Year in review 2014: A lighter side of strictly serious business

For the most part business is, well, serious business. But forget the big picture for a second – the close-up is where you find the details that give the thing its character. Let us look back at 2014 in business on a small scale, the incidents and anecdotes that mean …
James Hogan, the president and chief Executive of Etihad Airways, left, and astronaut Buzz Aldrin attend a gala to celebrate the launch of Etihad’s non-stop service between Los Angeles and Abu Dhabi. Jerod Harris / Getty Images for Etihad Airways / AFP
James Hogan, the president and chief Executive of Etihad Airways, left, and astronaut Buzz Aldrin attend a gala to celebrate the launch of Etihad’s non-stop service between Los Angeles and Abu Dhabi. Jerod Harris / Getty Images for Etihad Airways / AFP

For the most part business is, well, serious business. But forget the big picture for a second – the close-up is where you find the details that give the thing its character. Let us look back at 2014 in business on a small scale, the incidents and anecdotes that mean …

We’re ready for our close-up.

Boston T trouble

Lucy Barnard, our property reporter, was on hand when things went awry at an airline bash in Massachusetts:

Spare a thought for the Emirates Airline president Sir Tim Clark.

Not only did the airline Mr Clark presides over spend an estimated Dh12 million on marketing promoting its new direct route to Boston in March, but it even booked the best-selling artist Enrique Iglesias to sing at an extravagant gala dinner for staff and special guests at the city’s majestic Wang Theatre.

So you would have thought staff in Boston knew who Tim Clark was.

You would have been wrong.

When the heartthrob crooner picked a member of ground staff from Logan Airport to sing on stage with him, he asked her if her boss was in the building tonight.

“Nope,” said the lady in question. “It’s just me.”

“OK,” Enrique persisted. “Is the overall Emirates boss here tonight?”

The lights came up, spotlighting Mr Clark’s table to show Sir Tim and his guests, including the Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, waving.

The lady nodded.

“What’s his name?” Enrique asked the grinning lady.

“Erm,” she said uncertainly. “I think it’s Jim.”

Cue much hilarity in the crowd which eventually prompted Enrique, in the middle of his smash hit Hero, to announce, “It’s Tim, not Jim.”

A weighty event

Our retail reporter, Andrew Scott, was caught in the entrails of a vast food show during the first part of the year, but he’s a bigger man for it:

The Dubai World Trade Centre has nine halls that are basically the size of airport hangars, but when it came to Gulfood 2014 in late February, that wasn’t enough.

The organisers had to make use of every possible space, therefore the corridors were used as impromptu selling booths, collapsible tents were erected outside at the entry and exit points and in a strange “back to the future” moment a drone hovered over people’s heads dropping directions to the future of food (depressingly, it turned out to be fries and chips).

Over the three days I attended the event I must have walked 10 kilometres or more and put on at least 3 kilos.

My life as a statistic

When Rob McKenzie, assistant business editor, took part in a Statistics Centre–Abu Dhabi (Scad) survey of spending habits, the number-crunchers wanted to know what precisely was in his food basket:

I had written down Dh117 for groceries. The next day a Scad man phoned. He wanted me to be more specific.

“Groceries, you need to say what they are,” he said.

“Fruits, vegetables,” he suggested.

“Peanut butter,” I said.

“Fruits, vegetables,” he said.

“Peanut butter,” I said.

“Fruits, vegetables,” he said.

“Peanut butter,” I said.

Silence.

Silence.

Silence.

This standoff was turning into a hostage drama, so I did the only sensible thing.

“Fruits, vegetables,” I said.

“Yes!” he said.

“Peanut butter,” I said.

Tanks for all the fish

Lianne Gutcher, yachting correspondent, came across a local variation on the swords-to-ploughshares idea at the Dubai International Boat Show in March:

While the 88-metre Nirvana superyacht undoubtedly stole the show at this year’s Dubai International Boat Show it was a charming marine initiative of the Dubai Police that caught the attention of eco-warriors.

Instead of selling 15 old army tanks for scrap, the force instead used the vehicles to build an artificial reef at a secret location (to deter fishermen) off Dubai’s World Island, Lt Col Tamim Alhaj, the director of environment, health and safety at the general department of services and supplies, announced.

Two months were devoted to cleaning the tanks under the watchful eye of the Ministry of Environment to make sure every potentially harmful substance had been removed before they were taken out to sea.

Now, some months later, at least five species of fish, including hammour, had taken up residence on the reef.

“We are building a whole new ecosystem,” Lt Col Alhaj said, explaining that some marine areas off Dubai are quite poor in terms of eco-diversity.

A second initiative, to start two coral farms, was also going well with fish living at and feeding off the coral, he said.

Over the course of 2014, Lt Col Alhaj expected the coral farm to grow to 1,000 square metres from 40 sq metres. Over time it is expected to become a public tourist attraction.

An offer we couldn’t refuse

Lucy Barnard is our property reporter, but once again she somehow shows up at a glamorous airline bash in the United States, this time in La-La Land in early June:

Etihad Airways pulled out all the stops to celebrate in true Hollywood style the airline’s first direct flights to Los Angeles.

Guests arriving in chauffeur-driven Mercedes in Beverly Hills were welcomed to the grand Beverly House – once the home of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, the original Citizen Kane – and a filming location used in The Godfather.

A sit down three-course dinner for 300 guests in the ornate gardens was hosted by the singer and TV star Dannii Minogue while musical accompaniment came from the jazz musician Harry Connick Jr and his band.

And in true LA style, stars were among the guests, with Michael Jackson’s record producer Quincy Jones and the astronaut Buzz Aldrin spotted.

As part of the entertainment, images of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and the Abu Dhabi skyline were beamed onto the front of the historic house, while Etihad cabin crew served traditional Arabic coffee and dates and guests watched traditional Razafat dancing.

You can’t ever leave home

John Everington, business reporter, finds much evidence that London is, as its mayor Boris Johnson famously described it, “the eighth emirate”:

The UAE’s deepening links with London really hit home for me on a trip to the city’s ExCeL exhibition centre in January.

ExCeL itself was acquired by Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (Adnec) in 2008, with its owner’s name and logo on prominent display.

Naturally, Adnec’s brand in big letters made me pine for the culinary delights of the UAE. But, hurrah! I found Reem Al Bawadi right on the centre’s doorstep.

After a hearty lunch, I felt an inescapable need (as we all surely do) to digest my meal 90 metres above the river Thames while learning about all the wonderful places that a large Dubai-based airline can take me. A mere two-minute walk away, the Emirates Air Line, the new London cable car, fulfilled those needs perfectly.

Frozen out

Sean Cronin, deputy business editor, went shopping this summer in Florida:

Before the doors open at the world’s biggest Disney store in the Florida theme park, the shoppers are already waiting outside.

Most are there to buy one item. But all will leave disappointed.

The US$39.95 singing Elsa doll from the Frozen movie is the holy grail of presents for little girls worldwide. So much so that they are almost impossible to acquire anywhere on the planet right now.

It is either a case of marketing genius or logistics incompetence.

Even here in the very heart of the magical kingdom, where everything is possible if you just believe, little Elsa is nowhere to be found.

Cinderellas, Barbies and Little Mermaids abound, piled high in a variety of costumes. But Elsa is absent.

In a corner of the sprawling store in Downtown Disney, among the tennis racket-sized lollipops and Mickey Mouse hats, a small stand has all the Frozen merchandise there is left to buy – a few overpriced T-shirts, a writing pad and a story book.

A sign warns shoppers, somewhat redundantly, that purchases of Frozen products are restricted to five per person.

“Where’s the rest of it?” I ask, while circumnavigating the tiny table of tat in about three steps.

“China,” comes the curt response from a shop assistant, who it seems has been asked the same question one too many times.

My other knife is a sword

Shereen El Gazzar, our aviation reporter, beats Lucy Barnard to a lavish aviation ceremony – this one in Doha:

It’s fairly well-known that nothing can divert the attention of a journalist on a tight deadline, but when a gigantic cake entered the press room during the annual meeting of the International Aviation and Travel Association (Iata), journalists could not help but chase it.

Qatar Airways had decided to wow the event’s guests, perhaps because it was also the travel association’s 70th birthday.

They went with a mix of swordplay and oversized baking.

“There’s no birthday without a cake,” the Qatar Airways chief executive, Akbar Al Baker, said of the enormous dessert.

He took out a sword to cut the cake. And just like at a wedding, Mr Al Baker and Tony Tyler, the chief of Iata, together held the sword and sliced the cake.

At dinner that night, everyone was surprised to see Kylie Minogue taking the stage to entertain the guests. Despite being heftily paid, the Australian singer unfortunately couldn’t get Mr Al Baker’s name right. She struggled to pronounce the “Al Baker” bit.

Yet after that performance, Mr Al Baker was generous enough to present Ms Minogue with a birthday gift on stage … leaving everyone in the room guessing what was inside. A piece of jewellery? Perhaps. Or maybe a slice of cake.

Trouble and strife

And lastly, Frank Kane comes across the promise of domestic bliss – from an economic summit:

I was puzzled, I must admit, when the email first arrived. “Please register now for participation in the WIFE,” it said.

Well, I’ve had some funny invitations in my time, but this was simply weird. I already participate in my wife in a full and meaningful manner, what with full-time cohabitation, a six-year old child, joint credit cards, family holidays, dinners out occasionally. The full panoply of marital participation, in fact.

And, so far in our seven years, I’ve never been required to register to participate in any of it. It just kind of came with sheep’s head and the other stuff at the marriage ceremony in Baku, Azerbaijan, one glorious May morning all those years ago.

Then the dirham dropped. I was actually being asked, of course, to register for the World Islamic Economic Forum, currently being held in Dubai, and it was a “literal” that had slipped through the editing process at some PR agency somewhere.

I remembered similar problems at last year’s edition of the World Islamic Economic Forum in London, where participants were embarrassed by a string of literals that seemed to crop up all over the place.

One PowerPoint presentation last year, I recall, began with the slide “Welcome to the WIFE”, which is a sentiment that could be interpreted in any number of ways.

The problem, it was eventually agreed in London, was the old devil Spellcheck, or Auto Spell, or whatever it’s called by various systems. Not being able to recognise the acronym WIEF as an English word, it has helpfully changed it to something it did recognise, even though hopelessly and nonsensically inappropriate.

business@thenational.ae

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Published: December 24, 2014 04:00 AM

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