Building relationships globally: Why having a local office is crucial to the Seventy Ninth Group’s international expansion

Reenu Seghal, Investor Relations at Seventy Ninth Global, talks about the importance of having a local office in order to effectively build relationships worldwide.

In November 2022, the Seventy Ninth Group announced the opening of its dedicated UAE hub, located in Jumeirah Lake Towers.[i] This local office, situated in the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre which is considered to be Dubai’s commodities-centric hub, was a vital first step to launching major private equity offerings in the region, such as the recently announced Seventy Ninth Global DMCC.[ii]

This new venture not only provides clear indication of the truly global nature of the Webster family’s ambitions, but it also highlights the hugely beneficial role that local offices can play in a company’s international expansion.

In this post, I will explain why the Seventy Ninth Group has placed a strong emphasis on local offices as part of its spectacular international growth over the past two years, and to highlight my own role in making this growth a reality.

“The new normal”?

We’re probably all tired of hearing the phrase “the new normal” by now, but it captures something important: the idea that the COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally shifted how businesses and their employees operate. The most pronounced change caused by the pandemic was doubtless the rapid adoption of digital meetings and multi-location collaboration, which meant that many of our key professional relationships no longer relied on physical proximity.[iii] It is now widely accepted that our friends and colleagues, the people we work and socialise with, may well live on the other side of the world.

While the tech solutions that have allowed us to keep functioning more or less as normal through a global pandemic are to be celebrated, we shouldn’t be blind to their downsides. Though we can now adopt more flexible and dynamic approaches to working and building relationships with people across the world, these aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution. In some cases, the failure to share the same physical space with colleagues and partners can have major downsides.

In the world of financial services, there is good reason to think that direct, face-to-face encounters and shared cultural proximity will continue to be vital. And it is this understanding that has shaped the Seventy Ninth Group’s transformation into a truly global company.

What we lose when we stay remote

One of the hard truths we’ve all had to confront over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic is that screen-based interactions simply cannot replace some of the key features of in-person contact.

When we interact with people in person, there are a huge number of signals we can use to build a rapport – facial expressions, tone of voice, body language, and so on. Many of these are very subtle; often we don’t even know we’re noticing them, when in fact we’re actively using them to shape our interactions, our intentions, and our responses.

Nothing makes that clearer than what happens when we try to engage with people in a situation where most of these signals are eliminated – like when we’re on a Zoom call for instance. The unique exhaustion of video meetings – christened “Zoom fatigue” in the early months of the pandemic – comes from the fact that we’re having to work a lot harder to find a common ground and understanding, having lost all those subtle but important conversational cues.[iv]

And that’s not the only downside: there is also the issue of spontaneity. Many of our most fruitful interactions come by chance – an unexpected encounter, a casual conversation that reveals shared interests, an introduction through a mutual acquaintance that leads to a long-term partnership. Needless to say, these types of spontaneous meetings are almost impossible to replicate in a remote environment of emailed invites and well-managed timetables packed full of video calls.

The reality is that the relationships we build when we aren’t encountering people face-to-face, sharing a space with them and having more open-ended, organic interactions, are simply weaker. As an analysis in Harvard Business Review puts it, virtual, screen-based encounters don’t allow us to develop social capital – all those benefits we all acquire simply from knowing people, building a rapport with them, and getting along with them. The authors of the study put the problem in stark terms: “the shift to remote work shrunk people’s networks.”[v]

In a context where relationship-building is fundamental, this is a major risk. And there is perhaps no industry where strong, trusting relationships are more essential than in financial services.

This is a key part of the reason why the Seventy Ninth Group have made local offices central to their global expansion. While in principle it is possible to build a global brand without a consistent local presence, the reality is that it will significantly diminish your ability to make strong and lasting connections.  

The importance of commitment

Of course, it is not just an issue of what is lost when we stop meeting with people face-to-face, as important as that is. It’s also about what the effort and hard work of establishing a local office represents: commitment.

The reality is that a remote-first approach to global growth is a low-risk option. It’s easy to back out if things don’t quite go to plan straight away. You can change course quickly, explore other strategies, look to other opportunities, pivot to other regions – all with only minor disruption. Sounds great, right?

The downside of this approach, of course, is that this fails to demonstrate any serious sense of commitment, accountability, or – most importantly – resiliency in defining new opportunities and establishing new offerings internationally. And for prospective partners, this should be a source of concern.

At the Seventy Ninth Group, our commitment to establishing a local office is, above all, an indication that we are willing to embrace the challenges that come from global expansion and to face head-on the hard work of truly understanding and engaging with the regions we are expanding into. This means not just investing the time and energy in building attractive offerings for partners in those regions, but also fully embracing and understanding the cultural nuances of a particular region – yet another thing that is very hard to translate through a flat screen or over a wireless network.

But what does this mean in practice? Well, let me give you a closer look at my own role in the Seventy Ninth Group’s expansion into Dubai over the past year.

My role in the Seventy Ninth Group’s global expansion

From the very start of my career, I have always found myself attracted to opportunities that require fostering relationships and building a foundation of mutual respect. My motto has always been that people may not remember you, but they always remember how you make them feel.

Guided by this belief, I spent two decades working with one of the largest media companies in MENA, moving between key roles in account management, corporate sales, strategy, partnerships, and relationship management. Across these roles, rapport-building was an important factor for me in enabling growth and exposure for the business – and it gave me a deep awareness of how important direct, face-to-face contact is for this.

When I first met Dave Webster, the Chairman of the Seventy Ninth Group, I quickly recognised that he shared my belief in the importance of nurturing connections and investing in relationship-building. The Seventy Ninth Group has always committed to a high standard of customer service, and this meant ensuring that clients had easy, direct access to a team that truly understood their needs.

And this was why, for Dave, it was vital that the Seventy Ninth Group’s expansion into Dubai was led by someone with deep roots in the region. That’s where I came in.

As someone who was born and raised in Dubai and who has immense admiration for the leadership team of the United Arab Emirates, I have been able to act as a catalyst for the launch of the Seventy Ninth Group’s global presence. By supporting the launch of the Seventy Ninth Group’s local office in Dubai, I’ve helped to begin the long, ongoing process of building deep roots in the region, with the expectation of long-term success.

[i] Private Banker International, “British asset manager Seventy Ninth Group to expand into Dubai, Nov 15 2022 [link]

[ii] Business Leader, “Seventy Ninth Group launches offering for natural resources industry”, Jan 18 2023 [link]

[iii] McKinsey & Co, “How COVID-19 has pushed companies over the technology tipping point”, Oct 5 2020 [link]

[iv] National Geographic, “’Zoom fatigue’ is taking the brain. Here’s why that happens.” Apr 24 2020 [link]

[v] Harvard Business Review, “What a Year of WFH Has Done to Our Relationships at Work”, Mar 22 2021 [link]

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