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Reflections on FIDI in Dubai

May 14, 2017
Steve Jordan attended the FIDI conference in Dubai. Here are his thoughts on the event and the city in the desert.

Allow me to preface this introduction by saying that any criticisms are not really aimed at FIDI.  But there’s no point in me pretending to be a fan of Dubai. I’m really not.  The conference, however, was well attended, run like clockwork, interesting and good fun.  Nobody could ask for more.    

Other commitments meant that I could only stay at the FIDI conference for two days.  I had not been to Dubai before so I arrived with an open mind, expecting it to be extraordinary and, in that respect at least, I was not disappointed.  Extraordinary it most certainly is.  

The visit started well.  I had seen a video on the plane about the immigration procedure that claimed I would be attended by a beautiful, smiling, Arabic customs inspector dressed traditionally in a dishdash.  I thought, he doesn’t look much like the customs inspectors I have seen around the world.  The smile, for one thing, I didn’t recognise.  But I was wrong.  I’m sure it was the same man who checked my passport, beamed a ‘Welcome to Dubai’, stamped my document and wished me an enjoyable stay.  Impressive.  Shame the chaps in the UK can’t be as welcoming.  

The hotel too was stunning, the JW Marriot Marquis.  They claim it to be the tallest hotel in the world, it would be wouldn’t it, with 73 floors including the bar on the top floor with the panoramic view.  The reception staff were delightful and the room comfortable.  It worked well as a venue for 600 marauding movers with plenty of places to sit and chat, great food in the restaurants, a massive bar (essential), an excellent main meeting room, and simple navigation.  The lifts were, as always in these places, a bit reluctant, but it was tolerable except during busy times when it was less so. Dubai isn’t even all that expensive, when compared to other potential venues.  

But there were irritations.  The taxi driver who drove me from the airport had delusions of being an F1 ace.  Apparently, in Dubai, unlike everywhere else in the world, the stopping distance from 70 mph of a Toyota is roughly the width of a coat of paint.  I asked him to drop back a bit, to please his neurotic passenger, but to no effect.  Two days later, on the way back, it was the same problem.    

My room was on the 58th floor with a commanding view of the city.  At least, a commanding view of what might be part of the city in around 10 years.  Right now it’s a building site.  The room had a balcony but the door was nailed up.  Maybe I’d misunderstood something but I thought the whole point of a balcony was that you could walk on it. It was probably for my own safety, after all I probably look like the sort who’s likely to take a walk from the 58th floor.  But, if I really did want to convert my aging body into tomato ketchup, I could do it just as well from lower down.  I just wouldn't enjoy the journey for so long.       

Not able to get a photo of the view from my window which, as I said, was pointing the wrong way and covered with desert sand, I headed off to the roof-top bar to try to get a bird’s eye view of the Burj Kalifa.  The bar was lovely, quiet, luxurious, with smiling staff and refreshing drinks.  It was also totally enclosed, presumably for the same reason that my patio door was sealed.  Although the world’s tallest building was visible it was again viewed through a gritty haze that covered the outside of the building confirming the adage that the sand really does get everywhere – even to the 73rd floor.  

But all these were mere details.  FIDI President Rob Chipman opened the conference business sessions and it soon became business as usual.  The presentations were excellent and the content thought provoking.  The hospitality was first class.  The social gatherings, at least the ones I went to, were well attended and fun.  That said, the local members’ event was a lavish garden party in the grounds of the Sheraton Hotel (about 30 minutes drive away) with an excellent dance band playing pop music.  I’m sure everyone had a good time, as did I, but it was hardly reflective of the culture of the region.  Apparently they had planned a party in a Bedouin tent but had changed their minds for some (very good I’m sure) reason.  Shame, I am sure most people would have preferred it.  

I have expanded on some of the business sessions and social events in these pages, please see the panels.  The ones I went to were generally well attended except those on data protection and risk management which only had around 20 people in each.  That surprised me as they are two of the hottest topics around right now.  I can only assume that most people feel they know all about it already.  Or maybe they just don’t care.  I hope they don’t get caught.  

It’s hard not to be impressed by Dubai, especially by the architecture, which is awesome, not in the vernacular of youth but in the way Victoria Falls or the Grand Canyon are awesome.  But that’s where it stops for me.  It feels like a city without soul.  I am also sure that there are many who would strongly disagree with me. I enjoyed the FIDI conference, it was everything that a large industry event should be and I am very grateful and honoured to have been invited; I just wish they had held it somewhere else.    

Presidential opening  

To many, the opening to FIDI President Rob Chipman’s address in Dubai was a little unusual.  He read, and showed on the screen, a statement confirming that FIDI affiliates are aware of the “… risks of infringing competition rules in trade associations and explicitly this association …”. It was a precaution, no doubt, to exonerate the organisation’s leadership from any liability should members be discovered discussing rates or service levels in the bar.  A sign of the times.  

Rob then moved on swiftly, and without further comment, to the more traditional duties of sketching out the programme of events for the conference and thanking those whose combined efforts contribute to making it a success. He also took the opportunity of welcoming nine new FIDI affiliate members who had joined FIDI since the previous conference in Geneva. 

Local FIDI area welcomes delegates to Dubai  

Craig Reilly from Dasa International Movers in Dubai welcomed everyone on behalf of the FIDI Middle East & North Africa Association: 37 companies in 11 different countries.  He said that they are all very diverse countries but the media had painted them all with the same brush.  “We hope that when you leave the UAE it’s not only with a smile but with a better understanding and a more open minded approach to the region,” he said.  

Craig quoted the philosophy on which Dubai was built, according to His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, Prime Minister of the UAE. “Most people talk, we do things.  They plan, we achieve.  They hesitate, we move ahead.  We are living proof that when human beings have courage and commitment to transform dreams into reality, nothing can stop them.”  

“Dubai is a perfect example of what can be achieved when our minds are set on a dream,” said Craig, “although you can also see that the dream isn’t quite finished.  Please enjoy the city and all it has to offer.” 
 

Academy success  

Ernst Jörg, Dean of the FIDI Academy, took to the stage in Dubai with an unusually brisk spring in his step.  The reason soon became clear.  The FIDI Academy had had a record-breaking year.  Ernst explained, with hardly disclosed pride and joy, that in 2016 the FIDI Academy had trained 1,308 students, 25% more than the previous record; 143 companies had taken part, 35% more than ever before; and 40% of the FIDI affiliates had, during the year, used the services of the Academy. He added that this figure was more than any other industry association.  

The Academy’s number one supporter was FIDI Australia, with FIDI The Netherlands in top spot when the number of affiliates in the region is taken into account.  

 

Local members’ evening 

The local members’ evening in Dubai, hosted by FIDI Middle East & North Africa, was subject to a change of plan.  Instead of whisking everyone off to Margham by Lama, a desert camp for a cultural evening, the reception was held in the grounds of The Sheraton, about 30 minutes drive away from the conference hotel.   It was a very good evening with nice food and drink and the sort of music that encouraged people to dance until the small hours.  That said, it would have been nice to sample something more traditional. At least nobody went home with sand in their shoes.  

 

FIDI 39 Club 

The FIDI 39 Club put on a full programme of events in Dubai, both business and pleasure.  They kicked off with Camel Polo held at the Desert Palm in Dubai which FIDI President Rob Chipman hailed as a success, purely because nobody got hurt.  This was followed by the 39 Club cocktail party to welcome new members.  

Sunday was back to business with a keynote speech by Mr Mohammed Murad who served, for 20 years, as an officer in the Dubai police force.  He spoke about leadership and the cultural diversity of the UAE.  Simone Percy, a resident of the UAE, then shared her knowledge of life and business in the country. 

The 39 Club party was held at the XL Dubai, one of the city’s most popular night clubs.  The evening started off quietly enough, with drinks and canapés by the outdoor pool, but as the light faded and the neon of the city shone brightly, so FIDI’s younger generation headed underground, to where the beat thumped a crater in your chest and all conversation was futile.   




Change Management with Jamil Qureshi 
 

I was unable to attend every business session in Dubai. However, I did sit in on the keynote speech from Jamil Qureshi, highly acclaimed performance coach and psychologist. His subject was change management.

J
amil is a performance coach and psychologist of very high repute having worked with top athletes, sports people and even with NASA astronauts. He was very entertaining and an excellent speaker. He kept the audience engaged throughout the hour he was on his feet.  He was funny but not offensive. Confident without being arrogant. But what exactly did he say? 

I have heard a great many motivational speakers. Very few I have found to be inspirational. Jamil was no exception.  I really enjoyed listening to him, as did the rest of the audience it appears judging by the warmth of the applause.  But, in my opinion, his presentation was high on style and somewhat lower in content. 

Don’t get me wrong, Jamil said some very valid things.  He said we should try to something different every day; become more inclusive to pool group knowledge; and try to get staff to commit rather than comply.  He used the example of someone slowing down for a speed camera then speeding up again.  He said that such a driver was complying but was not committed.  They cared more about not getting caught than injuring someone.  Jamil also said that people are most successful when they are motivated by what they seek to achieve not by what they hope to avoid. He said that we should not be defined by our ‘to do’ list.  “Decide who you are going to be today, not what you are going to do,” he said. “We should define ourselves by what the customer values, not what we sell.”  

Jamil also said that companies are very good at being better but not very good at being different.  That’s why PayPal was not invented by a bank, Skype not invented by a telecoms company, or Spotify invented by someone in the music industry.  “Your competition are not the companies just ahead or behind you,” he said.  

With regards to recruiting, Jamil said that he would always look first at someone with the right attitude rather than the right qualifications.  “I will, over IQ,” he said. And he said that we should never underestimate the value of a ‘rogue monkey’: someone who thinks differently.  “Every transformational thing in business has come from a rogue monkey.”  

Listed in this way it looks as though I have contradicted myself.  Actually Jamil did say quite a lot.  But how much of it would have been new to the audience, I don’t know.  It felt to me as things most people already knew, repackaged.  Maybe that is a good thing.  Sometimes we all get so swept up in the day-to-day hubbub of work that we forget some of the fundamentals and, having them represented in an entertaining and, I would hope, memorable way, is revitalizing.    

Jamil did a very good job.  I would like to have seen more revelation and less repackaging.  I would too like to have seen his ideas transformed into specific examples for movers. But maybe I ask too much.


Also at FIDI 
 

The FIDI conference was packed with business and entertainment with something for everyone.  Other events not reported here include: workshops on the FAIM requirements for bribery, corruption and data protection management, excellently run by John Prooij; sightseeing trips in Dubai and Abu Dhabi; the FIDI golf tournament; the FIDI Fun Run (not for charity this year as this is not allowed in Dubai); and the Yellow Boats trip for those seeking thrills. 

The conference also included a panel discussion on the future of the mobility industry facilitated by Peggy Smith of Worldwide ERC; and a panel discussion about the application of the 6.5lbs/cu ft density following the new SOLAS regulations.  Both these discussions will be reported in future issues of 
The Mover

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