Witness who has seen ideas turned to reality in the UAE

The Life: William Barnett, a faculty member at Stanford University, talks about education, global competitiveness and entrepreneurship in the UAE.

RAK Ceramics' competitiveness was boosted by the Government's push for education among its population. Jaime Puebla / The National
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Stanford University's graduate school of business will host an executive summit in Dubai on November 5. William Barnett, a faculty member at the California school, will speak on the important role education plays in making companies globally competitive. Here, he talks about education, global competitiveness and entrepreneurship in the UAE.

How has the Emirates done in promoting education?

The admirable education policies followed by the Emirates are much of what have encouraged the growth of business beyond the oil sector - in banking, retail, shipping and pharmaceuticals. The Emirates is a textbook example of a government encouraging education across genders and, as a result, people competing on the basis of merit. A number of established businesses are doing well because the population is much more educated than even a generation ago.

Which UAE businesses strike you as being particular competitive?

When I look at the data …, Al Etihad Metallic Industries [a part of the Al Etihad Group] is very effective as a manufacturer. RAK Ceramics is well known on the world stage and that's interesting because it's not even based in Abu Dhabi or Dubai, but in Ras Al Khaimah. Then there are retail and corporate banks. There are many innovations taking place at RAKBank and National Bank of Abu Dhabi, innovations that deal with Sharia law - taking a traditional western approach to banking and a traditional Islamic approach and devising something that allows millions of transactions to take place that could not have taken place without that innovation.

Emiratis are well educated but they generally want to work for the Government, not in the private sector. Isn't this a problem?

This is a speculative answer, but it's based on what I've seen in other parts of the world … The younger generation has prospered on the basis of the firm foundations the older generation made. But young people are seeing examples of entrepreneurship from around the world and I think the next generation will be more entrepreneurial. Think about Mubadala, an amazing company that touches on health care and many other sectors. There is strong government involvement. But for example, in the United States 30 years ago many of the companies in Silicon Valley were seeded by very large government expenditure. But in time that gave way to much more private sector activity. I think we could see the Emirates following the same path.

Are you looking forward to speaking at the summit?

This is my first time to the Emirates, though I have visited many Middle Eastern countries. Very early in my career I met a delegation from the Emirates when their dreams were just dreams. I am looking forward to seeing what I saw in theory back then.