Archive for November, 2013

And now, the end is near….

November 28, 2013

Well, as there is absolutely nothing to do here at King Fahd International Airport I may as well post my last Saudi trip related blog. Oh no I hear you cry! OH NO I HEAR YOU CRY. That’s better. (Pantomime season is almost upon us).

It has been an eventful 2 weeks. Riyadh was great for business, the focus was entirely on education and training and it was a great success. The city is massive, rammed with traffic and some pretty impressive buildings and unbelievably terrible driving.

My hotel, the Al Khozama oozed old school chic and service. Very friendly staff who actually took an interest as opposed to the plastic ones you get in some much bigger properties. I have not stayed in a hotel where you hand your proper key into reception when you leave every day for some time. Pretty cool actually.

Al Khozama Hotel, Riyadh

Al Khozama Hotel, Riyadh

 

The rain was heavy. Very heavy. Closing the whole of Saudi was slightly melodramatic but considering the state of the driving, lack of drainage and dodgy bridge constructions, I could see why. It was amusing to see pictures of one guy jet skiing down a road in Riyadh and another using a polystyrene block a as a raft! However a few years ago over 1000 people died in Jeddah due to the floods so it is an issue which needs to be addressed.

I will skirt over my aching back etc as I am sure you are just as fed up with it as I am. Safe to say it still aches, thanks for asking.

As usual the hospitality of my clients never ceases to amaze me. I genuinely do not expect anything in the way of gifts and I feel very awkward accepting them but it is rude to do anything else. It is very humbling and extremely kind. Receiving a wonderful gift from a candidate was even more surprising, most people we get a job for seem to disappear into the ether, so to feel a genuine warmth and gratitude makes my job a whole lot easier and satisfying. ‘Thank you’ is such an emotive phrase when delivered with dignity and feeling.

Of course I could not remain professional all the time:
*Sitting in the middle of the family section in the poshest hotel in Riyadh (Ritz Carlton) before being rescued by my client.
*Trying to open a wall thinking it was a door in another very posh hotel (Four Seasons).
*Being mistaken and then confirming that I am the British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia (he is over 6ft and white) so easy mistake…
*Killing time by going to a mall before discovering none of the shops would be opening for another 3 hours and I could not go anywhere so had to wander around aimlessly whilst the security guards wondered what on earth I was doing.

So you can see, international recruiter supreme I may be, but interspersed with bouts of idiocy.

After Riyadh I flew up to the Eastern Province to hook up with the UKTI trade mission. I always enjoy these missions as it is an excellent opportunity to make good contacts and showcase the company. As this part of Saudi was my route to entry several years ago, I always end up trying to see more people than I actually have time for. Plus the Arab culture is to arrange a meeting with nano seconds notice meaning a rigid schedule is never a good idea. I didn’t do too badly, a mix of confirmed and off the cuff meetings were had and all went pretty well. Even the bizarre client meeting (with a group that we have had tremendous recent success with) where one of the guys decided to rip into me for no reason whatsoever and I almost walked out. Even this one ended with us confirming more business and a vote of thanks! I am still shaking my head as to what twilight zone I wandered into.

It was particularly interesting to see some expat compounds. That is all I am saying on the matter!!

In summary, 2014 is going to be immense. My head hurts in trying to work out how we are going to fit it all in, but we will and it will all be a tremendous success. Coupled with the new contracts we have signed in Bahrain and Oman, plus existing clients increasing their requirements, I suspect next year will pass in a blink of an eye.

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Best photo ever?

November 23, 2013

The Kingdom Tower, Riyadh

I took this yesterday in Riyadh. In my own ‘humble’ opinion, is this the best ever I Phone photo of The Kingdom Centre????

 

Time flies

November 22, 2013

Has it been a week already? I am sure Riyadh has a time warp of some sort, after all, it has everything else!
My meetings went very well, clients were extremely appreciative of the effort I have made to come and visit them. I am genuinely interested in building solid partnerships and this has been gratefully accepted. When I work with organisations that truly value our support, input and advice, it makes the job easier and also gives added motivation to assist. Here I am treated as a partner and an equal and it is truly refreshing.

I still find it amazing that UK recruitment companies who want to work overseas but cannot be bothered to make the business trips required in order to cement relationships. This is why we are building an excellent reputation and you are not. Long may your laziness be our catalyst for growth.

As usual my trips are always laced with a modicum of hilarity, generally attributed to me leaving my brain back in the hotel room. This time was no exception. I think trying to open a wall thinking it was a door probably ranks as number one, but for those who understand the culture here, plonking myself down slap bang in the middle of the family section at the Ritz Carlton whilst waiting for my dinner companions ranks very close indeed. I think my utter naivety was the saving grace here.

If you are going to mistakenly sit in the family section, there are worse places than this..

If you are going to mistakenly sit in the family section, there are worse places than this..

Ritz Carlton, Riyadh. The most amazingly opulent hotel I have seen.

Riyadh is certainly a haven for shopping and opulence on a grand scale. I have never seen so many Versace shops in one city before, not to mention Leboutin, Louis Vuitton, Bugatti, Chanel and Debenhams. The past week has been an eye opener for me too. Having only worked in the Eastern Province before, I have never seen women’s only floors in malls with security guards making sure that it is a bone fide woman wishing to enter. Shops only open to families, men and women’s queues at fast food outlets and separate offices for sexes too. But, at no point have I felt any concern or have had any issues, totally the opposite. Everyone I have met has been friendly, helpful (apart from the taxi driver who dropped me at the wrong place and then admitted he could not read and had very bad eyesight) and gave me no cause to worry at all.

I have been treated to amazing dinners in unbelievable settings, received extremely humbling gifts and experienced hospitality that in the UK, companies would not even dream of doing. Nothing has been too much.

Trips to the British Embassy, major universities and colleges were extremely interesting and I leave with a knowledge bank that will now help to develop our strategy for 2014 and beyond. Companies need our help and we are best placed to serve. I plan to come back back in February for an education conference, I am sure this will come round in a blink of an eye.

The Kingdom Tower, Riyadh. An amazing building.

The Kingdom Tower, Riyadh. An amazing building.

Next stop Eastern Province – I wonder what the next week (aka 5 minutes) will bring.

When it rains, it pours.

November 18, 2013

Two working days in and so far so good.

Riyadh is certainly different from the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, definitely more conservative. Not in a bad way, just different. For example, I have never seen segregation at a fast food counter for men and women. Plus, the women’s line moves a lot quicker and it is service with a smile, as opposed to a grimace. I am used to family and single sections but family only shops and malls? This is an eye opener. Next to my hotel is the wonderful Al Faisaliah tower which contains a fantastic mall which has a great Harvey Nichols. I assume. I am not allowed in unless I am with a family, ideally my own. So, it looks great from the outside, probably has dancing polar bears and talking deer inside, but I will never find out. Great excuse for not buying any gifts though!!!

However, Riyadh is growing on me. Amazing buildings, well, massive buildings. I can’t cope with  the driving though! It makes Wacky Races look like a country drive in an old Morris 1000. Seriously folks, drive with eyes open, it helps.

After the ridiculous downpour, which I now understand has not happened in over 12 months, the majority of offices were closed on Monday (country wide) due to rain. Imagine in the UK if this happened, we would work for 2 days every year. Yes, I know some people do, but that’s a blog for another day.

Flooding in Riyadh

Flooding in Riyadh

Lightening strikes the Al Faisaliah Tower

Lightening strikes the Al Faisaliah Tower

So, onto business. The only reason I am here. So far so good. 2 education clients met, both very happy with our service and both want to develop long term business. The first will be taking out on Thursday to see all their colleges, we should have done this on Monday but due to the ‘national emergency’ all were closed…. Looks like we will be getting a lot more business from them, probably min 100 new vacancies in 2014 which bodes well and and will please the bank.

The second meeting went even better. CEO is delighted with us, all invoices signed off and new roles discussed. All 350 (min!) of them. Yes, that’s right, 350 roles. English, Maths and IT Teachers. They also want us to hold two interview events  in the UK for next year in order to fill the roles. At this point the bank are doing cartwheels. It is refreshing when clients speak to me as a partner and ask for advice, intelligent opinion and market intel. These are the sort of clients that I want to deal with and encourages us to work at the upper echelon of our ability.

I was taken to see the number one university in the Middle East, King Saud University. We have  a large number of teachers working there and I was pleased to get the opportunity to meet some of them. To put it into some perspective, KSU has 15000 students undergoing the 1 yr Preparatory Year Programme (English, Maths, IT) and 1000 Teachers administer the classes. Not all at once, obviously.  This is the largest PYP in the world and we are part of it’s development.

This PYP is the biggest in the world

This PYP is the biggest in the world

King Saud University PYP

So, 3 more business days in Riyadh, if they continue like this then I will be asking the bank to buy me some gold shoes. Size 8 please.

Sleepless in Sciatica

November 17, 2013

Well I survived the flight, immigration and the heavy rains. Shame that my sciatica decided to rear its ugly head and ruin the day. I didn’t plan to spend my first every Saturday in Riyadh, lying on the floor, stretching and trying to stop limping! Oh well, s**t happens.
I was expecting to be in Riyadh airport for years, reinacting that Tom Hanks ‘classic’, The Terminal. My only experiences of airport passport control in Saudi are bad and painfully boring, however this time I sailed through in 15 minutes! Long may this continue.

The amazing lights of Riyadh

The amazing lights of Riyadh

The drive into Riyadh was eye opening, even at midnight there were families having picnics. Normal you might say, however, they were having their night time soirees on sandy verges and outcrops at the side of 6 lane highways! Not something you tend to see as you head down the M1 for example. Loads of them, with fires, kids and food.
The Al Khozama Hotel is fine, tired, but fine. My room doesn’t have the best view but hey ho.

Riyadh from Al Faisaliah Tower

Riyadh from Al Faisaliah Tower

However I didn’t expect to wake up in agony as my back and legs decided to pack in! Endless stretching, some walking and more stretching and it felt slightly better, fingers crossed it continues to improve.
The view from the Al Faisaliah Tower is extremely impressive though. It allowed me to get a good perspective on Riyadh and get my bearings. Thanks heavens there was a lift!

Panorama Riyadh

Panorama Riyadh

The rain last night was pretty heavy though. At one point I am sure I saw Sinbad go past.

So great, I had to take it twice.

So great, I had to take it twice.

So with the very LOUD thunder and my aching limbs, not the best night’s rest but today is another day…..