July 2015 | Christabelle Noronha

An enriching relationship

Sunil Sinha, resident director, Middle East region, Tata Sons, explains why the MENA geography holds special significance for the Tata group

Watch Sunil Sinha speak about what the MENA geography means to Tata and the Tata companies operating there
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is a critical market for the Tata group, which began expanding its operations there nearly 25 years ago. Over 15 Tata enterprises have a substantial presence in the region and they operate in a variety of industry sectors, including automobiles, information technology, communications, infrastructure, steel, power, shipping, retail and hospitality. Robust foundations have, over the decades, enriched the relationship between the group and the countries of the geography.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of the MENA region to the Tata group and its constituents. This is the fourth-largest market for Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) in the world; Voltas has had a dominant position here for close to three decades; and Tata Motors, Tata Steel, Tata Communications, Indian Hotels, Tata Global Beverages and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) have plenty of business interests in the region.

What enhances the allure of the MENA region is that it is one of the few places in the world where economic growth is a continuing reality. Forthcoming big events like the Fifa Football World Cup, to be held in 2022 in Qatar, and the Dubai World Expo 2020 are certain to further improve economic prospects and outcomes, and provide more opportunities for Tata companies to participate in and benefit from the region’s progress.

Tata companies involved in infrastructure and allied businesses are particularly likely to view the years ahead as full of promise, but there are good tidings to come for a slew of others too. JLR may consider manufacturing in the region, and Tata Motors, its parent company, will find more than one country here an attractive destination for the assembly or manufacture of vehicles. It’s not just about manufacturing, though, as TCS’s game-changing all-women business process outsourcing operation in Saudi Arabia is proving.

There are about 30 countries in the geography, which is — by way of topography, history and culture — extremely diverse. This diversity is so vast that the region can be segmented in many different ways. In this mix, two of the defining characteristics of MENA countries stand out: oil resources and the size of native populations.

There are problems to be dealt with, for sure, if businesses are to find solid ground in the region. There is a shortage of talent, which results in rampant poaching, and the drive to localise the workforce, while well-intended and necessary, has worsened the situation. Then there is the rising cost of operating in cities such as Dubai, ever-increasing competition, and the falling price of oil, which could affect governmental policy on spending.

The scale of, and future potential for, business in the MENA region remains immense despite large swathes of land being blighted by conflict and violence. Political change, sparked by events such as the Arab Spring, has brought with it hope and despair in almost equal measure. Change and upheaval of this nature have delivered multiple challenges, slowed economic growth and worsened human development imbalances. Many countries have sidestepped these difficulties thanks to political stability and the riches of natural resources, but problems like unemployment and undiversified economies are a threat to the region.

The positives, however, far outweigh the negatives and that is one reason why Tata Sons, the holding and promoter company of the Tata group, established a representative office for the MENA region in Dubai in July 2014. The objective of this office is to further strengthen the Tata engagement with all stakeholders in the region and to facilitate business growth for Tata companies, especially in the focus sectors that are crucial to development here and to the strategic interests of the group.

The key goals of the Tata Sons representative office are:

  • Supporting and expanding existing businesses and identifying opportunities for new businesses through various public affairs activities, stakeholder mapping and outreach, and messaging and communications.
  • Creating greater synergy among Tata companies and playing the role of enabler, from the group perspective, in further cementing the Tata presence in the region.
  • Developing a better understating of the MENA geography and the countries here in terms of economics, politics and culture.

There are a bunch of other considerations that the office has to immerse itself in, among them helping manage customers and consumers, and handling media and brand responsibilities. In this context, the newly formed Tata Network Forum for the MENA region will play a crucial role in developing internal synergy, in learning and sharing, and in bringing to the fore the ‘Tata way’ of doing business.

I took charge as resident director, Tata Sons, for the MENA region in July 2014 and it has been an exciting journey since, one of understanding the region, its history and culture, and its ways of doing business. I was apprehensive that the Tata name would not be familiar in this region but, to my surprise, everywhere I went the brand was known and respected. That said, there is more to be done before the Tata group becomes truly well-known in the MENA countries.

Tata enterprises present here have unique strengths, unique stakeholder relationships and unique experiences. There is a huge opportunity in combining these singularities to craft a much stronger and more widespread Tata group.

This article is a part of the special report on the Tata group's operations in the Middle East and North Africa region in the July 2015 issue of Tata Review:
Tata Consultancy Services: 'Increase in investments bodes well for us'
Read all the articles, and more, in Tata Review
Jaguar Land Rover: 'We are the envy of our competitors'
International Shipping and Logistics: Being asset light has worked in our favour'
Tata Consultancy Services: A business of gender
Voltas: 'Our primary asset is our intellectual capital'
Tata Communications: 'We have a broad reach'
Tata Steel: 'The Gulf region is a key regional market for us'
Taj Dubai: Arabian retreat
Tata Motors: 'This region holds immense promise'
Tata Global Beverages: 'We are targeting aggressive growth'
Titan Company: A time for success