The trials and tribulations of expatriate start-ups in Qatar

by  — 28 March 2013

The EDGE spoke with Kirby Kearns, managing director of Resolution Productions about the opportunities and challenges of starting a business in Qatar as an expatriate.

Kirby Kearns, managing director of Resolution Productions
How did Resolution Productions get started?

Setting up Resolution Productions in 2007 was a fairly daunting proposition. It was my first attempt at a business startup and I was a stranger in a strange land. I had come to Qatar to produce a variety of films for the 2006 Doha Asian Games. Prior to this, I had spent the previous decade working as a director of photography in inhospitable environments like Afghanistan, Kosovo and Iraq. However, starting my first business was probably one of the biggest personal challenges I have ever faced. 

What made you decide to start a business in Qatar?

I loved the optimism and ambition of Qatar as well as the opportunities that were ever present here. The business idea was simple. I would use my twenty years of television production experience to build a Doha-based film and digital production house with an emphasis on producing highly creative and effective films that could get measurable results for our clients. But that was a long way off and before I got to that stage, there was much work to be done.

So what were some of the challenges you faced setting up the business?

I first needed to find a local partner, register a company name, find and move into an office, seek a labour quota from the Ministry of Labour, getting a municipality license…the list goes on.

Navigating the bureaucracy was made simpler by my decision to go with a management company to sponsor the business and myself. There are several of these companies in Qatar who assist in the legal formation of companies and they make the process as simple and efficient as possible, albeit more costly. After signing up with the management company and depositing the funds required to form a business into the bank, Resolution Productions was born in January of 2007.

“Getting paid in a timely fashion can be an issue. This is often discussed, particularly within the expat business community and forums.”

It has been five years since you started out, what has kept you going?

I have always believed that if something is worth doing, it is worth doing to the best of your abilities, and this continues to be the mantra at Resolution. From the first day, we strove to produce quality over quantity and have hired the most experienced talent and best creative thinkers we can find. I am very proud of the people who work at Resolution and the body of work we have produced over the years.

Thankfully, many of the clients we worked with during the early days are still clients today. These include the likes of Maersk Oil Qatar, Qatargas, RasGas, the Supreme Education Council, The Qatar Foundation and Qatar Petroleum. So we have been extremely fortunate and indeed grateful that we have ended up working with these blue-chip brands.

What do you see in the future for Resolution Productions?

From a developmental perspective, I would now like to take the company into new markets in the Middle East, which I have no doubt will lead to additional challenges. I would like to present Resolution Productions as a Qatar brand on the international stage. The Qatar market is still and will always be hugely important to us, but for the company to grow meaningfully, I think we need to develop our export capacity. The Middle East offers so many opportunities for Qatari companies like Resolution, and we have been actively looking for new markets both near and off shore.

Being an expatriate, how do you identify with owning a Qatari company?

Even though I am Irish, it makes me very proud to see Qatar playing an active role regionally and globally. It also makes me proud to see Qatari companies grow and expand into new markets. Qatar has a lot going for itself at the moment, and people all over the world are now hearing the extraordinary Qatari growth story for themselves. 

Over the past few years, the country has made big strides in developing sectors like financial services, tourism, education and health, and the government must take credit for this strategy. Like many other countries around the world, Qatar is striving to develop a strong, broadly based and knowledge-led services sector, and I firmly believe Qatari companies like Resolution have a role to play in achieving this.

I believe that Resolution is a perfect example of a Qatari company that can excel globally. It also debunks some of the myths that you can only get good quality film production work by going to an international production house. I think that this was probably once true, but the country has moved on significantly since those early days. It is my mission to change this perception and to prove that ‘Made in Qatar’ can stand for excellence.

“The Middle East offers so many opportunities for Qatari companies, and we have been actively looking for new markets both near and off shore.”

Your company has recently won some awards, could you tell us about that?

To date, Resolution has won 11 major international awards, including at last years Cannes Corporate Festival. More recently, Resolution has made it to final stage in two separate categories at the 2013 New York Film and Television Awards. These awards, billed as the worlds best film and television are essentially the Golden Globes of our industry and extremely hard to win. So this is clear proof that Qatari companies can deliver high quality and are capable of mixing it with the best on the international stage. This recognition is of course great for Resolution but also for the country, our clients and the industry here at large.

Many expatriates find it challenging to do business here, how do you respond to, or tackle these issues?

Of course doing business in Qatar is like doing business anywhere, and there will always be challenges and obstacles in your way, but we Irish like a good challenge. Qatar, however, has some unique challenges, none of which are insurmountable. 

Getting paid in a timely fashion can be an issue. This is often discussed, particularly within the expat business community and forums like the Entrepreneurs Organisation (EO), of which I am a board member.

Cash is the lifeblood of every company around the world but when companies, for whatever reasons, fail to pay suppliers on time, it can cause cash-flow problems for some firms. It then has a knock-on effect in other companies down the line. That is not good for the economy and it is not good for Qatar’s growing international reputation, particularly at a time when there is a considerable amount of overseas investment in the pipeline in the run up to the World Cup in 2022. If it continues to be an issue, it may also act as a deterrent for aspiring Qatari entrepreneurs who wish to develop their own business.  

Paying on time keeps cash in circulation, keeps people in jobs and helps businesses expand as well as meet their day-to-day obligations.  I do not know what the solution is, but other countries have legislation covering late payments, so maybe something similar could be introduced here. It would certainly be welcomed with open arms by the business community.

As a Qatari business and Qatari brand, are you looking to the next generation of locals to be involved in these kinds of ventures?

Film and video production can be an exciting, rewarding industry. In an ideal world, Resolution would like to be able to hire more young Qatari nationals, train them up and then get them working in the business. The reality however, is that their salary expectations are too high and are completely out of sync with the industry norms. Recently, the government gave all Qatari nationals working in government departments a 60 percent pay hike.  Unfortunately most businesses in Qatar cannot compete with this so it makes it very difficult for private sector firms like Resolution to hire young Qataris while at the same time remaining competitive – particularly when we are competing for work with companies from across the Middle East. A solution to this problem might be to subsidise companies or Qatari employees for a period of time. If Qatari companies can be competitive on the international stage, then it can only be a good thing for the economy.

Overall, I think Qatar is a great place to do business and the country has been good to me by giving me opportunities that perhaps I would not have had elsewhere. There is not a country in the world where the day-to-day business environment is not challenging, and the difficulties I face here are minor to what I would be facing back in my home country. I am very proud of what Resolution has achieved so far and am looking forward to many more years of business and creative success.

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