Wednesday, June 6, 2007
"I'll tell you something, the Sheikh's greatest accomplishment is promoting international business."
Sean Rashid sets down his Prada sunglasses and smiles. We're sitting in the corporate lounge at the Fairmont Hotel in Dubai. Located on the 33rd floor, the corporate lounge offers a spectacular view of Dubai's rapidly changing skyline.
Immediately below us is Sheikh Zayed Road, the main highway connecting Dubai to oil-rich Abu Dhabi. The road itself is a symbol for Dubai's change, having tripled its lanes thanks to a massive influx of Abu Dhabi capital over the last 15 years.
Across the street is the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Center, a 60,000-square-meter building where Sean is launching his new makeup line, Too Lushes, at Dubai's 12th international fashion exposition.
The fact that Sean is even here speaks volumes about Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed's success at establishing Dubai as the financial and cultural epicenter of the Middle East. The fact that Sean is one of the few Americans here doesn't say much for the U.S. though.
"It's incredible to me that the U.S. has such a reputation for promoting business and the entrepreneurial spirit, and yet it's the only country whose government isn't behind the expo here." Sean laughs. "If you go to the German section of the expo, the German ministry of commerce has a whole booth set up to help promote the German designers. Same with South Korea, Turkey, and anyone else. But not the U.S. Guys like me are on our own."
Hanging out with Sean at his booth reveals just how skewed Americans' conceptions of Dubai are. Most people I know couldn't find Dubai on a map. But as soon as they hear the words "Middle East," their heads fill with images of bombs blowing up and women in burkas.
Yet at Sean's booth, distributors, designers, models, and businessmen from every country you can imagine – including the fundamentalist Islamic ones – did business together without the slightest indication of any ethnic, gender, or religious prejudice. No one cares where you're from. All they really care about is doing business.
As for the bombs, Dubai has one of the lowest crime rates in the world: The murder rate is one in 100,000, one sixth that of the New York's best year since 1963. The city is so safe that Sean's model, a gorgeous 6'3" blonde from Germany named Manja, safely goes for walks alone at night. No one bothers her.
Misconceptions have given U.S. entrepreneurs like Sean a massive head start in establishing business on the ground floor in one of the world's fastest growing markets. After all, 25% of the world's Fortune 500 companies – including Halliburton, Microsoft, and Yahoo – already have an office in Dubai. Why shouldn't private entrepreneurs do the same?
Sean has designed handbags for Calvin Klein, sold jackets at Saks Fifth Avenue, and even run a modeling agency in New York, but he's chosen to launch his newest venture not in the U.S. but in Dubai.
"People don't realize this, but having 'made in the U.S.' holds a lot of sway in markets over here. Why launch in the U.S. where I'm one of thousands, when I can come to Dubai and be one of a dozen?" Sean asks. "And the Fashion City hasn't even opened yet."
Sean is referring to one of the Dubai's scheduled Free Zones – areas where international businesses can operate tax-free. When complete, Fashion City will feature modeling agencies, designer offices, and boutiques galore. So far, Sean is one of the few American designers planning to open an office there.
By the time the rest of the U.S. catches on (like Halliburton has), people like Sean will already have made millions.
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