The Middle East region has had a turbulent history, particularly in recent years. Yet it is also a place with vibrant economies and plenty of opportunities. In this article, we explore the context of these perceptions and ask a local expert – Mohammad Al Duaij – about his views on how he facilitates business and relationships across the region. Mr Al Duaij is CEO of Alea Global Group and winner of Business Worldwide Magazine’s 2016 CEO Awards, which aim to recognise outstanding achievement and leadership at senior management level.

To any outsider, the Middle East region looks like a place of economic and political turmoil, where religious and cultural allegiances offer a myriad of complexities on the road to ‘doing business.’ Not all viewpoints are the same, however. A report by the Economist Intelligence Unit entitled ‘New routes to the Middle-East: Perspectives on inward investment and trade,’ which surveyed companies from emerging and developed markets, had this to say:

“…most companies plan to expand significantly in the region, especially in the Gulf states. And most cite concerns over political risk, bureaucratic red tape and, in particular, a perceived lack of transparency in the region. However, there are major differences in the way that executives from different regions view the prospects for democracy in the Middle East and the likely implications for their own businesses. The culture and norms of respondents’ home markets also seem to influence their attitudes towards such factors as volatility in the business environment, corruption and diversity, to name but a few.” (Economist Intelligence Unit, 2011).

Worry is not therefore universally shared across the globe, although many of those interviewed needed assistance in navigating the cultural differences of the region. The opportunities for ‘south-south’ trade, in the view of some emerging market players, are being affected by fears of discrimination ‘on the basis of gender, race or nationality.’  Those from developed economies worried more about social instability.

Facilitating trade in the region evidently needs insider knowledge and connections, along with cultural sensitivity and forward thinking. We went straight to a regional expert, Mohammad Al Duaij, CEO of Alea Global Group, to ask him how his firm helps business work together and successfully invest in the Middle East.

Hello, Mr Al Duaji. Thanks for talking to Business Worldwide Magazine. Can I start by asking what the Alea Global Group does?

Alea Global Group is a single-family office based in Kuwait that uses its international networks and relationships to launch projects and make them happen.  Practically speaking, we make direct investments in real estate and private equity. We provide investment advice. We are involved in business development and physical commodities trading, but we are involved in these activities in a number of ways – as investors, partners, intermediaries or in an advisory capacity. What brings all these diverse activities together is that we locate opportunities, take the time to investigate them, and, when we believe in them, we put our effort in to deliver, and we are uniquely placed to do that.

How was the Alea Global Group created, and how has it evolved over the years?

Alea Global Group was set up in 1998 to consolidate the family assets under one umbrella/entity. From 2007, we have seen many other businesses being absorbed into the company’s activities. This is how we have grown, by keeping an eye out for opportunities, researching them in detail, and then making sure they happen.

What is your vision and mission as a company?

Our vision is very much to continue the family legend and enhance its already successful brand name. Our mission is to add value to whatever activity we are engaged in and to make a difference to society, clients and to evolve further our business expertise. As your introduction suggests, doing business in the region is about building relationships. When we consider any new business activities, we look at the added value more than financial returns.

Why is it so important to understand the social and cultural context of the Middle East to operate a successful business?

Any business that wants to make inroads into the valuable Middle Eastern economy needs to know how our economy, society and culture work. Because Alea is firmly embedded in that context, we can facilitate those inroads. We have connections both across the Middle East and across the globe, for example, in Europe, Latin America, and Asia. Any successful business seeking new opportunities and investments needs to understand local and global business environments, and that’s where we come in.

How do you see the Middle East evolving over the next decade, and how can Alea help international business do business in the region?

We believe the key to doing business in the region is having the right information and helping each side understand each other. We provide a bridge between the client and the Middle Eastern party by firstly, understanding the client’s needs and interests, and conveying it in a way that will be understood as favourable the Middle Eastern party. It is not so much about being a middle-man so much as being a mediator. Making sure each side understands each other and preventing misunderstandings.

What is your personal and career history, and how has it contributed to the success of your company?

I graduated from Leeds University Business School in the UK in 2002 with a BSc (Hons) Accounting and Finance. From that point, I started my career at the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development as part of the Asian projects funding team followed by Global Investment House as Investment Manager forming and managing real estate funds globally.  From 2008, I was made CEO of Alea Global Group, and I involve myself directly in all aspects of its business. I have been invited to be an adviser to companies in Europe and the Middle East. I have also been asked to sit on boards and be a partner to these companies.

I like confronting risks and challenges, and in my spare time I am a keen surfer and mountain climber. I am very influenced by my family’s philosophy, which is to create opportunities rather than waiting for them. My success as CEO of Alea Global Group is a product, I would say, of smart working, my personality, and family influences.

What does the future hold for Alea Global Group?

We have many projects upcoming. We are looking to invest in real estate and private equity in Mexico, mainly in the agriculture sector. We are interested in exploring new markets in Central America and Russia and are looking to expand our networks and investment opportunities there.  And what is always ongoing is that we are always on the look out to build new relationships with new clients, and to help them to develop their business. We believe that there are many opportunities in the world right now. We understand what they are and think we are well placed to take advantage of them, for Alea Global Group, and for our clients. The future certainly looks interesting!