Diego Simeone, the football coach on the losing end of Saturday evening’s Champions League Final, will still be deservedly praised and lauded for an incredible job he has done with relatively little resources compared to their fierce and victorious rivals Real.

Falling just short of the pinnacle belies a tale of sacrifice and hardship on the long road to the success enjoyed by this Atletico Madrid side, not least that Simeone has spent large chunks of time far from his family back home in his native Argentina.

He says this was made bearable by the “miracle” of FaceTime – Apple’s iteration of mass-market video conferencing services pioneered by Skype – that allowed him to join in dinner time conversation with his loved ones every evening.

There is something here beyond the straightforward emotion; the ability to feel close to those that matter most, wherever you might be in the world.

This technology has also removed the biggest obstacle to knowledge transfer – proximity.

And the hardened attitude to this and other similar innovations is costing us in this region at the most critical time.

In an era of low oil prices, the resulting ambitious programme of reforms and a new and long-needed focus on efficiency, we cannot continue to hold on to such an approach. The rapid development of our economic ambitions must take precedence to any short-term considerations.

While the revenues that the telecoms sector in the Gulf offers the dwindling coffers of government may seem evermore precious because of low oil prices, we must also recognise that we need every opportunity to stimulate the economic growth that actually generates those earnings.

Allowing closer cooperation between individuals, businesses and organisations, no matter where they are located, seems critical to fostering the activity and innovation that leads to job and wealth creation.

A study produced last year for Skype and its parent, Microsoft, on the economic benefits from the use of video conferencing said that it improved productivity and collaboration at businesses and helped increase savings by millions of dollars. The “easier collaboration” also saved time, which is then put back in to the organisation productively. Everyone wins. Unlike Atletico.

Simeone, while today is no doubt forlorn, is nonetheless immensely successful. This success is based on utilising every possible advantage his dogged team can find against often wealthier and individually more talented opposition. Denied the use of even one of these potential advantages, he would arguably not have been as effective a manager or employee. He may not have been able to stick around to oversee a period of unprecedented success.

Or he may have gone elsewhere.

To this point, some of Spain’s best footballers are gaining experience in Germany, England and Italy regardless of personal and domestic circumstances. The value of this learning, when applied at the national level at this summer’s European Championships, could be the difference between success and failure at such an elite level. Without conditions that allow these professionals to stay connected to home as much as possible, a much smaller number would be able to remain focused on the task at hand to the detriment of their nations.

There is clearly much more at stake than just losing a little face time.

malrawi@thenational.ae

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UAE Expo 2020 organisers call for tech startups to help drive job creation

Rising levels of investment in regional technology start-ups has made them more attractive to big corporations looking to collaborate, a key driver for job creation, according to organisers of Dubai’s Expo 2020.

At a summit in Dubai yesterday, companies both old and new were urged to find more ways to engage and help to tackle the Middle East and North Africa’s unprecedented jobs crisis. Tens of millions of new jobs are forecast to be needed by 2020 to meet a growing labour force in the region.

According to the World Bank, start-ups are one of the main engines of job creation in the Mena region; “in Lebanon, about 177 per cent of net job creation from 2005 to 2010 was generated by micro start-ups; in Tunisia, small start-ups created 580,000 jobs from 1996 to 2010, 92 per cent of all net job creation”.

The IMF’s update for the Middle East and Central Asia, released last month, projects that growth this year will be about 3 per cent as oil prices continue to languish at less than half their 2014 high of over US$110 per barrel.

“It is crucial that all countries step up their efforts to design and implement reforms to boost economic prospects, create jobs and improve inclusiveness of growth, before they run out of time,” IMF Middle East and Central Asia department director Masood Ahmed said at the report’s launch in Dubai.

Regional entrepreneurship accelerator Wamda, Expo 2020 organisers and more than 400 representatives of businesses of all sizes gathered together yesterday “to identify opportunities for collaboration and growth” to support job creation.

Since September, Expo 2020 Dubai has been formally reaching out to the regional business community to engage them and draw on their expertise to help ensure a lasting legacy for the fair, which is expected to be visited 25 million times over the course of six months, mainly by people from outside the UAE.

Reem Al Hashimy, UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation and director general of Bureau Expo Dubai 2020, said that the Collaborative Entrepreneurship Summit Initiative aims to create new networking opportunities between corporate executives and start-ups.

“By bringing the concept of collaborative entrepreneurship to the region, we are clearly demonstrating just how powerful Expo 2020 Dubai can be in convening diverse audiences to tackle the challenges of tomorrow,” she said.

A 2013 Wamda Research Lab survey of over 700 Mena entrepreneurs showed that only 10 per cent had formed a partnership with a large company, but 40 per cent said such partnerships are important for scaling up their businesses. However, most engagement by bigger businesses with start-ups has been CSR-focused and activity in this regard has not been particularly frequent until recently, in the past 18 months, according to a joint study earlier this year on collaborative entrepreneurship by Expo 2020 and Wamda. Corporations can help to foster a culture of innovation through partnering with start-ups that are inherently agile and focused on new products and ideas.

Habib Haddad, Wamda’s cofounder and chief executive said that the push for greater engagement comes at the right time as start-ups from the region are now attracting serious international and regional investments.

Fresh funding announced by the online retailer Souq.com in February moved the region a step-closer to having its first “unicorn” – a tech start-up company that reaches a US$1 billion market value as determined by private or public investment.

Investors including New York-based Tiger Global Management, Standard Chartered Private Equity and South Africa’s Naspers put Dh1bn into Souq.

Large corporations in the region including broadcaster MBC Group, logistics firm Ara­mex and Saudi Telecom (STC) offer successful examples of collaboration with start-ups either through acquisitions and investment or partnerships, according to Expo 2020 and Wamda.

malrawi@thenational.ae

From the US to Middle East, a new era of transparency falls upon us

Greater levels of transparency are within our grasp. There has been an almost imperceptible shift in the region in recent months as tolerance for opacity begins to waver.

Two years of weak oil prices have now been compounded by the Panama Papers leak, the fight over the European Union’s future and the prospect of Donald Trump in the White House to create an atmosphere of tension the world over. The reaction has been an unprecedented hunger for openness, particularly in the United States, that has created a burning spotlight of scrutiny that will not be dimmed. Like the flaming Eye of Sauron, the titular character of The Lord of the Rings, this force seeks to uncover whatever we dare to hide from it.

Within the region itself, developments in recent weeks have added to this momentum. Efforts by Saudi Arabia to better diversify its economy include a raft of reforms that prioritise efficiency and productivity. The plan to publicly list a small portion of state oil company Saudi Aramco could also potentially lift the lid on a well of information including the size of the kingdom’s crude reserves that until now has remained a mystery.

On Monday, another of these mysteries was solved, when the United States Treasury Department released a breakdown of Saudi Arabia’s holdings of its debt. The information blackout had lasted 41 years and now we know that Saudi owns US$116.8 billion of Treasuries. As is the way, now that the beast has been fed, it wants more and the announcement has led to questions about where else Saudi foreign reserves have been parked. The way the world is turning it is likely we will now find out sooner rather than later.

For those that might wonder if there is actually any point to knowing such things and would it not be better to allow a state or a company its economic secrets, there are clear benefits to being more open.

For a start, for the well managed corporations and economies, it will immediately bring a reduction in the cost of capital. In these straitened times, being able to borrow more cheaply is nothing to be sniffed at. Second, in an age of leaks and whistleblowers, blockchains and cloud computing, there really is nowhere left to hide information. The increasing determination of a growing group of openness fundamentalists with the hacking skills to back it up are today’s irresistible force. It seems too that none are truly comfortable to be seen as the immovable object. Few want to become the next target. It is too expensive and painful an experience.

Better for countries and companies alike is to move ahead under their own steam and begin the slow unravelling of the layers of opaqueness that have been painstakingly built up over the last four decades.

malrawi@thenational.ae

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Quilter Cheviot looks to replicate successful UK stratgey in Dubai

While the volatility that plagued equity markets in the first three months of this year has subsided and crude oil prices are showing signs of life at last, investors will be looking at their battered portfolios wondering how to rebalance and ­pivot for the future.

At this point, calls will be made and emails will be sent to financial advisers, accountants, lawyers and trust firms.

Often these professionals will in turn seek out greater expertise. One such source of specialist advice is Quilter Cheviot, the investment manager owned by FTSE 100 insurance and finance group Old Mutual.

Quilter Cheviot’s chief executive, David Loudon, is “very mindful that some of these issues [such as the low oil price] will have a knock-on effect” for investors.

“It is one of the reasons why we have had an extremely volatile UK stock market for some time. That presents a firm like ours with an opportunity because when there is volatility, clients who are perhaps unadvised or intermediaries who are doing their own investing turn to the specialists,” says Mr Loudon.

Old Mutual picked up the Jersey-based company for £585 million (Dh3.11 billion) just under two years ago, hoping Quilter Cheviot’s centuries-old track record could help it expand its services to high net worth individuals.

Quilter Cheviot has roots going back to 1771 and “stamped on us like a stick of rock is we have to have the best investment proposition and the very highest levels of service to our clients”, says Mr Loudon, who was in the UAE last month to launch a representative office in the Dubai International Finance Centre.

The company hopes to replicate its successful strategy over the past 25 years in the UK of using a network of intermediaries to generate client referrals. The approach has helped it to build up its funds under management to £17.8bn at the end of last year, up from £16bn at the time of the announcement of the Old Mutual takeover in October 2014.

There are “similarities [to the UK]” in the Gulf market, says Mr Loudon.

“This [Dubai expansion] opens up an area that is relatively untapped and could easily lead to other locations. Let’s see how this one goes [over the next two to three years]. We have always tended to do things on a meth­odical basis.”

The Dubai office will be led by two experienced professionals and backed by the 160 or so-strong investment management team around the rest of the business including a “formidable” independent research capability.

Sitting alongside Mr Loudon in a boardroom at the Capital Club, Tim Childe, the head of international for Quilter Cheviot, says that the decision to set up in the DIFC “is the culmination of over three years of research and fact finding” to tap into the region’s “rapid and exciting” development. “It isn’t a saturated market,” he says.

The UAE is “a natural gateway or hub for African business, for Indian business and in its own right”, says Mr Childe.

The regional operations will be “feeding off of the existing offshore business of Quilter Cheviot in the form of the Jersey business. So the entity here will be in effect a business development entity promoting services of Quilter Cheviot”, he says.

The extensive network of intermediaries in the region, many from the big name accounting, law and financial firms, offers a natural opportunity for Quilter Cheviot.

Quilter Cheviot follows their lead, says Mr Childe – their referrals are its “life blood”.

“We take a keen interest in how they see the world, how they see opportunities. Some of these firms already have offices on the ground in the region. They see it as a very important area to do business.”

Quilter Cheviot typically offers clients with about £250,000 and above discretionary investment management services including bespoke or tailored support.

“We do that, one, by having a very experienced and well-established research team and we have 160 investment managers around the business as a whole and those people are keeping in very close touch with their clients. When there is volatility it is important to keep close to your clients and when there is an issue you pick it up very quickly,” says Mr Loudon. “It is very important that the investment proposition is fit for purpose given all that is going on around us in financial markets.”

Given the company’s focus on high net worth individuals, the decline in oil prices from summer 2014 highs of about US$110 per barrel to where they are now at just under $50 per barrel, could dampen much of the appetite for new investment management propositions.

“We bring some initial traction from our existing intermediary relationships in the Channel Islands and elsewhere. Clients [wherever they are] have the same ambition whether it be growth, income, assets protection,” says Mr Childe, who has been with Quilter Cheviot for 26 of the 29 years he has worked in the investment management industry. “We always take a strategic view. Largely based on medium to long-term ambitions, never on one or two-year outcomes. We make a decision for the long term.”

Mr Loudon believes that given the nature of financial markets, levels of service will be key to attracting intermediaries and their clients. “In our DNA is” the highest levels of service, he says.

“[We have to] make sure that our standards of service are the highest. It’s not rocket science. It is amazing how many organisations forget that.”

Mr Childe concurs, saying that “clients want that distinction between advice on pensions and tax and investment because they want that [extra] level of comfort. We are in an age of volatility that won’t change any time soon.”

The backdrop to Quilter Cheviot’s expansion in the region is intense scrutiny of offshore financial centres following the Panama Papers leak.

The veil has been lifted on how the wealthy manage their money and their obsession with secrecy and anonymity.

The fallout has included protests in Iceland leading to the resignation of the prime minister, Sigmundur Davíð, investigations by Australian authorities into wealthy clients of Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca and damaging revelations about the personal finances of the British prime minister, David Cameron, that led to the unprecedented public disclosure of his and his colleagues’ tax returns.

There has also been renewed efforts by governments around the world, including in the UK’s, to force an increase in levels of transparency in low-tax jurisdictions. This shift looms over Quilter Cheviot and its ability to attract clients given that Jersey, its Channel Islands base, prides itself on being a world-leading offshore financial centre. The financial sector accounts for more than half of Jersey’s economy.

“If transparency is here for all, then so be it,” says Mr Loudon. “The bit that’s probably been a challenge is that while the veil has been lifted it hasn’t been properly explained.”

People will still look for tax planning opportunities, he says, but concedes that the greater level of transparency is probably here to stay. Mr Loudon says the company holds by “trust and reputation. We have worked hard to build those up.”

Mr Childe says that investment flows have been pretty consistent amid the Panama Papers furore and believes that Jersey offers “a lot of comfort”. “We can navigate through any backdrop as we have proven over the decades.”

malrawi@thenational.ae

Quilter Cheviot looks to replicate successful UK strategy in Dubai

While the volatility that plagued equity markets in the first three months of this year has subsided and crude oil prices are showing signs of life at last, investors will be looking at their battered portfolios wondering how to rebalance and ­pivot for the future.

At this point, calls will be made and emails will be sent to financial advisers, accountants, lawyers and trust firms.

Often these professionals will in turn seek out greater expertise. One such source of specialist advice is Quilter Cheviot, the investment manager owned by FTSE 100 insurance and finance group Old Mutual. Quilter Cheviot’s chief executive, David Loudon, is “very mindful that some of these issues [such as the low oil price] will have a knock-on effect” for investors.

“It is one of the reasons why we have had an extremely volatile UK stock market for some time. That presents a firm like ours with an opportunity because when there is volatility, clients who are perhaps unadvised or intermediaries who are doing their own investing turn to the specialists,” says Mr Loudon.

Old Mutual picked up the Jersey-based company for £585 million (Dh3.11 billion) just under two years ago, hoping Quilter Cheviot’s centuries-old track record could help it expand its services to high net worth individuals.

Quilter Cheviot has roots going back to 1771 and “stamped on us like a stick of rock is we have to have the best investment proposition and the very highest levels of service to our clients”, says Mr Loudon, who was in the UAE last month to launch a representative office in the Dubai International Finance Centre.

The company hopes to replicate its successful strategy over the past 25 years in the UK of using a network of intermediaries to generate client referrals. The approach has helped it to build up its funds under management to £17.8bn at the end of last year, up from £16bn at the time of the announcement of the Old Mutual takeover in October 2014.

There are “similarities [to the UK]” in the Gulf market, says Mr Loudon.

“This [Dubai expansion] opens up an area that is relatively untapped and could easily lead to other locations. Let’s see how this one goes [over the next two to three years]. We have always tended to do things on a meth­odical basis.”

The Dubai office will be led by two experienced professionals and backed by the 160 or so-strong investment management team around the rest of the business including a “formidable” independent research capability.

Sitting alongside Mr Loudon in a boardroom at the Capital Club, Tim Childe, the head of international for Quilter Cheviot, says that the decision to set up in the DIFC “is the culmination of over three years of research and fact finding” to tap into the region’s “rapid and exciting” development. “It isn’t a saturated market,” he says.

The UAE is “a natural gateway or hub for African business, for Indian business and in its own right”, says Mr Childe.

The regional operations will be “feeding off of the existing offshore business of Quilter Cheviot in the form of the Jersey business. So the entity here will be in effect a business development entity promoting services of Quilter Cheviot”, he says.

The extensive network of intermediaries in the region, many from the big name accounting, law and financial firms, offers a natural opportunity for Quilter Cheviot.

Quilter Cheviot follows their lead, says Mr Childe – their referrals are its “life blood”.

“We take a keen interest in how they see the world, how they see opportunities. Some of these firms already have offices on the ground in the region. They see it as a very important area to do business.”

Quilter Cheviot typically offers clients with about £250,000 and above discretionary investment management services including bespoke or tailored support.

“We do that, one, by having a very experienced and well-established research team and we have 160 investment managers around the business as a whole and those people are keeping in very close touch with their clients. When there is volatility it is important to keep close to your clients and when there is an issue you pick it up very quickly,” says Mr Loudon. “It is very important that the investment proposition is fit for purpose given all that is going on around us in financial markets.”

Given the company’s focus on high net worth individuals, the decline in oil prices from summer 2014 highs of about US$110 per barrel to where they are now at just under $50 per barrel, could dampen much of the appetite for new investment management propositions.

“We bring some initial traction from our existing intermediary relationships in the Channel Islands and elsewhere. Clients [wherever they are] have the same ambition whether it be growth, income, assets protection,” says Mr Childe, who has been with Quilter Cheviot for 26 of the 29 years he has worked in the investment management industry. “We always take a strategic view. Largely based on medium to long-term ambitions, never on one or two-year outcomes. We make a decision for the long term.”

Mr Loudon believes that given the nature of financial markets, levels of service will be key to attracting intermediaries and their clients. “In our DNA is” the highest levels of service, he says.

“[We have to] make sure that our standards of service are the highest. It’s not rocket science. It is amazing how many organisations forget that.”

Mr Childe concurs, saying that “clients want that distinction between advice on pensions and tax and investment because they want that [extra] level of comfort. We are in an age of volatility that won’t change any time soon.”

The backdrop to Quilter Cheviot’s expansion in the region is intense scrutiny of offshore financial centres following the recent Panama Papers leak.

The veil has been lifted on how the wealthy manage their money and their obsession with secrecy and anonymity.

The fallout has included protests in Iceland leading to the resignation of the prime minister, Sigmundur Davíð, investigations by Australian authorities into wealthy clients of Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca and damaging revelations about the personal finances of the British prime minister, David Cameron, that led to the unprecedented public disclosure of his and his colleagues’ tax returns.

There has also been renewed efforts by governments around the world, including in the UK’s, to force an increase in levels of transparency in low-tax jurisdictions. This shift looms over Quilter Cheviot and its ability to attract clients given that Jersey, its Channel Islands base, prides itself on being a world-leading offshore financial centre. The financial sector accounts for more than half of Jersey’s economy.

“If transparency is here for all, then so be it,” says Mr Loudon. “The bit that’s probably been a challenge is that while the veil has been lifted it hasn’t been properly explained.”

People will still look for tax planning opportunities, he says, but concedes that the greater level of transparency is probably here to stay. Mr Loudon says the company holds by “trust and reputation. We have worked hard to build those up.”

Mr Childe says investment flows have been pretty consistent amid the Panama Papers furore and believes that Jersey offers “a lot of comfort”.

He adds, “We can navigate through any backdrop as we have proven over the decades.”

malrawi@thenational.ae

Star shines ever brighter for Abu Dhabi’s Yahsat

If all goes to plan Masood Mahmood will be in French Guiana approximately a year from now for the launch of what he calls “one-third of our fleet”.

The chief executive of Yahsat will be in Latin America to watch the communications company’s third satellite Al Yah 3 blast off on a rocket and put into orbit.

“We are gearing up from now. It is a big deal for the company,” he says in an interview with The National at Yahsat’s compound in the deserts of Abu Dhabi.

“We are getting butterflies from now.”

Security checks at the gates of the company’s facilities are a reminder of its work with its anchor tenant, the UAE Armed Forces.

Its business is split between defence and commercial operations.

“One part of the business is providing secure satellite communications for the UAE Government,” he says.

From the outside the HQ is base-like. Massive satellites stand proudly in front of the building. Security is tight. Passes are given only for specific buildings and visitors are asked to sign documents agreeing to their good conduct while on campus.

Inside, however, it is as bright, airy and white-washed as any corporate offices in the technology sector. This is in many ways an analogy of Yahsat itself – it serves its government and defence clients while also tending to its commercial ambitions that include expanding consumer services.

By 2019, Mr Mahmood targets a balance between the two, without committing to a specific ratio.

“It’s cyclical. One is up, one is down. You have to have a balanced approach,” he says.

“We cannot forget and neglect that government business is a very important backer and enabler of innovation.”

Each part of the business is managed by separate teams, he says, listing Yahservice for government-related clients, Yahlive and YahClick for commercial.

“Sometimes it almost feels like separate structures,” he says.

A “close analogy” for the company, he says, can be found in the telecoms sector; operators have both enterprise and consumer customers with the associated difference in margins, scale and levels of service.

Success

The new satellite – Al Yah 3 – is purely for commercial purposes however and is expected to offer a step change for the business as it seeks out new markets and customers in Brazil and Africa.

“Al Yah 3 is a big extension of the vision of Yahsat. Today it takes a proven formula, a proven business and builds more on that success,” says Mr Mahmood.

Al Yah 3, which follows Y1 A and B in 2011 and 2012, respectively, is scheduled for service launch in early 2017. The addition to the fleet will extend the company’s YahClick satellite broadband services to a further 19 countries and 600 million users across Brazil and Africa as the company looks to meet rising demand for broadband internet access in emerging markets.

The new satellite will cover more than 95 per cent of Brazil’s population and 60 per cent of Africa’s population.

“This growth is inevitable,” says Mr Mahmood. “We are seeing that everything is moving to IP based services.”

He says that there is a “continuous and growing appetite for broadband and data consumption” as demonstrated by consumer behaviour.

People “are becoming more and more accustomed to a higher level of connectivity in terms of speed, bandwidth and the functionalities – basically everything is available everywhere”.

Outlook

This last point of availability everywhere is the key to the growth of the satellite business. Consumers, no matter how far they live from major city centres, now expect a minimum level of connectivity. However, infrastructure costs in smaller populated rural areas are prohibitive for most operators. Satellite can fill the gap in a more efficient way and “will be playing an important role to enable this in under-served communities”, says Mr Mahmood.

With emerging markets suffering of late amid lower oil prices, a slowing Chinese growth story and a tightening of monetary policy in the United States, investment commitments in all sectors will be under pressure. Brazil, in particular, is expected to have its worst 12 months in about 100 years in 2016.

“Today, recession or not, communication requirements are essential,” says Mr Mahmood. “By nature it is defensive. Of course, you will be impacted by the spending capabilities and it’s important for the satellite industry to have a long-term outlook.”

Typically a satellite is up in space for between 15 to 20 years depending on how well it is operated, he explains.

“You need to be thinking of an idea that will work six years down the road,” he says of a typical satellite timeline from planning to launch, adding that the company’s move into Brazil is based on long-term fundamentals.

The industry prefers to target a geography or a country or region that is handicapped when it comes to basic infrastructure, but with a growing middle class, a leadership with ambition and an abundance of natural resources.

Brazil is the “perfect sweet spot for us”, says Mr Mahmood.

There is a “hunger for connectivity beyond the major cities. There will always be demand” there, he says.

The long-term outlook is one of the unique aspects of the industry. It means that Yahsat is also at a relatively early stage of its life cycle.

“In human terms we are 25 years old, one third of the way. So far so good. We are in the prime of our youth,” says Mr Mahmood.

The company was started 10 years ago and began operations five years ago. Today it is a top 10 global service provider with coverage in more than 140 countries, operations on the ground directly and indirectly in 40 countries. TV services reach up to 25 million viewers and provide 200 channels including an exclusive bundle in North Africa.

It provides connectivity services to schools in Pakistan, healthcare providers and ATMs in Africa, the Afghan central bank, oil and gas companies including Enoc, and polling stations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. New clients include the Bahrain armed forces.

Yahsat is number seven in the world by revenues, which were US$280 million in 2014. It had 34,000 subscribers for its satellite broadband service YahClick at the end of 2014 compared with about 20,000 at the end of 2013.

“There continues to be good growth for the company [even though] it’s been a challenging year [for everyone] globally,” says Mr Mahmood, declining to provide figures for 2015 because its parent Mubadala is yet to report.

Yahsat has offices in Abu Dhabi, Cape Town and Rio De Janeiro and plans to add to its 240 employees this year.

“We will add headcount. To grow the team,” he says, to be able to meet its expected growth, without revealing any numbers.

Mr Mahmood says that while this has all been achieved during a five-year period that Yahsat’s story actually began long before then because the government had for some time already identified the strategic need for a secure and reliable ICT infrastructure.

“The country needed a sovereign secure communication capability to serve the Government and Armed Forces,” he says, “and had an ambition to have a global satellite operator coupled with that.”

The beginnings of a sea change in the satellite industry more than 10 years ago “opened a door” to Yahsat’s origins.

New technologies began to offer the possibility of innovation for the first time in an industry that was focused on providing capacity via a wholesale model and encumbered by the fact that any investments were usually very large in their size.

Longevity

“Space is typically an industry that you pay a premium for heritage designs and you put a discount on innovation,” says Mr Mahmood. “Why? The stakes are so high and you want to minimise risk.

“The result of this is the industry did not aggressively innovate to reduce costs, to find efficiencies, in terms of cost reduction of producing or launching a satellite. In terms of longevity of the fleet, it lives 15 years but why can’t it live 30 years after refurbishment?”

In the past decade attitudes have started to change, most recently demonstrated by the SpaceX and other projects’ efforts to successfully operate reusable rockets for space launches.

As barriers of entry were lowered, the Yahsat project began to take shape and the first ever customer was commercial, followed by an anchor customer – the UAE Armed Forces.

Its newcomer status allowed Yahsat to be more innovative and it was an early adopter of Ka-band technology, which offers faster and higher-quality services compared with the legacy Ku-band systems.

This commitment to innovation remains and Yahsat is already working on what many expect to be the big opportunity in the coming decade; in-flight connectivity.

Last year Yahsat and Etihad Airways successfully trialled Ka-band connectivity on an Airbus A320.

“In terms of the satellite mobility market the aviation segment was one of the few last year that saw growth. It is an untapped market,” says Mr Mahmood.

Breakthrough

“Consumers are getting used to a certain level of customer experience and more and more they are getting impatient to have that on board [planes]. It has a ripple effect,” he says.

The Etihad test is a “major breakthrough”, he says, that moves Yahsat a step closer towards providing in-flight services on a commercial basis. Partnering other entities in the UAE such as Etihad demonstrates Yahsat’s broader role in the development of the country, says Mr Mahmood.

“It is natural [the role we play]. The satellite sector is so new within the country. We will play a larger-than-life, a social role,” he says.

As part of its efforts to develop the industry and the talent needed to make it a success, Yahsat last September launched a Masters Degree programme with Masdar Institute for students offering real-life experience of working in the space sector.

“We are going for a grassroots approach. A sustainable model that will help us build capabilities,” says Mr Mahmood.

“A large part – almost 50 per cent – of the Masters programme is the lab experiment. Students will be designing, fabricating, testing and launching a cube satellite every three years.”

The initiative will take a “realistic long-term approach” over a 15-year horizon with three years per cube sat. “[So] five generations. Generation 1, let’s start realistic, source the hardware from outside, testing within the UAE and outside at [Al Yah 3 partner the US-based] Orbital Science and then launch it. Just hear a blip from it, [that is] success.”

This kind of work with cube satellites is demonstrative of the tectonic shift right now in the sector.

“You have cube sat teams opening up all over the industry. Within the UAE itself we have three teams if not four. Within the US in every university – energy levels are good,” he says.

There is a commercial mindset as well, he says, with the fourth-generation expected to add a commercial component to the cube sat backed by a contract from a UAE entity for some kind of application such as for the weather or oil and gas sector.

Yahsat is also a partner in The National’s Genes in Space contest inviting UAE school students to design experiments that will solve real-life space exploration problems through DNA analysis.

malrawi@thenational.ae

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The satellite industry is almost like a village, says Yahsat’s chief executive Masood Mahmood.

“A small industry [but] with big coverage, so cooperation is essential. It is a limited real estate that you are fighting for so if you don’t cooperate it will not be beneficial to anyone,” he says.

“Today we have a joint venture with SES, the third-largest operator in the world, on our TV service. Dubai TV and Abu Dhabi TV and other bouquet channels are beamed on our satellite.

“It is one of the few industries I have seen that really is a sort of win-win mentality because it is so small you can’t afford to get in an overly competitive situation.”

This is a key point as the company expands into new markets after its satellite Al Yah 3 is launched next year.

Once the new satellite is operational, Yahsat will offer satellite broadband services for the first time to Brazilian consumers and to a greater number of those in Africa, as well as enterprise markets, internet service providers and telecoms operators in both regions.

Yahsat must work with regulators and operators in each market as part of this growth strategy.

“From a universal access point of view usually the discussions are very positive with these regulators and governments,” says Mr Mahmood.

“In Brazil we were discussing with one of the government agencies who were extremely excited about what we were trying to do in terms of covering 95 per cent of the population. They were almost selling the idea from their side on how business friendly and proactive the regulator over there is in terms of making sure that people who come and help in meeting the universal access obligations that they have the right facilitation on the ground.”

Ultimately, the connectivity that satellite can provide helps a country to develop and entry is “much easier compared to other telecoms services”.

“It is a different conversation only because satellite is complimentary” for telecoms operators, says Mr Mahmood. “They have the core in the major populated areas … once they start going outside that the technology becomes extremely expensive and uneconomical to support the lower density areas of population.”

“This is where satellite is perfectly suited to come in and fill that gap.”

malrawi@thenational.ae

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Elon Musk’s Space X launches reusable rocket revolution

On December 21, Elon Musk’s Space X made its first successful landing of a reusable booster rocket during an orbital launch.

Mr Musk, the founder of the Tesla electric car company, called it a “revolutionary moment”.

Yahsat’s chief executive expects this milestone to represent a big step in efforts to bring down space related costs.

“A significant breakthrough is what happened …. This will help,” says Masood Mahmood.

“In conversations with them [Space X] they have told us their aim is to bring the cost of launch to a fraction of what it is today. I can say that the successful mission … is one step closer to that.”

“Today, for every launch the cost is on average, depending on size of the satellite, between US$70 million to $120m – every launch. You use it only once.

“In our discussions with Space X they used the analogy of flying a Boeing 777 to LA once and then discarding the plane and getting a new one. It doesn’t make any sense.

“So what they are saying is reusable launching capabilities should help bring efficiencies up and costs down such that it will not just be to the benefit of the satellite industry but space travel as well,” Mr Mahmood says.

“Definitely it will bring the costs down and push the industry towards innovation, so the industry is at the cusp.

“You have people like Greg Wyler leading a constellation called OneWeb. His objective is to bring the cost of manufacturing a satellite to a fraction of what it is today.

“He has devised a plan and he has involved the industry. He has signed up with Airbus, Hughes, a lot of backers to support his vision of making satellite connectivity so cheap that everyone can get it at ridiculously low prices. For that to happen he needs to invest in the innovation of production processes and the designs of these satellites.

“Now people are starting to pay attention to the satellite industry. Let’s shake it, let’s address the taboo questions that ‘oh, you cannot innovate to bring costs down to increase longevity’ and all that,” says Mr Mahmood.

“Really it is a different era for satellite and space – this is the most exciting it has been in this industry.”

malrawi@thenational.ae

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No hiding place for executives in Citi’s new open-plan headquarters

Amid a costly company restructuring that is expected to affect at least 2,000 jobs, senior executives at Citi will move into its renovated New York headquarters next month with a notable feature missing – doors.

The 39-floor tower in downtown Manhattan will be open-plan to save on costs, foster interaction among workers, boost energy levels and improve communication, The Wall Street Journal reported. Most employees will not even get their own desks, and will instead move around different workspaces, the paper said.

The financial group’s chief executive Michael Corbat will also not have a private space of his own. “You’re going to be forced to bump into people. I want people interacting around our business and ideas,” Mr Corbat told the newspaper.

A Fortune magazine story this year said that the main advantage of an open-plan office is that they are cheaper, but rather than foster collaboration, the environment is likely to make people more “irritable and aggressive”. Another feature of open-plan offices is that they can “handle rapid changes in personnel numbers”, Fortune said.

Citi had 239,000 employees as of September this year, Bloomberg reported, compared with 374,000 before the financial crisis when it began trimming headcount consistently, in line with the overall banking industry.

Citi will take a charge of about US$300 million in the fourth quarter to help “resize our infrastructure and our capacity to deal with the continuing low-revenue environment”, it said this month when confirming the latest round of job cuts. For the year, restructuring charges will total $458m, the lowest annual amount since 2010, according to Bloomberg.

According to The National’s Workplace Doctor columnist Alex Davda, a business psychologist and client director at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School, and based in the Middle East, open-plan offices can create the space for collaboration, communication and creativity.

“It sends some good messages across the organisation and to those new joiners; hierarchies and traditions are of secondary importance to working together to make positive change,” he said.

Mr Davda said: “Wall-less workspace also allows senior people to naturally spot talent, observe real-time behaviour and organically get a feel for their organisation.

“On the flip side, it means people can no longer hide behind their office doors and in meeting rooms.”

However, many people both old and young still find comfort in personalising both desk and office space and experience a sense of satisfaction in the routine and structure that it allows for, according to Mr Davda.

“With this in mind, especially among more introverted employees, I would suggest Citi continue to communicate and collaborate effectively when managing this change, and think seriously about ways employees can still make the space their own, even if it is just for one day at a time,” he said.

malrawi@thenational.ae

Had a bad financial year? Spare a thought for the billionaires

Spare a thought for Warren Buffett and Carlos Slim this Christmas as you unwrap your gifts and tuck into the turkey, because no matter how hard the past twelve months have hit your portfolio amid slumping oil prices, China’s Black Monday and rising interest rates, you cannot have lost as much money as they have.

The fortune of Mr Slim, the Mexican tycoon of Lebanese extraction, has tumbled by US$19.2 billion in the year to date as shares of his telecoms group America Movil head for their biggest losses since 2008 thanks to the turmoil in emerging markets, according to Bloomberg data. Mr Slim started the year as the world’s third-richest, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, but now languishes in fifth place, worth a paltry $53.5bn.

The investment guru Warren Buffett has also had his roughest year since the financial crisis. His wealth has been cut by $10.8bn year-to-date as shares of Berkshire Hathaway, Mr Buffett’s company, have fallen over 10 per cent in the same period. He also failed to outperform the S&P 500 index – a feat he managed in 2008 – which is more than 5 per cent higher this year. His remaining $63bn fortune should offer some respite this holiday season.

Just in case their loved ones may fear Mr Buffett and Mr Slim are in danger of getting the holiday blues, the Robb Report is on hand with some gift ideas to cheer them up. The lifestyle guide for the 1 per cent lists possible gifts in its December issue. Perhaps Mr Slim and Mr Buffett will be cheered by “a one-of-a-kind strand of rare golden South Sea pearls” worth $300,000 or a donation to Rhinos Without Borders and “fund the organisation’s capture, transport, and release of two rhinoceroses” for $250,000.

But whatever you do, don’t order them their presents from Amazon. Its founder Jeff Bezos now sits above Mr Slim and just below Mr Buffett on the billionaires index, with a $58.4bn fortune, his wealth having grown by a staggering $29.8bn year to date. The online retailer has been rewarded by investors this year thanks to rising profit, the growth of its cloud storage business and its foray into film and television production. The Amazon labels on the wrapping paper will just remind them of the success of their rival.

malrawi@thenational.ae

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