Heritage Meets Modernity: UVA Darden Students Find Balance in Course to Dubai, Bahrain

By Lauren Wallace

Honoring the Traditions of the Past While Confronting the Challenges of the Future” — the name of a new University of Virginia Darden School of Business global course — aptly describes the inaugural Darden Worldwide Course to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. Professors June West and Yiorgos Allayannis led 27 students on the 10-day course focused on finance, economic development and global trade in the Arabian Gulf region.

Both locations, with deep roots in Islamic traditions, are finding success competing in the global economy as they seek to preserve their heritage while navigating rapid changes in business and society around the world. In both the UAE and Bahrain, students were challenged to think in new ways about how to balance those sometimes competing priorities.

“Dubai and Bahrain are really metaphors for so many of the dynamics we see across our global landscape today,” West said. “They are modern and global cities with an approach to business that is a distinct mix of practices from the East and West, influenced heavily by regional culture. Experiencing such a unique blend of business and culture up close provided a powerful case study for students.”

During the course, students visited a variety of leading financial institutions, consulting firms and corporations, including a manufacturing plant home to the world’s largest aluminum smelter.

One challenge the traditionally oil-dependent region has overcome in recent years is how to grow their economies on an increasingly limited supply of oil reserves. Dubai’s rapid growth is often attributed to oil wealth, when in reality the emirate — second largest to Abu Dhabi, which holds 90 percent of the UAE’s oil reserves — currently relies on oil for only five percent of its gross domestic product.

“Oil revenues were pivotal in the original infrastructure boom that took place in Dubai, but we learned that production peaked in the early 1990s and has been falling ever since,” said Andrew Manuel (Class of 2019). “The Dubai economy is now being led by trade, logistics and finance. Dubai plans to make its business-friendly environment even friendlier to multinational companies in the future by expanding free zones to encompass the whole city and by increasing the duration of visas from three years to 10.”

As one Dubai company speaker said: “The UAE is a country that is run like a company, where expats and international organizations are the clients.”

Islamic finance is another example of the Gulf region’s preservation of heritage in the modern global economy. Islamic banks offer clients products and services that comply with Islamic law, such as shared risk and the prohibition of interest. Students learned about Islamic banking from senior leaders at Dubai Islamic Bank, the world’s first Islamic bank founded in 1975, and Ahli United Bank in Bahrain.

“The opportunity to learn from expert practitioners about Islamic finance as well as the numerous insights obtained from visiting companies in the region and from listening to thoughtful speakers should prepare our students well on their journey to become global leaders,” Allayannis said.

Other company visits included McKinsey & Co. and Heidrick and Struggles in Dubai, as well as the Bahrain Economic Development Board and Aluminium Bahrain. Judith Baker (MBA ‘92), economic officer at the U.S. Embassy in Manama, Bahrain, presented to students, and Ali Hurbas (MBA ’95), a senior leader at Citi Group in the Middle East, presented a “mini-case” session on Dunia Finance, a case he helped co-author with Professors Raj Venkatesan and Sam Bodily.

In between company engagements, students also visited famed cultural and architectural sites such as the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the Grand Mosque and the Louvre Museum in Abu Dhabi, Qal’at al-Bahrain (the Bahrain Fort) outside of Bahrain’s capital city Manama, and traditional local marketplaces, called souqs, in both countries.

See more photos from the new Darden Worldwide Course to Dubai and Bahrain:

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business prepares responsible global leaders through unparalleled transformational learning experiences. Darden’s graduate degree programs (MBA, MSBA and Ph.D.) and Executive Education & Lifelong Learning programs offered by the Darden School Foundation set the stage for a lifetime of career advancement and impact. Darden’s top-ranked faculty, renowned for teaching excellence, inspires and shapes modern business leadership worldwide through research, thought leadership and business publishing. Darden has Grounds in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Washington, D.C., area and a global community that includes 18,000 alumni in 90 countries. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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