Thursday, May 27, 2010

Iraq's Culture of Business

Continuing on the list of reasons why you should consider doing business in Iraq is: 2) Iraq has a strong culture of business.  Let me clarify.  There are three types of businesses/business owners I ran into when I was in Iraq:

1.  State owned enterprises.  These anachronisms were bad when they were open, and they're worse now.  As a make-work, counter-insurgency project, there may be some value.  As a business, I'm not sure what to make of them.

2.  Opportunistic men calling themselves "sheiks" and offering to do anything for government money.  Hey, why not?  There's lots of money to be had.

3.  Real small business owners who were dedicated, eager to learn and grow, and willing to work hard.

I went to Iraq seeking the 3rd type of business owner, and I'm happy to report that I found many of them.  My work focused on an industrial area north of Baghdad, called Boob Al Sham (or Bab Al Sham).  I won't go into detail, as Mechanical Engineering magazine just published an article I wrote about the area (link to that tomorrow, or as soon as the story is posted).

You have to look for good businessmen, and not fall into the easy trap of working with the person with the best English and most helpful attitude, but if you look, the right type of business partner can be found.

Have you done business in the Middle East?  In Iraq?  How did you find the business culture?  Let me know!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What Does Iraq Need?

Continuing from yesterday's post, my first point was that Iraq needs everything. There are approximately 30 million people in Iraq, with approximately 20% of the population in greater Baghdad. Years of war and embargo (don't forget, starting in 1980 with the Iran-Iraq war) have prevented consumer goods, industrial goods, and building materials from reaching the country. As the political and economic situation in Iraq improves, there will be a rising demand for almost everything.

According to some reports, Iraq will need at least three million new housing units in the coming years. Most construction material is now imported from neighboring countries, and is of poor quality. While the current market is very price sensitive, this too will change as the situation improves. Demand for higher-priced, better-quality product will increase. If your company makes material used in commercial and residential construction, you may want to consider Iraq for future market expansion.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Should You Do Business in Iraq?

Yes, you should consider it, and here's why:

1. Iraq has roughly 30 million people. It's not a huge market, but they need everything.

2. The culture of business is there, and it's strong. Prior to the disastrous Iran-Iraq war (yes, Iraq's troubles actually precede the Bush 43 administration), Iraq led the world in date exports, the manufacturing sector was robust, and the medical system was the envy of the Middle East.

3. While commercial code lags most developing countries, the Council of Representatives addresses the issue every year. Don't put both feet in Iraq, but as business law develops, be ready to move.

4. Physical security is improving. I don't recommend a vacation in Baghdad yet, but it's getting better. The elections went off with a level of violence that was below most expectations. There are security options, and Iraqis can move very freely (except for the occasional security checkpoint).

5. There is money in Iraq. Some of it is waiting patiently on the sidelines -- wealthy Iraqis in Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Europe, and the US are waiting for the right time to re-enter the Iraqi market. When the time is right, there will be a massive influx of cash.

Of course, there is a list just as long for why you shouldn't do business in Iraq, and most of that list would deal with corruption and security. Still, Iraq is an interesting market, and a beautiful country that should be a treasure for the world to visit and enjoy. I believe that someday it will be.

What do you think? Are you curious about Iraq? Let me know.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Where Effort is All That's Required

As professionals, we’ve been told that effort is nice, but results are all that matter. Working hard but failing to solve the problem equals job failure. Fortunately, there is one arena where effort really does seem to be all that is required, and that’s personal relations with other cultures. Of course, more knowledge is usually better, and nothing can give you more insight into a culture than learning the language, but for most of our business dealings, trying will go a long ways towards establishing trust. Treat people with respect, don’t promise what you can’t deliver, try to understand the other point of view. Basic decency and a willingness to learn are all that are required.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Nucleus

Beneath the clothes, we find a man... and beneath the man, we find his... nucleus. Nacho Libre.

Taking some time this morning to think about my nucleus. I hope you have time this weekend to do the same.

Who do you admire in your life? What's their work style, their leadership style? What skills and techniques do they have that you can add to your toolbox? Should you add them? Would they work for your style? You've got to find your nucleus to answer the last two questions.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Toyota and Tesla!

Toyota and Tesla announced yesterday that they would be cooperating on development of electric vehicles and components. In addition, Tesla will be buying the old NUMMI plant in Fremont, CA, where they will produce the new Model S sedan.

Despite Tesla recruiting executives from automotive firms, there has been criticism that the start-up electric car manufacturer lacks automotive experience. This deal with Toyota should silence most of the naysayers, and the combination of Toyota's legendary engineering and production skill coupled with Elon Musk's entrepreneurial spirit should result in both amazing advances in vehicle technology as well as reduction in the cost of EVs.

Read more about it here:

This is exactly the sort of venture that will create real jobs and develop technology that will launch the next generation of autos.

Thomas Friedman's constant refrain that we need to innovate our way out of this crisis is right on the money. Instead of bailing out arrogant companies that will never learn, the federal government should be funding basic science research that inspires and enables the next generation of technology breakthroughs.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Throw Everyone's Bum Out!

In comments to the Democrat and Chronicle, Maggie Brooks, Monroe County Executive, suggested eliminating the NY legislature altogether.

Her spokesman later called the remark "tongue in cheek." That may be, but it seems to me there's only two ways this state gets fixed: 1. Elimination of the legislature; or 2. The wholesale collapse of the state, and massive bailout by the citizens of other, more responsible states (via some federal bailout).

My personal read is that NY government is so broken that county and local leaders have lost all confidence in the ability of the legislature to perform its duties.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

I Heart NY..sometimes...briefly

There are a couple of things a man's wife can say that make him drop everything and eagerly come running. Today, my wife said one of those things -- let's go for a motorcycle ride. Two minutes later we were on-board the trusty Harley, roaring out of the driveway. We cruised down beautiful back-country roads, admired farms, livestock, and scenic villages, and enjoyed the passing scent of lilac, honeysuckle, and freshly-turned soil. I admit, there are times when I love NY.

Unfortunately, my mind quickly returns to thoughts of stifling taxation (the highest I've ever seen), shrinking population, fleeing jobs, and a bloated state government that feasts while the taxpayers bleed.

Arriving home, I found a political flyer boldly proclaiming "Take Back State Government!" Turning it over, I see it's for my incumbent assemblyman. Are you f&&$#@ kidding me?!? A man who eagerly participated in the destruction of this state has now found religion and wants to take it back?!? Nobody who has ever been elected to the disaster we call state government has the moral right to make such a plea. Regardless of party affiliation, the government of this state has failed, and it's past time that we punished those involved by not giving them another chance!!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Another Piece on Iraq

While in Iraq, I wrote a proposal for several of the industrialists that I had been working with to visit the US. The purpose of the trip was to learn about best practices in manufacturing, quality control, and business associations. The proposal was approved, and in April, the industrialists visited the US. What a strange experience to see my friends in the US! Initially they seemed so out of place -- so overcome by the natural beauty of our great country. Like most good businessmen, they adapted quickly, and like small children, were eager to learn from everyone they met. Here's a link to a TV news piece that was done about the trip:

Some of the details are wrong, but overall, it's a nice piece.