It’s another day on the golf course in Dubai. You’ve been invited to yet another corporate day and you’re packing your bag for the round.
In goes your shiny, titanium TaylorMade driver, recently purchased.
You break open the packaging to your new Wilson golf glove and the strong smell of leather hints that everything is in place for a successful four hours in the sun.Add to that your collection of sparkling Titleist Balata golf balls and you’re almost ready for action.
The only thing missing, though, is a large pack of business cards. Why?
Because you’re not just playing golf, you’re going to network.
A survey conducted by Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide reports that 92 per cent of the 401 executives and CEOs taking part conceded that they used the time on the golf course to bolster their business contacts.
And more than three-quarters of those questioned admitted that business discussed from tee to green was closed within days of finishing the round.
Simon Nichols, a lawyer competing in the British Business Group’s recent corporate golf day at the Emirates Golf Club, agrees that 18 holes can be used for much more than just honing your game.
“I honestly think quite a lot of business gets done on the golf course,” he says. “Through playing golf I’ve met a whole lot of contacts that I now use.
The idea of days like today is that you can bring an existing client to show your appreciation of working with them, or maybe a potential client in the hope that it’ll generate some business.
“To get someone out on the course for four hours is an advantage that you don’t get sitting around a table in the boardroom. You’re sharing a golf buggy together, sharing good shots and bad shots so, from a relationship-building perspective, it’s brilliant.”
While Nichols believes the golf course is a good environment to establish a rapport with prospective clients, he does not necessarily agree that major deals get finalised during a round.
“I don’t think it’s realistic to come out here and think you’ll negotiate the final terms of a deal,” he adds. “But you can have a good chat with someone, get on well with them and then, in the future, have opportunities to work together because they’ve seen you’re a nice guy from playing golf together.”
Walter Bailey, the former managing director of Dubai Cable Company, says sharing 18 holes with someone provides the ideal setting to get to know them.
“I’m not too sure how much business is actually signed, sealed and delivered on the golf course, but there’s no doubt that golf is the kind of game where you discover what find of person you’re dealing with,” he says. “And I think that’s an interesting business connotation.”
Bailey retired in 2003 but still has an input into Dubai’s burgeoning business scene. An advisor to the Board of Directors at Ducab, he thinks the sport offers the chance to examine a person’s aptitude for business. “Most of us do business with people who we either like or admire, or preferably both,” he adds.
“The golf course is the perfect non-business environment to test a person’s character. I think you learn an awful lot about a person by playing golf with them.
“It’s a great facilitator because you find out where your differences and similarities are. In business, as in life, if you share similar values then you’re going to get on with one another.
And, if you get on, you’re more likely to do business. I think it’s vital to get out of the hurly-burly of the boardroom and that ‘must-do-a-deal’ syndrome. It’s a relaxing environment that gives you the opportunity to assess people you’re dealing with.”
The importance of removing business associates from the hard-nosed negotiations of the boardroom is not lost on Geoff Thompson, Chief Operating Officer of Dubai Multi Commodities Centre.
“You’re not on you’re home turf, they’re not on their home turf and you’re both out doing something you enjoy,” he says. “It’s a completely different environment.
“You could be playing a client from the Far East, for example, who could be a really tough negotiator in the business world but has a slightly different face on when on the golf course.
“So maybe if there’s a few niggles in the relationship people can get a handle on them. You can discuss them openly. I’d feel much more nervous discussing them in the office, across the table when you’ve got all the formalities of the boardroom.”
It’s not all about building relationships, though. Some deals are clinched on the golf course, as Francisco Giles, General Manager of the Renaissance Hotel, points out.
“Last year I played golf with a tour operator in Ras Al Khaimah. After the round I got a request from the lady for 70 rooms for seven nights. It was almost Dh400,000 of business for us.
“I didn’t ring her up. I won a prize at the event and that created the awareness. She just rang me up and asked if I could sort her out. I went out, played the event, she remembered me and we did the deal.
“Every day’s a different day on the golf course.
You’re always going to meet someone that you’ve never met before, you exchange business cards and, at some point in time, you’ll need each other.”
However, you may not use all the business cards that come your way. The game can be used to create camaraderie between business partners, but it can also ruin relationships, as Bailey illustrates.
“There was a gentleman many years ago that I won’t mention by name,” he says. “He was notorious for not being able to count past six and it’s amazing how many people wouldn’t do business with him. “Suffice to say I haven’t seen him in 20 years, and it may be because of his bad arithmetic.”
British Business Group
The British Business Group is a non-profit organisation designed to grow trade and services between the United Kingdom and the UAE. Set up in 1987, it acts as a forum for businessmen to get together, holding more than 80 events every year.
The organisation is recognised as one of the largest and most active business groups in the Gulf. Activities include a product testing service that allows British companies to identify how their product or service would compete in the regional markets.
Bob Collier is Director of Events for the BBG golf day at the Emirates Golf Club, and considers it to be one of the group’s key networking events.
“There’s approximately 184 people on the golf course today, as well as sponsors coming along, so there’s probably about 400 – 500 people involved in networking,” he says. “Even today I’ve met another 50 to 100 people that I hadn’t before. And we’ve already booked the 2009 Golf Day. Its just an indication of how much businesses value the chance to network here.”
Golf: it's a contact sport