2 August 2007

For the Love of Foreigners

Why is it that a lot of our companies in Bahrain seem to love hiring foreigners as senior staff? Managers? Chief Exectutives? Hire them over Bahrainis when there is no real added-value to hiring a foreigner? Hiring certain nationalities is considered a benefit in Bahrain (especially Americans, British, Australian etc), when in reality they might not be anymore ideal for the job than a Bahraini person?

This post might hit a note with some people; I'm not trying to be racist at all with this, so don't get me wrong, but it seems there is some sort of twisted mentality at work here.

It's always good to bring in outside experience; people who have been exposed to different or bigger markets, more advanced situations, and the sort of work-experience that doesn't exist and probably cannot be found internally within the country. I mean, we're a developing country after all; we have fast-growing banking, insurance and investment sectors, we have developing businesses and growing factories, among other companies/sectors. We NEED experience from the outside world to help us develop, to teach us what we don't know. We need experienced people.

But that doesn't mean that you should favor a foreign worker over a local one, for no reason besides them being foreign.

We have many locals who are both hard workers, smart, as well as pretty well equipped to handle senior positions, holding a truck load of experience to boot (sure, we have some lazy incompetent people as well, but that's in every society). Why are some companies hiring foreigners who are comparativley less qualified to do the job? People who actually screw things up rather than improve the situation?

I'm not aiming this at all foreigners here; we have a lot of people who have benefited us tremendously. I've personally benefited quite a bit from a previous foreign manager. However, just because a person is foreign; British, Canadian, etc, does not mean they will excel at their job, and is no basis to hire a person on.

This mentality seems to have followed from the days of the "white-master", when Bahrain was actually a under British rule. Somehow, it seems wrong to think of a Britsh (or even America, Australian, Canadian, etc) person in Bahrain working a low to medium-size job. Nope. Has to be a managing or senior position. Living here you get so brainwashed, that when I went to the US and an "American" person served me at a restaurant it didn't click for a second. Anyhow..

A bank I used to work at has started ditching its "almost completely" Bahraini staffed policies, and resorted to hire more and more foreigners. No harm in that; we could bring in some pretty knowledgable people to share their experience and benefit the institution as a whole. Let us bring people from booming financial centers; Singapore, London, New York? They must definately have gained a lot of experience through working at a global financial center; exactly what we need in Bahrain.

But no. For one of their senior positions, they decided to hire a South African. I have no problem whatsoever with bringing someone in from a specific country; however, this person seems to lack the correct understanding of the society in Bahrain to be able to do his job well (ie, the kind of job where you need to know the Bahraini people, and deal with them directly). Customers expect to meet him, chit-chat a little, maybe talk about families, people they know, who know people they know (you know how small Bahrain is). Him on the other hand, does business only. So far he has been in the post a little under a year and I haven't heard anything besides complaints from all the staff I know, and some of my old customers as well. Also, S. Africa is unfortunately fully of crime and corruption, and is hardly considered a financial center. Is he really going to bring much to the bank? I'm not really so sure.

Another person they hired for a full analysis of the banks situation was an Argentian. Again, Argentina; beautiful country. But with a very shaky financial system and a problem-ridden economy, how much can he really add to the bank? He did an analysis and from what I heard, the bank weren't too happy with it, but still, this person was given housing benefits, a totally over-exagerrated salary, every other type of benefit you can think of (utilities allowances, gym memberships, vehicle, golf club membership!), and in reality, the job could have probably better been done by a group of employees who have been in the bank 10 or 15 years, and know all that goes on internally.

Another issue that can be brought to attention here is the situation with Gulf Air last week; the Chief Executive decided to suddenly quit and leave, after just 4 months of being hired. Obviously he didn't like what he saw, and at the same time he probably has no attachment to Gulf Air in any way. If it was a Bahraini, or at the very least someone who lived in the region, he might feel more of a responsibility towards the airline; you don't just get up, leave, and put the airline on a hot toilet seat like that. Well, that's my opinion anyway..

This isn't a call for a full Bahrainization of all employees. Not at all. We need foreigners, we need outside experience. I'm calling for companies to at least look into how qualified these people are (and how effective they would be without being familiar with the environment) before hiring them over Bahraini people; just because they're foreign doesn't mean they're better!


bint battuta said...

I'm a foreigner in Bahrain, but I agree with what you've said. I've come across foreigners ("Westerners") here who for no obvious reason are elevated to positions of authority. You're right that it's a person's skills and experience that should count, not the colour of their skin or the kind of passport they have.

Anonymous said...

I must aplogise, but as long as there will be cheap bahrainis pimping for the King, you will have white masters and bahrainis will be considered cheap.

No further comment!

Anonymous said...

Focusing on the financial services sector that you so correctly identified as the cornerstone of future growth and economic development in Bahrain - I cannot believe for one minute that any finance professional in London or NY would want to be in Bahrain.

If you make the cut in those financial capitals, if you prove yourself and deliver then the reward is too great for you to leave behind.

Consider this: a first year graduate from university working for any of Wall Street's or City of London's investment banks as a junior analyst will make in excess of US$150,000 in salary and bonus.
A mid-level investment banker with 6-10 years experience will make in excess of US$750,000 - this is if he was ranked in the lower tier of his peer group!!

Those who do come to Bahrain, can't make the cut and would never make it through the aggressively filtered screening process that those institutions in London and NY use to hire people.

Lets go one step even closer, what we get in Bahrain are those who dont go to Dubai! Do not forget that the Morgan Stanleys and Goldman Sachs of this world are based there and NOT here. Top tier foreign talent will always choose Dubai as a #1 destination.

Sure there are some who come to Bahrain on the basis of merit and unequivocal advancement in their field. However, I believe the majority are the left-overs that have not been absorbed by the more lucrative markets.

The reality is that institutions are hiring foreigners not necessarily because their qualifications are of paramount importance, not even because of the "white master" mentality that you raise, but SIMPLY because they do not want to hire Bahrainis. Bahrainis come with baggage, too much baggage - or at least thats their perspective.

Ammar456 said...

anon 2; sure, we're probably stuck with some of the leftovers. But do they still have to hire them if they're really not much good?

And by the way, I have seen RIDICULOUS salaries and benefits being paid to these people, and all tax free, so they would naturally exceed benefits being paid back home. Still.. You're right about some companies not wanting to hire Bahraini people. *sigh*...

June said...

Anon 2 I completely agree. If you don't cut it over there, you try to make do elsewhere.

Yacoub said...

Let's not forget that a growing number of Bahrainis are gaining their degrees from foreign universities like the UK and USA, so we kinda have the 'outside knowledge' locally and to add insult to injury a lot of Bahrainis do well at university and even excel over their colleagues and they return to Bahrain and accept any cheap ass job whom they're way overqualified for.

ديرتنا عذاري تسقي البعيد و تخلي الجريب و البحريني دايما ملعون اخته