After expanding from home base Germany into the Netherlands and Scandinavia, Comatch – a digital consulting platform where clients can match their project demands with top tier consultants – recently also set foot on Middle Eastern soil. To lead the operations, Comatch has brought Aryan Rasoul on board as Business Development Manager for the Middle East. Consultancy.uk spoke with Rasoul on his take on consulting market opportunities and how the digital player aims at playing a role.
How would you describe the general situation of Consulting in the Middle East?
The economies of Arab Emirates, Dubai and Abu Dhabi – Qatar as well in the recent years – can be called progressive. This is where business and money is located. Those markets have been growing extremely quickly, manpower and expertise could, however, not always catch up with the speed, so there is a high demand for consulting.
According to the OECD, Turkey is one of the fastest emerging markets, right after the BRIC states. Many Turkish companies act very internationally, like Beko who bought Grundig in 2005. If you go to a German retailer for electronic consumer goods you will realise that half the washing machines displayed there are produced by them. So, consulting is a topic (the industry is valued at around $410 million) and this will get stronger in near future.
Iran would be at the same level as Turkey if there hadn’t been any sanctions in the last decade. Now this market is booming – for example, a recent Roland Berger report on the automotive industry in Iran in fact speaks of an “historic opportunity”, car sales are forecasted to grow by 16% each year and in the luxury segment even stronger.
But in terms of acceptance of the consulting industry, there is still a way to go before a tipping point is reached. Companies don’t see the full value of consulting and they are suspicious towards the whole process of hiring a consultant and the prices – so ground work is necessary. In a way promoting consulting in Iran is a bit like promoting quality wine in the US in the 70’s. But the effort will pay off, the potential is huge. Businesses are open, sceptical but open. I talked to the Head of the German-Iranian chamber of commerce (AHK) recently, he assumes that the consulting market of Iran will need another 6 to 10 years to get close to German level in terms of acceptance for the topic – that asks for a lot of patience.
What about the consultants’ side?
Of course the top tier consultancies do have business and offices in the Middle Eastern but locally grown consultants with Middle Eastern roots or language skills are highly sought after. There are only a few local consultants and many of them work for smaller firms. Top tier consultants working in the Middle East either come from Europe and the US or have been educated abroad.
So what can Comatch can offer in that situation?
For many companies, working with the ‘big guns’ in the industry can appear a bit intimidating; a big team, the costs, the setup that is relatively static. When using Comatch, clients can, as part of our database of independent consultants, choose their own consultant of preference, so it is a very individual approach with a lot of space for personal client relationships and communication. Additionally, we see that many Middle East countries are used to working digitally, this makes them open for online and digital way of working. For the smaller or medium sized consultancies that operate in the region, Comatch can serve as a backfill to staff projects in peak times. As it stands, our consulting pool consists of 750 consultants with a wide variety of cultural backgrounds, interests and family situations. Our footprint is well equipped to staff projects across the region, from Lebanon to the GCC or Saudi Arabia.
What is to consider when approaching those markets?
Let’s take the example of Iran as it is closest to my own background*. Engaging with external resources is not perceived as a natural step for an Iranian business man. Iranians love doing business and are smart at it. In doing so, they try to reduce any middlemen – it’s widely regarded as the ‘Bazar’ mentality. Also it’s crucial to understand the value of personal networks and connections. You have to know someone before doing business together. A business meeting in Saudi Arabia or Iran typically can also take place in a personal environment, such as at someone’s home. In such cases, stakeholders may bring along spouses or family relatives. So when I compare the process of matching between our European projects and those in the Middle East the latter just takes longer: personal talks are very important so, it is definitely more calls than mails. My job focuses much on facilitating the matching process, in essence bridging and aligning the demands of clients and our affiliated independent consultants.
What is your ambition for Comatch in the Middle East for the next year?
I am very optimistic and want the Middle Eastern markets to become the strongest area after the DACH countries (Germany, Austria and Switzerland), where Comatch started and contracted about 100 projects in its first year of operational business.
Aryan Rasoul was born in Bremen and received a Master’s Degree in Small Business and Entrepreneurship in the Netherlands. His parents migrated to Germany from Iran in the 1970’s. Since his childhood, Rasoul regularly spends his holidays In Iran, mainly in the northern region around Masouleh, Gilan – where his family originally comes from.