The World Has Grown Smaller–But It's Still a Pretty Big Place

I was supposed to have written this blog entry in January, along with my usual ‘Happy New Year’ message and a few words for the year ahead. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), work requirements overtook my time, and I have not had the time to sit down and write the content. 

So I write to you now from the lounge at Dubai International Airport, waiting for my flight back to London after a fantastic few days attending a mission organised by the British Aviation Group (BAG) and UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) to meet the major airport companies in the UAE. Some mighty impressive plans underway, particularly the new Al Makhtoum International Airport, which will be a massive development capable of handling 240 million passengers per year when it is fully completed. 

One thing I love about visiting emerging markets (EMs) is the incredible enthusiasm people have in these countries for thinking big and getting things done—witness the Istanbul Grand Airport, on which my client Scott Brownrigg is the lead designer (click here for more info). IGA is currently the largest construction project in the world, and it will have the largest single airport terminal in the world when complete, and there is also a wider emerging urban district planned around it, all at an astonishing scale and pace. 

Perhaps it is because EMs are coming from a less well-developed base, and they are playing catch up with Europe, North America and Japan, but there is also a strong spirit of competition and entrepreneurialism operating in EMs. There can sometimes be a bit of a dark side to all this unbridled development, in the form of undemocratic approaches to compulsory purchase and public engagement (if there is any at all), flawed business cases for the financing of some projects, negative environmental impacts and, sometimes, a lack of thoughtful long-term planning.

But this is also good news for my clients and other firms from developed countries who can bring real expertise to the table, as EMs are moving so fast that they need external help. Many of them do not possess the experience, creativity and skills needed to plan, design, construct and operate some of the absolutely mind-blowing property and infrastructure developments they have planned. 

When you look at the demographic and economic data, all the globe’s future high-growth areas for the next 100 years are in recently developed countries (think China) and emerging markets (think Nigeria). In considering the long-term future of your business, the idea is therefore tempting to explore opportunities in these high-growth markets, either by exporting from your home country or by establishing a local presence.

The landscape in EMs has been changing over the last couple decades, though. Many global cities like Dubai, Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong, already have a much better choice of locally-based, high-quality international design, consulting and construction companies to choose from than they ever had before. In fact, the top global cities don’t even need to look outside their boundaries to hire world-class firms, as many such firms have branch offices in these cities now—we call these ‘glocal’ firms. It’s a perfectly sound strategy if you’re thinking about the next 20 or 30 years of your business and where the work will be coming from.

For firms that have the vision, aspiration, perseverance and patience to pursue international business growth, there are still tons of opportunities in all corners of the globe, in both developed economies as well as EMs. You just need to do your homework carefully, understand what your clients desire and require, plan comprehensively and then execute flawlessly. And know that there is help out there if you need it.