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From dusty timber yards to the residence of the Princess of Madagascar – almost an ordinary day in our Arab markets

​Business development for the Middle East & North Africa is fun. I get face time with customers and dig into macroeconomic data. Sometimes I make sense out of my observations, and sometimes I am still astonished how different people, countries and customs are.
I was challenged to tell about a day at work.  Here you go, read and see what challenged me last week in Algeria. 

It is Sunday and when the alarm rings at 5.00 am I do unfortunately painfully realize what it means to visit customers in the biggest African country. Distances are huge and our day starts well before the muezzin calls for the first Morning Prayer. On our way to our customer I wonder still if the owner of the car I saw at the airport the previous day paid his fine and if he managed to get his car out of a very thorough locking system.
It seems that breaching parking rules in Algeria is managed differently than what I am used from Europe.
The customer briefing takes place in our 4x4 Chevrolet. In the days to come we will spend uncountable hours in this car. It is the perfect meeting room where it is difficult to check mails, take phone calls - network coverage is very poor in Algeria – and where all participants need to focus on each other. Great discussions about business and life in general evolve here. 


At 10.00 am we reach our first customer; an Algerian timber importer. As usual in the Middle East and North Africa business is run by families, often for generations. 

Health and safety– as parking wrongly - is handled differently in Algeria. The missing stair-rail to our customer's office proves this matter, too. 

Again I am thinking that worlds are apart from my visit to Unilever Headquarter in Switzerland in April where I was reminded by my host to hold the stair-rail when walking up (not even down…) to the meeting room.

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Anyhow, Algeria is not Switzerland. At least I could not imagine finding myself for example in Zurich in a situation where I am standing in front of a whole lamb in our customer's kitchen. The lamb was delicious, eating it only with fingers somehow unconventional and I wonder if I am now in a situation that in power point slides is called "customer intimacy".
In the afternoon a meeting with the Finnish Ambassador is scheduled. We converse about politics in Algeria and the surroundings countries. We touch trade issues as much as growth prospects and enjoy a cup of Finnish coffee in a marvelous surrounding. The nowadays Finnish Embassy in Algiers used to be the exile residence of the former Princess of Madagascar.

Later in the evening we finally arrive to the hotel. I ask myself with which kind of experiences I'll be still confronted for the remaining travelling week and I wonder, too, if there is a connection between the lamb, the car holder and the former Princess of Madagascar.  Business Development is indeed a complex issue ;-)