- IMD Business School
Strategy - Team Dynamics

IMD MBAs explore enterprises' growth strategies in Dubai


As part of their MBA experience, participants worked together to offer actionable insights to Dubai-based companies on an educational Discovery Expedition that gave hands-on experience to future leaders – and an opportunity to understand the challenges and opportunities businesses face in the region.

Dubai is one of the world’s most dynamic cities and has set ambitious growth plans for the next decade. It is already the Middle East’s top destination for foreign investment and is working towards becoming one of the world’s most innovative cities, making it a magnet for a vast range of businesses.

The emirate’s development and prosperity can be seen as a direct outcome of a broad range of economic, institutional, political, and cultural factors, and actors functioning in harmony, setting an example for public-private collaboration internationally and providing an inspiring and unique destination for IMD’s MBAs.

During one intense week in June 2022, 48 participants from IMD’s top-ranked one-year MBA programme travelled to Dubai to work on experiential business-focused assignments led by Dr Hischam El-Agamy. The aim was to give MBAs a crash course in business and growth models in Dubai, and to analyse how these models could evolve, or perhaps even be improved, in the next few years.

El-Agamy, who is also Executive Director at IMD, said, “Our MBAs come from all over the world and from all kinds of personal and professional backgrounds. This means they were able to offer a fresh and unfiltered take on each business, challenging how their clients thought about strategy, and inspiring new ideas.”

The Swiss-based IMD MBA programme focuses on developing responsible leaders who can transform organisations and drive a positive impact and contribution to society. At the heart of the programme is a strong vein of experiential learning to prepare future leaders for the rigours of the global business environment.

For the task at hand, the MBA candidates – representing some 33 nationalities – were divided into 12 teams and assigned to work with businesses of various sizes and sectors including multinationals, SMEs, and startups.

In Dubai, each team applied specific corporate assessment frameworks to analyse the strategy and business model of each company before presenting their ideas and findings to management and sharing their learnings with the rest of the MBA expedition.

Focusing on the air-transport industry, some teams were hosted by Emirates Airlines, the largest airline in the Middle East, and Dnata, a leading global air and travel services provider. Peter Mclean, Head of Corporate Strategy and Performance at Dnata Emirates Group, gave “big kudos” to participants, adding, “It was a real pleasure to get such varied global perspectives and some fantastic new ideas for our business.”

Shahab Al Awadhi, Head of Marhaba Global at Dnata, Emirates Group also praised participants. He said, “Students were extremely passionate about discussing and designing the future of Marhaba within the airport hospitality space. A job well done to these students and leaders of the future.”

Covering the energy and food sectors, other MBA teams worked with ENOC, a diversified global Dubai-owned energy group, and IFFCO, an international Dubai-based group in the food sector that operates in 40 countries. Ola Fayed, General Manager Marketing, IFFCO Group, said, “It was impressive how the team was able to capture the essence of our business and present actionable plans in a short duration of time, which we are currently integrating into our future strategies.”

To explore perspectives in the innovative and energetic space beyond the multinational giants in Dubai, the teams also connected and worked with six small and medium-sized enterprises and startups during the expedition, thanks to the involvement of Dubai SME, a government agency that supports small businesses in the emirate. 

Operating in various sectors, these firms were deliberately selected at different phases of their growth journey to provide a broad spectrum of experiences and challenges for the MBAs. In return, participants delivered significant value to their clients by offering an independent and diverse set of viewpoints and ideas.

Abdul Baset Al Janahi, CEO of Dubai SME and Board Chairman of Dubai Cultiv8, said it was a privilege to provide a platform for inspirational learning for the business leaders of tomorrow as they sought to drive positive change. “I look forward to witnessing the evolution of their journey – and to learning from their findings so that we may all empower and uplift the region and the world at large,” he said.

Al Janahi recalled the IMD team’s interaction with Dubai Cultiv8, which is the investment fund initiated and owned by the Mohammed Bin Rashid Fund, the financial arm of Dubai SME. “I believe the IMD MBAs came at the right time while we were restructuring Codengine and developing a growth strategy as our next phase objective,” he said. “The IMD students gave a ‘third party’ opinion to enhance and align the roadmap the task team has developed, which was much appreciated.”

One of the smaller companies taking part in the expedition was Beehive, MENA’s first online marketplace for peer-to-peer debt financing powered by in-house credit. Peter Tavener, Group CFO and COO, said, “Overall, the exercise was beneficial. We asked the IMD MBA team to look at and assess the new initiative we were planning to launch. The team of four students came from diverse backgrounds, which I thought was helpful as they did not come with predefined ideas.”

Another participating firm was Crowe, an auditing, accounting, market research and feasibility studies consultancy. “It was a pleasure hosting the IMD MBAs at Crowe and interacting with each of them,” said Crowe’s International Liaison Partner Zayd Maniar. “Their presentation demonstrated how well they captured the information gathered from us, and their speech showed how well they understood, though they all come from different industries. They left us with some good food for thought.”

UDrive, which offers technology-enabled self-drive-minute-based car rentals, was also part of the MBA’s innovative learning experience. CEO Nicolas Watson said, “When Udrive was approached by IMD we were excited to learn more and see how their MBA students could bring value. Throughout the whole process, IMD was thorough, the students professional, and they provided a useful business presentation that brought unique approaches and insights.”

Other companies benefitting from the MBA teams’ insights was Codengine, owned by Dubai Cultivate8, which offers a unique bilingual case management software system for the legal industry, Acacus, an AI-based high-performance technology platform for fleet optimisation and monitoring, and tech fashion startup, The Modist.