Interview with Daniel Abela

View over the famous highway in Dubai

Interview with Daniel Abela, Global Deputy General Counsel, International SOS’ Medical Services Business Line, Dubai – part three of our series of interviews on living and working in the Middle East!

Daniel Abela is the global Deputy General Counsel for International SOS’ Medical Services Business Line and he is based in their Dubal regional headquarters.

Qualified in the UK, Daniel has been based in the UAE since 2010.  In this interview he shares his thoughts on living and working in the most exciting city in the Gulf.    

What attracted you to Dubai and when did you first move there? 

My move to Dubai was more by accident than design to be honest. I was looking at job vacancies in London when one particular recruiter pitched to me a potential opportunity to head up the corporate / commercial practice of a small boutique law firm based here in the DIFC.

The nature and scope of the opportunity really appealed to me, so I went away and did my homework on Dubai and the Middle East, generally. From my research, I discovered that salaries were higher and tax-free. When I considered this in parallel with the generally more affluent and diverse environment and the fact that business is typically conducted under English [common] law, it became a bit of a no-brainer really.

So, I moved to Dubai in March 2010 … and the rest is history as they say!

Can you describe a typical day for you in Dubai?

I can genuinely say that no two days are the same for me. Given the nature of what we [International SOS] do, I frequently need to respond to matters urgently and put out fires in addition to the everyday ‘business as usual’ workload, e.g. commercial contracts, tenders, data privacy, employment, strategic projects.

Below is an example of what a typical day can look like:

  • 9am-10am: Check my emails, prioritise my tasks for the day and respond to any quick email queries that have come in overnight
  • 10am-10.30am: Speak to my legal team members to discuss workload and priorities for the day.
  • 10:30am-1pm: Review a large tender customer contract and prepare an exceptions list for submission. This time will typically include communications with our medical, sales and operations people to clarify some questions before I send back the exceptions list.
  • 1pm-1:30pm: Lunch.
  • 1.30pm-2.30pm: Conference call with the finance team to map out the governance and action plan for a new finance driven project.
  • 2.30pm-3.30pm: Deal with an urgent request about a medic deployment issue for one of our Middle East based customers. I put aside the software license agreement I had planned to review at this time, to discuss with and advise my medical and operations colleagues on next steps.
  • 3.30pm-4.30pm: Review the software license agreement that I had put aside previously and that has been on my ‘to do’ list for the last few days.
  • 4.30pm-5pm: I do a check of my email to see what has come in and respond to any quick queries. I diarise any others that will require more detailed input or action in my calendar.
  • 5pm-6pm: I attend another conference call with my US and HR colleagues to explore the potential for setting up in a new Middle East jurisdiction, driven by potential customer demand.
  • 6pm-6.30pm: I send emails to the sales team members who sent me work during the day to acknowledge I have received them and that I will get back to them shortly.
  • 6.30pm: I do my utmost to leave the office by no later than 6.30pm so that I can make sure that I am home to put my young sons to bed (even if that means I have to deal with some urgent calls or emails later in the evening).

How does working in Dubai differ from working in your home country? 

Initially, and being from the UK, the Friday/Saturday weekend thing took a bit of getting used to … as did the heat!

One of the differences that I absolutely love is the numerous opportunities I have had to work with a multitude of people from different backgrounds and cultures. By way of example, and in terms of my current company, we have approximately 220 staff in our [International SOS] Dubai office, compromised of 41 different nationalities  – we are truly diverse and multicultural!

 Why do you like living in Dubai?

Dubai has world class attractions, entertainment and leisure facilities and a superb infrastructure making it a truly great place to live.  I also find it a great place to live in terms of a travel hub, with its geographic location being a gateway between the east and the west. Most importantly, however, it offers a safe and fun environment for my children to grow up and live in.

Where is your favourite place in Dubai and why?  

The Farm Restaurant in Al Barari, it is my bolthole when I need some peace and tranquillity!

 What is your favourite activity in Dubai?  

With the heat starting to subside, it is all about weekend desert camping. There are some great camping locations that are driving distance from Dubai.

Have you found anything challenging in living in Dubai and how have you overcome that challenge? 

Business meetings can be very different in this part of the world and, initially, you may find that a little frustrating. There are ‘cultural differences’ that you need to be mindful of. For instance, the start of a business meeting here is very much a social part, and can take much longer than it would in, say, the UK where typically it is down to business almost immediately. That said, you do get used to this and you factor this into your scheduling. On the plus side, I now enjoy this first part of a meeting as I really get to know and understand the person I am dealing with.

Moving to Dubai can be a bit of a bureaucratic headache at times due to the amount of paperwork, licenses and permits needed for different things. As an expatriate, you will need a residency visa to live and work in Dubai as well as a work permit or labour card; however, employers normally apply for visas and other relevant documentation on behalf of the employee and will also carry the associated financial costs.

What advice would you give to a lawyer moving to Dubai?  

From a professional perspective, find a good recruiter with in-depth knowledge of the local market and trends. Depending on your niche or expertise, you should also be prepared to be more of a generalist and turn your hand to other types of work which may find their way on to your desk.

From a more practical perspective, arrive with open arms and an open mind in order to embrace all before you and around you … oh, and make sure you find a good financial advisor and come with the intention of saving at least 20% of your salary from day one!

For more information regarding in-house legal and compliance roles in Dubai and the Middle East contact Iain Rainey at