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Founder of biz-group talks about successful entrepreneurs, diversity and the importance of human capital to an organisation

August 27, 2013 12:00 by

Interview with Hazel Jackson, founder and chief executive officer of Dubai-based biz-group, a business consulting firm consisting of three independent brands specialising in corporate training, strategy coaching and teambuilding. The group has recently expanded to Saudi Arabia.

Tell us briefly about the three main sectors of your company

Biz-group helps companies take advantage of and improve their operating performance from a business, team and leadership perspective.

The group comprises three divisions:  biz-ability, biz-events and biz-strategy, which are proven to deliver sustainable business growth.

Biz-ability helps improve results, by maximising people performance through training and leadership development.

Biz-events is the Middle East’s first and largest professional teambuilding company, creating and delivering innovative teambuilding experiences that excite, motivate and inspire people. It is also the exclusive regional representative of Catalyst Global, a world leader in corporate teambuilding.

Biz-strategy helps businesses improve performance by aligning their strategy and executing it effectively. The company has a proven track record in helping fast growth companies gain control of time and profits.

Do you feel that companies in this region – compared to Europe or the US – place enough importance on corporate culture, training and teambuilding?

The corporate training and development culture is certainly improving, but it does lack consistency. While local organisations lag behind their global competitors in training and developing their human capital, there is an increasing recognition of its importance. More multinational companies are establishing a base in the region, especially in the UAE, meaning the war for talent is on the rise.  As employees have more choice, local companies will need to invest more in training, teambuilding and improving their corporate culture. The combination of these initiatives helps attract and retain ‘A-players’. 

Companies that do not invest in continuous training, or take steps to improve their corporate culture, perhaps still see their employees as a commodity and not a true resource to grow with the business. Another reason companies are reluctant to invest in training is because they probably have done so in the past and not seen any measurable results.

This is an unfortunate, but a common occurrence in the region.

You’ve been in the Middle East for two decades. What has changed in the corporate scene since then?

The business environment has changed significantly in the past 20 years, not only in the region, but also globally. I started my business before the internet was commonplace and when fax was one of the main means of communication. 

Aside from all of the major technological advancements, the biggest driving factors for our business include the region’s pace of growth, the onset of global competition, innovation, better awareness of training needs among clients and, therefore, bigger expectations.

What would you say to a company that puts training and teambuilding on the back burner?

A company that does that is surely aiming for short-term gains or savings, in exchange of long-term pain or loss of talent. It does not mean every company, large or small, has to invest in expensive corporate training or teambuilding programmes. However, every business owner should work on creating a culture of continuous learning within the organisation and take steps to improve teamwork, trust and camaraderie among employees. If learning and development is lacking in the workplace, it either leads to loss of talent or stops teams from growing along with the business.

 How challenging is it for you and your team to deal with the diverse nature of offices, here and the tens of different nationalities you encounter. Is it difficult finding common ground?

While it is challenging to deal with people from such diverse cultures at the same time and place, this diversity is what makes training in the region so much more challenging and fun. The common ground between our culturally diverse audiences is found in the goals of the company and the business objectives we try to achieve through our training programmes. Every individual, whatever their nationality, in a company needs to understand and work towards required business results.

Biz-group has been operating since 1994, so we have a strong understanding of the business culture in the region. Our resident training consultants have years of international and local training experience. Their depth and breadth of expertise is unrivalled in our industry sector. It is important to understand and respect differing cultures when training. Everyone has a ‘native genius’ they can bring to the team and our role is to help individuals and companies find that genius and help it grow.

To those that don’t believe in the benefits of what your company offers – what advice would you have for them?

Any investment in training, teambuilding or corporate culture should begin with clear business measures that need improving.  If a client is prepared to share these we can provide solutions that are tailor-made to meet these goals, or positively move these metrics. This gives a clear return on expectations and investment. Training can and should be measured.

Do you normally get approached by companies or is it mostly the other way around? 

We are very fortunate to have great referrals from clients so we do respond to a number of incoming enquiries.

However, you are only as good as your last job, so we don’t rest on our laurels or 20 years of experience in the region.  The team is very driven and ambitious, and is always proactively looking for ways to bring the latest leadership thinking and relevant tools to companies in the region.

For instance, the most recent addition to biz-ability’s training portfolio is award-winning global design firm IDEO’s ‘Design Thinker’ – a tool that helps organisations accelerate innovation and grow faster.

What makes a successful entrepreneur?

Twenty years ago I would have had a very different answer to this question. I would have said an entrepreneur needs to be ambitious, driven, thick-skinned, passionate, energetic, a risk taker and an innovative thinker.  All these traits are still important, but I now find that in order to be successful, entrepreneurs and leaders need to be humble, hire people smarter than themselves, be able to stimulate others and always keep an eye out for future business trends.

If an entrepreneur is successful – is it on a global scale? Can an employee be successful in Europe and fail miserably in the Middle East?  

This is an excellent question and I wish there was a formula that worked globally for entrepreneurs, but there isn’t one. Just because you succeed in one market in the Middle East does not mean your business idea will work on a global scale.  Some businesses are centered on an entrepreneur’s skills or serve a very specific market need and, therefore, are not scalable. 

Understanding your market and customer is a crucial business skill.  Bringing a proven concept or model to a new market gives a business a certain advantage, but there is no way to guarantee the success of that business. If we could do that, we would probably take away the most challenging or fun element of the business for an entrepreneur.

How have leaders and leadership changed in the past twenty years?

Globally, attitudes towards business leadership have changed significantly in the past 20 years. The leader’s role has evolved from one of command and control, to one of leading by example. Leaders are now accountable for growing talent and, ultimately, protecting the business by preparing the next generation to take the leaders role.  

However, leaders in the Middle East have been a little slow to transition from the classic leadership styles mostly owing to high levels of bureaucracy, complicated organisational structures, lack of freedom and restrictive corporate cultures. We still see high levels of defensive and controlling leadership.

These leaders are of the opinion that ‘knowledge is power’ and so it should be kept within the leadership circle or to oneself. The need for these leaders to change their approach is becoming critical, with a much younger demographic, ‘the millennials’, joining the workforce. Employees have access to more information, are technologically savvy, are more communicative, demand transparency and have higher expectations from their managers and from the company.

The war for talent in the region is also on the rise with global multinational companies, which follow more developed human capital systems, establishing their presence here. Companies that want to grow and succeed will need to attract and retain top talent.

Something that hasn’t changed in the last 20 years is the number one reason people leave their jobs – they leave because of their manager(s). Leaders will need to step up and embrace new leadership styles, or risk losing talent.


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