Last year I went to Qatar on three separate business trips representing Japanese companies as a small business started up in Qatar with the anticipation of selling Japanese manufactured fire extinguishers, hybrid freezers, Kobe beef from Japan, heavy equipment and scaffolding. Turned out to be an enormous project and when we were in Qatar, we were continuously sabotaged in our efforts by large Japanese corporations that had the manpower and the money available to work through powerful people in Qatar. All of this came out of my own pocket to fund a company, travel and lodging. One of the requirements is to have a citizen of Qatar as 51 percent ownership which we facilitated. The symbiotic relationship between Japan’s government and Japan’s corporations makes it difficult to distinguish between the two. The Japanese consulate in Doha, which was just down the street from the Hilton where I stayed, has a sophisticated network set up so that intelligence could be fed directly to corporations back in Japan to provide for whatever the country of Qatar was looking for especially related to the construction industry and natural gas production. Almost all of Japan’s LNG comes from Qatar so the Japanese as might be expected, are intensely concerned about Japan-Qatar relations.
Our efforts were spent locating medium sized companies in Japan to represent them in Qatar and with a lot of work prepared the way with several corporations. When negotiations were set up and everything seemed to be moving forward, we found out that the biggest corporations in Japan were contacting potential purchasers of the same equipment we were anticipating facilitating sales for in Qatar. I was astonished at the power of Japan’s corporations so there was really no way the little guy could participate in this trade. It was an excellent experience though going into sales meetings as a non-Japanese representative of the Japanese companies we were representing in Qatar. The people and managers of the companies in Qatar I met were surprised and a bit bewildered when I introduced myself. The scaffolding business in Qatar was worth millions because of all the construction going on and everywhere one looked on the horizon, sky cranes could be seen. We wanted to work with a small scaffolding company that had developed a patented scaffolding technique that could reduce construction time and costs.
Our business partner who we set the corporation up with in Qatar, lived in a hotel so it was possible to meet with him daily. On this first trip on my recommendation we were in Doha for ten days. The average daily temperature was hovering around 46C and made getting around almost unbearable. The stay at the Hilton was spectacular and my room on the 16th floor overlooked the Arabian Sea. Every morning we would meet with Sheik, our business partner, and go over our schedule for that day but nothing worked out like we anticipated. During our first ten day trip the impression was this important sheik was going to introduce us to his contacts in Qatar to facilitate trade. Much to my chagrin outside of meeting some people at the Development Bank of Qatar (DBQ), he didn’t introduce us to a single contact in Qatar.
Every morning we would sit in this cafe on the 23rd floor and prepare schedules for the day going over to an office that our company had rented in Doha’s City Center area. Walking over to the office was only about a ten minute walk, but walking in 46C temperatures, by the time you arrived at the office building we were drenched in sweat. Then, when you walked into the buildings it was like walking into a large refrigerator. Since electrical utilities are paid for by the state of Qatar, buildings were kept not cool but cold. This view is looking north towards Pearl City on the other side of the bay. This is what he view was like sitting by the window on the 16th floor of the Hilton looking out over the Arabian Sea. The food was astonishing for the variety and tastes including almost any type of cheese imaginable including freshly squeezed orange juice. Here in Tokyo that daily breakfast which I savored every morsel, would cost a small fortune. And the coffee was like no coffee tasted by me before this served at the Hilton.
The last trip to Qatar I went alone because I didn’t trust my Japanese business partner. He violated so many personal rules of getting along especially not disclosing to me what I needed to know to help me get into companies in Qatar, and his alleged “important contact” in Qatar. Without having a Qatar citizen inside the country to make necessary introductions, it is extremely difficult to develop a network. My experience is that when it comes to business, Japanese are always secretive and don’t like transparency even with partners. After arriving at the New Doha International Airport off a 15 hour flight, I immediately checked in after a 20 minute taxi ride to the hotel, showered, and then jumped in a waiting taxi outside the hotel for a meeting with the owners of one of the biggest trading companies in Qatar.
I was simply astonished how easy it was to walk into any company in Qatar and ask to see the president, or even any one of significance in companies in Qatar. During one week of making cold calls in Doha, I was never asked to come back or treated coldly. Every company I went into I was greeted with the most unbelievable hospitality including a cold call on the oldest and largest trading company in Qatar. The biggest disappointment was our alleged “business partner” in Qatar, and my Japanese business partner, neither were competent or knew much about what they gave the impression they could perform.