First-year Business Fellows explore the relation between business and culture in the United Arab Emirates

The Martha and Spencer Love School of Business Fellows benefitted from 10 corporate visits coupled with cultural excursions. 

By Erin Manchuso '19

Widely regarded as one of the most successful Middle Eastern nations at capitalizing on its natural resources, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has established itself as a hub for big business. To help Business Fellows gain insights into the culture and business environment of the vibrant UAE, Danny Lanier, assistant professor of accounting, and Kate Upton, assistant professor of finance and director of the William Garrard Reed Finance Center, led a Winter Term cohort class focusing on Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

First-yer Business Fellows pose together following an engaging discussion with Abu Dhabi University faculty members. 
Thirty first-year Business Fellows prepped for their time in the UAE by reading a case study titled, “Sheikh Mohammed and the Making of ‘Dubai Inc.,’” through which they critically analyzed the positive and negative outcomes of Sheikh Mohammed’s approach to developing Dubai. The class also welcomed presentations from various faculty members on topics related to finance and accounting fundamentals, sustainability, and cultural norms in the region. Predeparture work culminated with students researching and presenting on companies the class was scheduled to visit overseas.

Equipped with a foundational understanding of societal norms and industry, the Business Fellows Class of 2022 set off for two weeks of study and cultural exploration. Students began their experience in the capital, Abu Dhabi, on Jan. 5. Upon arrival, students began to acquaint themselves with cultural and religious sites, including Manarat Al Saadiyat and Lourve Abu Dhabi museums.

The class then visited Abu Dhabi University, where two of their faculty members engaged the students in discussions about innovation and sustainability in the region. One interesting topic included an innovative project dedicated to solving water shortages by increasing rain production by chemically altering clouds. 

With the women dressed in abayas, the class tours Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque.
Students also toured Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque, the vision of the late ‘founding father of Abu Dhabi,’ who although never lived to see the building come to completion is buried on site. The mosque boasts the largest one-piece woven Persian carpet in the world and was beautifully adorned with gold to symbolize the bountiful milk and honey Muslims believe are promised in Heaven.

Before departing for Dubai, the group embarked on a corporate visit to Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, where the students toured the state-of-the-art facility and heard presentations on the prior limitations of healthcare in the UAE due to the strict Sharia Law and evolution of modern healthcare in the UAE under the rule of the late Sheikh Zayed.

Following a short drive from Abu Dhabi to Dubai, the group visited the Dubai Future Foundation, a government-run organization whose mission is to shape the future of Dubai. There students learned about Dubai’s efforts to promote business partnerships and joint ventures across different sectors.

Damu Wilson reveals the UAE's plan to go paperless in the future while students tour the Dubai Future Foundation. Photo by Liam O'Connor '22.   
“During our visit at the Dubai Future Foundation, we saw how the government and businesses are working together to use these innovative technologies to diversify their economy from oil,” remarked Brett Thompson ’22. “An example of this is the creation of free zones across the UAE which provide incentives for foreign companies to do business there. As a result, companies are investing in expanding their businesses to the UAE, and bringing their technology and experience with them.”

The following days consisted of corporate visits to Ford Middle East, FactSet, Ernst & Young MENA, Nakheel Sales Center, Refinitiv, and Jabel Ali Free Zone Authority.  Though companies with diverse offerings, each company stressed the changing business landscape and importance of technology and artificial intelligence looking towards the future.

Students pose for a photo following a corporate visit to Ernst & Young's MENA office in Dubai. 
“At Ernst & Young, we saw how the role of an accountant is changing because of the creation of RPAs, or robotic process automations, which help increase productivity in the workplace,” Thompson said. “Businesses in the UAE are very receptive to these advances in technology, as they aim to cement themselves as global business leaders.”

During the last few days in Dubai, the group visited Intercoil, a UAE- based bedroom furnishing firm, and Coca-Cola Middle East & North Africa. After learning about Coca-Cola’s Middle East operations at the corporate office, students left the city limits to see firsthand the bottling process at one of the company’s franchised bottling plants. The plant manager gave a brief explanation of the process itself before giving students a tour of its operations, from making the plastic bottle to its final inspection before shipment.

The class completed its exploration of business in the United Arab Emirates and its inherent ties to culture on Jan. 18.

“Experiential learning is the essence of an Elon education and it was an amazing honor to be able to take advantage of it so early in our college career,” said Meredith MacKenzie ‘22. “The knowledge gained from interactions, presentations, and simple exploration on the 10 corporate visits and multitude of cultural experiences showed the great impact that just two weeks away from the routine daily encounters of Elon and your hometown can have. I was able to network with people I would never have met, and learn about upcoming trends and new technology in the business world.”

The Elon Business Fellows program blends classroom learning and real-world experience to prepare emerging business professionals to take on the leadership challenges in their professions, their organizations and their communities. The program adds an extra dimension to fellows’ studies through dedicated team projects, specialized cohort classes, a Winter Term global engagement experience, company site visits in New York, a four-year professional development plan, and senior seminars involving managing a roughly $300,000 equity portfolio or consulting for a company.