Dubliner Amanda Gavin has been living in Dubai for the past 18 months and has re-established her PR consultancy AMG Consulting there, gaining new clients, working for the Irish Business Network there and writing for the Arab Irish Journal about Irish businesswomen.
Having worked as a pilot with Ryanair, Gavin’s husband was offered a contract with Emirates airline and the couple made the decision to move to Dubai.
Three days after the couple’s arrival in the city, Gavin approached the Irish Business Network and now works with them to promote her clients’ businesses but also works part-time for the network in the role of administrator and event organiser.
“I found that the Irish Business Network was like finding a business lifeline in the middle of nowhere,” says Gavin. “I had a really good business in Ireland and, when I got there it was a case of fight or flight, and they were like a lilo in the middle of the sea. Within a month I was at events and openings and had built up a network.”
Gavin was familiar with Dubai having visited the city a number of times and had a good network of friends there, which helped in terms of orientating the city and culture. The couple live in a gated community with many other ex-pats and Gavin says that driving was the most daunting task.
“Getting around was very daunting because the traffic is like something I have never seen before – there are seven lanes of traffic on some of the roads and people coming from all over the world with all sorts of driving techniques! I started by driving on Friday which is their holy day as there were fewer people on the roads, but now I am zipping around!”
After the initial two-month settling-in period, Gavin was keen to relaunch her business but found herself in the middle of Ramadan.
“This is the holy time in which people fast. I was just getting used to the way of life and then everything changed! I was trying to get the business off the ground but no one wanted to do business. At that time, a lot of ex-pats leave too so I was arriving just when everyone was leaving,” she says. She also found the expression “Inshallah” a confusing one.
“In business people say this all the time,” says Gavin. “It means ‘God willing’ and everything in business in Dubai is ‘Inshallah’, meaning ‘don’t rush me, don’t move too quickly, if it’s meant to happen it will happen’. I was trying to get stuff moving and all I could hear was ‘Inshallah’! I just learnt to go with the flow.”
She says she was afraid that she would lose momentum if she did not push the business forward.
“I have no kids and couldn’t be sitting around all day as a ‘pilot’s wife’. I’m a real doer – I don’t want to sit on the beach all day. On the third day there I joined the Irish Business Network. It was all Irish people – big names in business and very well-respected people. Without them I don’t think I would have become established so quickly in Dubai. I would suggest to people if they are moving anywhere abroad to check out the networks there.”
Setting up a new business in Dubai can be a daunting one, says Gavin, who advises that there are two routes a new business can take – getting a UAE sponsor for the business or operating only in the Free Zone in Dubai.
“The only way I can describe it is, if you are in Ireland and you set up in the IFSC, you can only work in the IFSC and do business with people in that region.”
Gavin says it costs in the region of €8,000 to €10,000 to establish a business in Dubai.
She has a UAE sponsor, who is a sleeping partner in her business. This allows her to operate freely and work beyond the restricted Free Zone.
The PR woman is currently working with Jennifer McGarrigle from Ireland who runs an event company, Exquisite Events.
She has also helped to relaunch florist service Flowers.ie into Dubai under the name Flowers.ae and is working on the launch of a hair and beauty salon in one of the most prestigious malls in Dubai.
She says it’s a challenging environment and that because of the variety of nationalities operating there and large, well-established multinationals, the competition is fierce.
For Gavin it has been about “cutting through the clutter”. Gavin says the couple intends to stay in Dubai. The lifestyle is good. She says it took them a few months to realise that they could take time to breathe and escape the constant worrying that working in Ireland necessitated.
In business she says that she is “well-respected as a woman”.
“People want to do business with me. In Dubai, they like to work with people who follow through. People are very respectful of women in business here and really take on board what I say.”