Cass Business School Students Are Learning How To Do Business In The Middle East

The Dubai Symposium is an opportunity for MBA and Executive MBA students at London’s Cass Business School to explore new careers in the Middle East

An MBA lacking first-hand knowledge of international markets is like a kite on a windless summer afternoon; both will struggle to get off the ground.

To quell this, Cass Business School’s Dubai Centre runs the Dubai Symposium, a module giving students from across the school’s MBA spectrum —Full-Time MBA, Modular Executive MBA, and Executive MBA (EMBA)—the chance to dive into the business culture of the Middle East.

On the module, students attend company visits and embark on cultural encounters that help them understand modern Arab society, key business sectors such as trade and transportation, hospitality, oil and gas, and the potential for renewable energy in the region.

“I hadn’t been to Dubai before, but since the symposium I have been every month,” says Will Cleverly, an EMBA graduate from Cass who attended the symposium last year.

He is a director of Offshore Wind Consultants Limited, a consulting firm advising developers on how best to roll out offshore wind projects around the globe—the firm won a contract for a piece of work in Dubai around the time Will was attending the symposium, giving him the chance to move into a more global role.

“The pace and ambition of Dubai sparked an interest in me,” he says. “It was clear renewable energy was an industry the Emirate was beginning to lead in, and that was exciting.”

Jumping at the chance to work more in the region, the Cass Business School Dubai Symposium gave William first-hand experience of the Middle Eastern market. The diverse schedule—visiting multiple companies in various sectors—gives students the chance to engage the employees who work there on how to meander the differences in business style between regions.

“An MBA is supposed to equip you with the skills to run a global company, so having been out to these countries and seeing how business works there is definitely valuable,” adds Will. “I don’t think I’d have gone out there so soon without the MBA, so it certainly opened opportunities for me.”

Positioning itself, not just a module for the students to develop their understanding of the Middle East, but as a program designed to cultivate economic development in the region, the aims of the Dubai Symposium run parallel to the Cass Executive MBA in Dubai—a specific program that has been targeting executives in the Middle East for the past decade.

“Dubai acts as a hub for a very large region beyond MENA, into Africa, into central Asia, South East Asia, and beyond,” says Roy Batchelor, professor of banking and finance at Cass Business School, who was also the program director for the Cass EMBA in Dubai between 2009-2016. “Listening to the stories of business leaders there, you get to see the world from a very different view point.”

Roy—who is due to attend an information session in Dubai for the Cass Dubai EMBA, on the 8th March—adds that by immersing yourself in the region you begin to learn that success has come from a culture of “strong leadership, and a shared vision [of the future], an embrace of technology and globalization, and an understanding that society and the education system has to change to meet these challenges.” 

That outward looking attitude has been promoted by the fact that 80% of the workforce in Dubai are not nationals.  Roy cites the recent visit of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi to the UAE, and the plans to construct a Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi after his trip. “It tells you how much tolerance there is of diversity in what outsiders might think of as a buttoned-up society,” he continues.

The MBA—a beacon of diversity itself—is viewed very positively in the region, as the young population in the Middle East is under pressure to professionalize and compete in a very open and internationally competitive labor market. “They understand in a lot of organizations that to progress through certain roles an MBA is almost essential,” confirms Roy.

“That’s really the basis for why Cass Business School went to Dubai in the first place,” he concludes, “we recognized this as a global city, with a large professional class emerging who were hungry for the kind of expertise and understanding that a highly ranked business school could bring them.”