After completing his graduate business degree majoring in finance, marketing & statistics at Mannheim University, Daniel Koob started his consulting career at a mid-size consulting firm in the field of marketing & sales consulting. After three years of healthcare-focused projects, he joined Arthur D. Little in 2008 where he specialized in go-to-market strategy development across industries with emphasis on high growth markets, particularly the Middle East. In mid-2014, he decided to leverage his in-depth consulting experience as well as comprehensive personal contact network in the Middle East and founded Gulf Connect Ltd. in London, UK. Gulf Connect Ltd. is a boutique executive advisory firm specializing in strategy consulting and strategic partnership advisory to support leading companies across industries to broaden their footprint in the GCC. Through a network of influential local partners, Gulf Connect Ltd. provides clients with exclusive access to highest levels of government and private bodies throughout the Middle East, thereby enabling clients to significantly expand their local footprint by means of tender referrals, JVs as well as strategic partnerships with suitable local entities. Currently covered industries range from healthcare, med tech and pharma to oil & gas as well as construction.
As sports enthusiast, Daniel believes in a healthy work/life-balance which is further sparked by a strong curiosity to explore the world and its cultures. By 2018, Daniel strives to have visited 100 countries in the world.
QX: Daniel, you have a strong regional focus on the Gulf region. How does that come?
Daniel: The first time I visited Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates was in 1983. My father worked in the region in the fields of power generation, desalination and defense systems and enabled me to get to know this part of the world at a time when Dubai was a “grain of sand”. Burj Khalifa, man-made islands and indoor skiing in the desert were ideas as unimaginable as international companies focusing on that region as one of the pillars to grow their businesses. It was from that time on, however, that I was absolutely hooked on the region. I started learning Arabic when I was 16 and took every opportunity to visit countries in the Middle East. Its culture, unique way of doing business and visionary thinking lured me into focusing on this region from a professional perspective as well. The GCC soon became the focus of my consulting work upon entering the work space after completing my business degree.
QX: Since business in the Gulf region underlies – to a certain extent – different rules, dynamics, opportunities and challenges, could you give us an insight?
Daniel: Many business people see the Gulf region as simple means to make money. In most cases, this could not be further from reality. The Middle East is a strongly relationship driven market. The key challenge is earning the trust of local decision makers, which takes a significant amount of time and effort. Doors of the leaders remain firmly shut until you have gradually built strong relationships with the operational and mid-management levels. Slowly, you will learn about the different tribes, the leadership clans and the key people who actually make the decisions required to establish a successful business. An overly confident and pushy appearance can set one miles back and may annihilate opportunities before they even have the chance to seed. On the other hand, once the right local network has been established, opportunities are simply endless. It often only takes one phone call of your local partners to arrange a personal meeting for you with the highest government officials and private business executives. Local networks in the Middle East become invaluable assets and you get to meet people you would not even have dreamed about ever sitting on a table with.
QX: Currently the GCC is surrounded by several conflicts destabilizing the region and is partly also directly affected. Does that impact you work? And, if yes, how do you cope with the situation?
Daniel: Warfare in Syria and Yemen, sanctions on Iran, export constraints into the region for certain goods, such as defense systems, and the plummeting oil price are very noticeable in the GCC business environment and the consequences directly affect our work. National budgets are revised and government priorities change. For example, Saudi Arabia is already budgeting for the reconstruction of Yemen and funds are being reallocated accordingly. Large infrastructure and healthcare projects shift from purely government owned models to public-private partnerships (PPPs) as revised government budgets do not accommodate full public financing. However, this can translate into new opportunities for international companies in some industries. Healthcare companies, for example, can significantly increase their regional footprint by becoming healthcare providers as opposed to sole suppliers of products. Furthermore, the recent developments have fueled the GCC’s appetite for technology transfer: local private investors actively seek to partner up with internationally leading manufacturers across a variety of industries to establish local production facilities. Governments structurally support this trend by offering attractive financial subsidies and are setting up regulations for preferential procurement of locally manufactured products over imported goods.
QX: After your period as a consultant at Arthur D. Little you founded your own company in London, Gulf Connect Ltd - a boutique executive advisory firm. What drove that decision? And how does your work today compare to your time at ADL?
Daniel: I was able to benefit from a steep learning curve during my time at ADL. Not only did I get the chance to work on a variety of challenging projects but also did my work have me exposed to many different industries and business cultures, with focus on high growth markets, particularly the Middle East. Nevertheless, I had come to the realization that the most significant key success factor for my clients to establish or expand their business in the Middle East is to have the right local partners. Without a doubt, market studies and go-to-market strategies are essential to build a fundamental basis for structural decision making. However, without the right local partners to open doors and leverage their networks, even the most sophisticated study might just be a “piece of paper” that ends up in the drawer of the client. For me, this was not enough. Consequently, I decided to focus on this very aspect and started Gulf Connect Ltd. in London. Together with a network of influential local partners, Gulf Connect Ltd. provides clients exclusive access to highest levels of government and private bodies throughout the Middle East, thereby enabling clients to significantly expand their local footprint by means of private tender referrals as well as strategic partnerships and JVs with suitable local entities. Currently covered industries range from healthcare, med tech and pharma, oil & gas, construction and construction materials. Compared to my time at ADL, my current work further augments the entrepreneurial aspect by bringing the right people on the table and help them create win/win situations and actually close the deals.
QX: A short outlook into the future: Where is the journey going?
Daniel: I believe that there is a huge potential for leading international companies across industries to expand their business in the Middle East. Whenever my local partners and I talk about new ideas, the list gets longer and longer. At the same time, we strive to use our opportunities to do the right thing: we promote infrastructure projects that have a positive impact on the local people, e.g. healthcare projects that augment the standards for chronically ill people, or public transport projects that contribute to less congested roads. In a fast paced environment like the Middle East, one is never sure where the journey is going, but we will do all we can to stay on top of things and make the right decisions.
QX: Not only business trips, but also your personal passion make you constantly travel the world. 100 countries by 2018 - At which number are you right now? And what are your next destinations?
Daniel: I just crossed the 70-countries-mark in December after an exciting and adventurous trip to La Réunion, Mauritius and Namibia. Currently, Uganda & Rwanda are high on the list to do a primate trek observing gorillas, chimpanzees and other Africa-based apes, but also Java/Indonesia, Vietnam and Palau in the western Pacific Ocean are waiting to be ticked off…
QX: Your favorite spot in the Gulf region?
Daniel: Among the 8 nations with coasts along the Persian Gulf, in my opinion, Oman is probably the place with the most impressive landscapes. The mountainous surrounding of Muscat is very pretty and the warm & clear waters at the Omani beaches make great spots to relax. When considering the whole Middle East, Lebanon with Byblos, Faraya and Bsharre as well as Jordan with Petra are simply fascinating spots to visit.
QX: Next to all the work and the constant trips throughout the world. How do you stay fit?
Daniel: I am quite obsessed with sports. Even with a busy schedule, I always make time to go for a run outside or a work out at the gym. It helps me to get a clear head and also come up with new ideas. When at home in London, I regularly do Yoga and Pilates in order to stay limber. My recent addition to the ‘sports department’ is indoor climbing, which can be quite addictive.
QX: What is your Vanity?
Daniel: Food! I don’t even dare to disclose here how many times per day I am actually thinking about eating...