Dubai Media City
At that time, before the establishment of the ‘free zones’ in Dubai, in order to set up a company you needed to have a local 51% partner / sponsor. With the free zones came the opportunity for 100 % business ownership. Traditionally, it was common practice for investors to make arrangements with their local partners , so that in return for fees or profit shares , the company could be managed without the local partner having any direct day to day involvement. However, it was nevertheless fact that were any disputes or problems to arise, then the 51% partner would,of course, have control of the company and therefore the situation. It was a bitter sweet environment in many ways. Smart operators who knew how to navigate those delicate waters became hugely successful in the early days of the Dubai story. For my part, I was still green in this delicate field, and inexperienced in the machinations of investor / sponsor deals . As a result and before too long, I found myself locked in a situation over which I had no control and placed in the line of fire of a dispute in which I had no part. I was being pulled in different directions, eventually losing my bearings and – in order to maintain my sanity and disentangle myself from the Shakespearean turmoil that was going on around me,I made the only realistic decision I could -walk away from everyone and everything involved , the warring parties, the company I had created , the toxic environment. It was a hammerhead learning curve. I was furious at being in this unfair situation at such an early stage of my Dubai career, however the experience would be immensely educational in the long term. Feeling swamped by all the drama, I remember sitting down one evening on my balcony and writing my feelings down. All the frustration and anger and importantly, my appraisal of the situation . It was a wonderful catharsis. By chance, I stumbled on that piece of paper with my jottings just recently and re-reading my words, I was reminded of how deeply my spirit had sunk. In fact, at the time , I could see no tangible reasons to remain In Dubai . My dream of the company I had conceived was shattered ,and along with it my bank balance and my enthusiasm. Fortunately I was still receiving royalties from work I had created outside the Middle East, otherwise I would have been seriously compromised , not a happy situation anywhere, least of all in my newly adopted country of residence.
I believe I have always had a fighting spirit. How important that would be during those really down times was clear. Initially I might stumble and perhaps crash to some extent but then I will always emerge again after the event, after a little time, stronger and more determined. That part of my DNA is a blessing and it would be needed again many times over the coming years.
But three life changing events occurred just at the moment when they were most needed and I can’t help marveling at the magic of life ‘s spontaneous and paradoxical equations, how bad + bad can equal good. I was on the imminent verge of leaving Dubai when I wandered into a coffee shop and met the person who was to become my life and business partner. It is extraordinary to reflect on the dexterity of critical events, not relevant to this story but nevertheless, like the sudden appearance of a rainbow in the sky, this meeting came absolutely on cue and cut through the dark storm I was in . Simultaneously, and like a magic trick, Dubai announced the launch of Dubai Media City, a free zone for people like me, where, if I decided to remain in the Emirates, I would have the freedom to operate as a 100% owner of a future business. And thirdly , like a tsunami wave, Tim Smythe, friend from my London days, film producer and visionary stormed into Dubai with a mission to reinvent the media landscape.
It would have been impossible to resist those three seductive possibilities . Fate, like a magic carpet, had intervened to offer another ride. It had determined I was to stay in Dubai, and come hell or high water that I would begin again with a smart and committed woman as partner, and together we were going to build an international business in our field; and we were going to do it on our terms, with nothing other than commitment, love, passion and integrity.