in the entire value chain for the aviation industry, which usually suffers the worst hit during an economic downturn.  We also learnt that MENA had become a forgotten region for M&A after the Dubai debt crisis and Arab spring, though Saudi Arabia was still doing well in Initial Public Offerings (10-12 a year VS 1 in Dubai last year).  Thirdly, the MENA region was unique in that the majority of PE activity in MENA focuses on minority stakes in companies, given that family businesses are sensitive about giving up majority control.

The highlight of this trip was certainly the sumptuous dinner hosted by our one and only Emirati classmate, Haif Zamzam, at her family home.  Housed in the Abu Dhabi Golf Garden in Khalifa City, with a swimming pool in a gated community, this was without doubt, our most memorable experience of the entire module. Everyone could not have enough of the delicious roasted lamb and traditional Middle Eastern delicacies (courtesy of her mum’s excellent culinary skills).  Our Module Director, Professor Neil Jones, encapsulated our experience best when he said this was his first time in an Emirati’s home since he relocated here two years ago. Thank you, Haif for a true cultural immersion.

I promised to elaborate more about our consulting projects in my previous entry.  The projects were incredibly diverse, ranging from evaluating market entry of an international nightclub brand, to determining the commercial viability of recycling in Abu Dhabi and developing a talent retention strategy for a sovereign wealth fund.  While each group had its fair share of challenges juggling the expectations of its project sponsor and the conflicting schedules and priorities of team members, I can safely say each and everyone of us learnt a great deal about the intricacies of doing business in the Middle East in a manner that no academic module within the confines of a classroom could have ever achieved.  For that alone, I think the project was well worth our blood, sweat and tears.