Dubai – City of Glass and Growth


I was fortunate enough to get a chance to visit Dubai this week.  If you’ve never been, it’s worth the flight over.  A beautiful city, built on twin pillars of opulence and arrogance.  Man made islands built from the endless supply of desert sand are home to top end resorts and amazing homes.  Buildings fly up seemingly overnight, made of glass and steel.  Fascinating architecture including building of all shapes, sizes and method, including one that when finished will include a full 90 degree twist from top to bottom.  I’m shocked they haven’t figured out how to make a building out of a moebius strip.  Not that I’ve seen anyway.

One of the highlights of the trip was the chance to meet Ron Thomas, CEO of Great Places to Work Institute Gulf.  (HT to Crystal Miller for setting it up.)  Ron and I had a lovely conversation, and my eyes were opened up to the world he lives in.  A few things I took away from the discussion…


HR Infrastructure – Dubai, as a city, is only really about 25 years old.  At the end of the Gulf War, many foreign trading companies in the region moved operations to Dubai, and growth started to skyrocket.  That means the power structure of these companies, which has been fairly static for a long time, is nearing the end of their time, and HR leadership roles are opening up more and more.

Opportunities – A western education goes a long way in Dubai.  Someone coming to the market, with the right introductions, can take a role here and fast forward their career by years.  There is very much an appetite for moving the entire business forward, and many of the things we are seeing as common practice (moving away from transactional focus, building on strategy, talent attraction and so forth) are in high demand.  A couple of interesting observations Ron shared with me were that in any given social interaction, 80-90% of the players are expatriates, and most of the children of high ranking leaders, especially those who are from the region, are born in the states.  There will soon be a viable population of workers who are born in the states, raised in the Gulf, and are very valued commodities in the business and political world.

Networking – The circles run deep and wide, and the art of forming connections is the key to business.  In an hour long meeting, you can expect to spend the first 45 minutes getting to know each other, then five or ten hammering out business.  Being open about what you are trying to accomplish goes a long way.  For those of us based in the states, it becomes critical to take the first step to establish ourselves in the region, usually at our own expense.  From there, you can build off of those connections and relationships.  There is a demand for knowledge in the region, but if we want the chance to share what we know, it is on us to take the leap.

Aside from being a great source of local knowledge and ambassador to the area, I think it worth noting that Ron is also a man who knows how to wear a suit.  (Ron, if you read this, I’ve got to know where you picked that number up.  Slick.)  I appreciate a snappy dresser, and Ron has clearly leveraged access to the quality available in the area.  Makes we wish I had time for shopping.  Maybe next time.

On the whole, a great trip.  There’s no substitute for travel when it comes to learning about the culture of another part of the world.  I hear travel rates get very reasonable in the summer months (no one wants to hang out in the desert when it is hot, apparently) so you may find a great chance to come visit if you try.  It’s absolutely worth the effort.


  1. Can you tell us about the professional environment for expatriate women working in Dubai. I have a female friend that works over there in the banking industry in a high level position, but she doesn’t say much about her work.

    • Alma –

      From what I’ve seen, it is not much different than you would expect to see elsewhere. I know there is a preconception by many that because they are a Muslim country (or, more accurately I guess, Islamic), almost 80% of the population are expats. I did not see any restrictions or undue expectations put on females in the workplace, and those I had the chance to work with spoke in glowing terms about their life and work in the area. That includes a few that have spent more than ten years there after moving from “western” nations. All of the women I spoke to were unequivocally pleased about their choices. While I’m sure some of that can be chalked up to a small sample size, it’s not insignificant.

      Hope that helps!

Lean HR is using WP-Gravatar

%d bloggers like this: