Baghdad Business School: The Challenges of a War Zone Start Up

Baghdad Business School: The Challenges of a War Zone Start Up

by Heyrick Bond Gunning

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781785630217
Publisher: Eye Books
Publication date: 05/01/2017
Series: Eye Classics Series
Edition description: Second Edition, Second edition
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Heyrick Bond Gunning is the managing director of Salamanca Risk Management, advising companies that are looking to do business in difficult environments, particularly the Middle East. He previously consulted to DHL for a year in Iraq, flying into the country the day the second Gulf War ended and setting up a business with annual revenues in excess of $70 million. He served five years in the British Army, which included operational tours in Northern Ireland and the Balkans.

Read an Excerpt

Baghdad Business School

The Challenges of a War Zone Start Up

By Heyrick Bond Gunning

Eye Books Ltd

Copyright © 2004 Heyrick Bond Gunning
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-908646-54-5



Planning a successful career requires a great deal of thought and attention. Once the general career path has been identified it is essential to review all the major participants, understand their strengths and weaknesses, and narrow down the range of possibilities. Approach the firms that both suit your medium and long-term ambitions and are culturally sympathetic. Conduct a form of due diligence on them all to be prepared for any ensuing dialogue. This is no time for being impulsive - you are choosing a family as much as an employer.

(The Encyclopedia of Current Business Orthodoxy)

Monday morning, the first day back at work, after three weeks spent on a wonderful holiday in New Zealand. The phone rang, breaking my reverie and I could feel myself slipping back into the routine as if I had never been away. The next nine words were to metamorphose my rather staid existence. 'Are you interested in setting up DHL in Iraq?' The caller, an ex colleague of mine, went on to explain that DHL was looking for someone with military and commercial experience and was keen to interview me. My initial reaction was to feel flattered, quickly followed by doubts over whether the firm had called the right man. Had DHL mistaken a rather normal career in the army for something else or had they seen one of my recently written CVs extolling my virtues as a major mover in the world of mergers and acquisitions?! In truth I had left the Grenadier Guards three years previously. Whilst in the army I had spent some time in London wearing a tunic and bearskin, carrying out public duties. As with most soldiers, I had then spent more time than I intended in Northern Ireland but was fortunate to have worked in a more unusual role which made it a little more exciting than normal soldiering. I had left the army and thought I had fallen on my feet working in a start up. My timing was impeccable - 'Mergermarket' was a Financial Services dotcom - and I joined just as the dotcom bubble burst and the bottom fell out of the M&A market. But Mergermarket dropped the .com and went on to thrive, giving me the commercial experience DHL now found so appealing. Following an hour or two of stalling I made up my mind to go out to Bahrain for an interview.

I didn't want anyone at work to know for the obvious reasons and also in case they thought I had lost the plot entirely. Timing was key and I managed to get a flight on Tuesday night. It enabled me to get to Bahrain for Wednesday morning, have my interviews that day and be back at my desk by seven on Thursday morning, having made a miraculous recovery from my supposed bout of ill health. As it turned out the two sleepless nights meant I looked less than well and no one thought to challenge my absence. The flight out had been interesting. It was the first day of Gulf War II and unsurprisingly there were not many takers for the Gulf Air flight to Bahrain. The flight attendants outnumbered the six of us who rattled around the plane. I stretched out on a row of seats, sipped some champagne and read my notes on DHL. I had done some rather hurried research earlier in the day that ran short of finding out what the D, H & L stood for. What I did know was that it was a courier company founded by three lawyers in 1969. It had recently been bought by Deutsche Post and was keen to increase their influence in the Middle East by adding Iraq to the list of 147 countries in which it already operated.

Bahrain is an interesting place. I had never been to the Middle East before but it is clear to the casual observer that money is no object when it comes to impressing the visitor or your countrymen. The easiest way to do this is through building and owning a bigger/taller hotel or office block than the largest most recently built version. The result is a series of tall glass buildings scattered around the island. The hotel I checked into was one of these and was unintentionally retro and kitsch. Anything that is big, shiny and obvious is all the rage; understated was removed from the dictionary years ago. It was also apparent that walking was not something one was expected to do. I had wandered down to a mall that turned out to be devoid of shoppers. This was for good reason, as many of the shops were being refitted, so after a cursory glance around I moved on to a second mall that was 50m away. There was simply no footpath, but there was a taxi waiting to take me there. Being a tight tourist and never one to take the easy option, I ended up dashing across four lanes of traffic and with a policeman in hot pursuit I ran up the slip road, avoiding the oncoming traffic and into the next mall. I had a quick look at some watches that were drowning in diamonds, and then walked back to the hotel. On my return journey I was struck by the number of non-Arabs there were working in the country. They provide much of the manual labour and many can be found cutting the grass in the central reservation or painting lines on the roads. As they progress along the road there is invariably an unlucky soul with a traffic cone tied to a long piece of string around his waist. He acts as the warning to approaching traffic and slowly drags his cone behind him, in the wake of the grass cutters and line painters. It is sights like this and a look down the back streets, behind the shiny façade, that reminds one that beneath this rather sterile exterior lies a vibrant Middle Eastern culture. The main thoroughfares are so clean that I actually saw a guy sponging down the back of a road sign!

I headed back to the airport for my interviews and met several directors, had lunch in a hotel and returned for more interviews in the afternoon. The only point at which I almost came unstuck was when asked what DHL stood for; I knew I had not researched this but I also knew that there was an answer in me somewhere. I remembered that as I had approached the interview room I had walked past three conference rooms called Dalsey, Hillblom and Lynn. My embarrassment was spared. The interview went well and mentally I started planning my stay in Bahrain, waiting for the war to end and the Coalition to grant commercial entities permission to enter the country. The day ended with a swim and a couple of beers before boarding the plane back to UK. The flight back was the antithesis of the outward journey. I was surprised the plane managed to get off the ground. I had forgotten there was a war going on in Iraq, prompting a mass exodus from Bahrain and people boarding the plane with glorious quantities of hand luggage.

Following some negotiations over the remuneration, I spent a week wrestling with the decision over whether or not to accept the job. So why did I say yes? This is a difficult one to answer. I had just got engaged, my job was going well and I had the opportunity to go and set up the New York office for Mergermarket. Long discussions ensued and I decided that it really was too good an opportunity to let slip through my fingers. It is not often that one is handed an opportunity to do something that is so potentially life changing. There were also other drivers that explained my decision. I have a joint honours in The Geography of International Business and Archaeology and had specialised in the Middle East. I had a romantic view of going to visit the archaeological sites that I had never really expected to be able to see. Iraq is the birthplace of modern civilization. I viewed the opening of Iraq as a moment in history and I desperately wanted to be a part of it. Subconsciously I think the fact that I had many friends who were a part of the Coalition Forces probably brought out the competitive streak in me. Without trying to sound trite, I did feel that I was missing out on an adventure. I was envious of my friends in the armed forces who were spearheading the move into Iraq. Although I had obviously missed that particular boat I could envisage future conversations with military friends; 'I admit the war may have been dangerous but try setting up a business in a war torn country with little support.' To many it may sound strange but to me it was obvious that when given the choice of setting up an office in New York or setting up a countrywide network in Iraq, the latter was a clear favourite. The fact that I was entering the unknown in terms of the logistics business and in terms of the environment simply added to the appeal. I handed in my notice. Before I left work I sent a quick email to a few clients thanking them for their support and explaining that I was off to Baghdad. I invited them to visit me if they were in the region. The email was picked up by the Evening Standard and read as follows:

"HEYRICK Bond-Gunning, former Grenadier Guards officer turned manager for M&A website, has sent the following email to clients 'After a few fantastic years, I am leaving Mergermarket, having accepted the offer of a job to set up DHL in Iraq. Thank you for being an excellent set of clients and I hope our paths cross in the future. If you happen to be passing through Baghdad, please email me.' I gather this is not an April fool but that the fellow is actually looking forward to the new challenge. It seems unlikely though that the clients will be quite as keen as Heyrick to stay in touch."

Following numerous farewell parties, it was suddenly the morning of my departure. I found myself standing over an empty suitcase struggling over the decisions of what to pack. I had been told to expect at least a week in Bahrain whilst we waited for permission to enter Iraq. On getting into the country we would probably be based at the airport, not the local Hilton but in the Baghdad equivalent - a tent. Suits and tents don't really go hand in hand but then I also had visions of waiting in Bahrain for the coalition forces to finish their job in Iraq. So in went a suit and some shirts, lots of t-shirts and anything linen I could lay may hands on. It was already 40 degrees in Iraq and it was due to reach the mid 50s in the summer. This was a worry. I am not known for my tolerance of anything above 30, so 40 made my face go red just thinking about it. I found the best way to deal with that particular concern was to stop thinking about it and concentrate on finding some shorts. Next dilemma, tennis racket, golf clubs or neither? Now could be the chance I had been waiting for to actually take the clubs out of their rather expensive bag. I had visions of driving a ball down an empty runway but then realized that there may be issues with aircraft and actually it wouldn't have looked so professional if I arrived to set up a business clutching a couple of tennis rackets and some clubs. I decided on three clubs and the tennis rackets, all of which fitted into my bag. The remainder of the space was filled with plenty of sun cream, a roll up Panama, some files, a compass, a gas mask, a bulletproof jacket and some Arabic language tapes. It was at this point that I had a slight reality check. I was not going to be wearing a flak jacket over a suit so the suit stayed in London. I wondered what an earth I was letting myself in for.

I had done a fair amount of research since accepting the job and although most of the information predated the first Gulf War, I had been able to write a draft strategy paper. Amongst other things, it contained a guide on survival in hostile environments that I had cobbled together. I re-read it, twice, had a beer and felt less concerned. I had also spoken to various family friends who had experienced the Middle East, working with Arabs and in one case with Iraqis. I gleaned some remarkable information from a family friend who had often worked in Iraq. On his last trip he had been incarcerated by Saddam and had remained in jail for ten years. You would think that he was not the ideal man to inspire me with confidence but he did not have a bad thing to say about the Iraqis. He explained that the majority were well educated, to degree level. He added that they were a naturally open and hospitable people and were extremely interested in what went on in the west. On the work front, he warned me that they enjoyed a good haggle but that once they had agreed a deal they would stick to it. However, if they could find a loophole or short cut they had a tendency to feel that it was their duty to exploit it. A firm but fair approach was advised when dealing with employees.

The next question was the language. Many Iraqis speak a little English, but I realised that a smattering of Arabic would help. I had invested in the cassettes and started learning the basic vocabulary. I also worked on a healthy amount of contacts to meet up with whilst waiting in Bahrain. Despite these preparations, I did have a real feeling that I was going into the unknown and a far from friendly environment. I had seen pictures of dead and wounded civilians and was worried how Iraqis might respond even if the Coalition kept the collateral damage to a minimum. Would they think I was there to exploit them? Would they view me as an extension of the Coalition Forces? Would they welcome me or would their pride and unfulfilled expectations mean they would resent me? I suspected it would be a combination of all of these feelings and that I was going to have to be very aware of the mood of the people, their expectations and their culture. I also realised that I could sit and ponder over these questions ad infinitum and decided that the only way they were going to be answered was by getting out there. I was as ready as I was ever going to be and following some painful farewells, boarded the flight to Bahrain.



Developing a business plan in readiness to enter a new market requires thorough market research, an understanding of the incumbents, and a strategy that will make an immediate impact. The greater the detail of your plan, the better equipped you will be to respond to the inevitable surprises you encounter on launch.

(The Encyclopedia of Current Business Orthodoxy).

A bleary eyed arrival at 6.30 a.m. saw me met by an even more tired looking taxi driver. I gave him the address for the office and asked him how much it was going to cost. 'Whatever you wish' was the reply. Not really in the mood for smart arsed comments I hit back with a joke price and he simply rolled his eyes, having heard it all before. I was putty in his hands, we drove the half-mile to the office and he fleeced me at the other end. It did however remind me that the Arabs like to bargain over everything, enjoying the whole process and this was something I was going to have to get used to. I arrived at the office and began to mentally prepare myself for a day of brainstorming over the business strategy for Iraq. I was soon to be reminded that sometimes planning is overrated, as I went straight into a briefing to be told that I shouldn't bother checking into my hotel but that I was to board another plane for Baghdad. The Coalition had given us permission to fly and so DHL was going to be the first commercial flight into Iraq since the end of the war.

I went to help load the plane and met Phil Armatage, the colleague with whom I was to work in Iraq. He had worked for DHL for a few years and he was to prove vital in filling the gaps in my knowledge about how the DHL systems were supposed to operate. My initial impression was of a brusque Geordie, but I was soon to find out that he was often able to reveal a more sensitive side, particularly whilst in pursuit of love! Phil had flown into Bahrain the previous day and we both went to board the plane and have a look at the supplies we had been given. On climbing into the body of the Antonov 12 we were met with a sight that caused considerable laughter. It was clear that little thought had gone into the planning. Sitting in front of us were two vehicles, a Land Rover Discovery and a canary yellow van with DHL on its side. The former was ideal but the latter was a joke. I was damned if I was going to drive around Baghdad in a vehicle that was just asking to be looted. Before we had even taken off we had already decided that it was going to be used on the airport only, where it would probably act as a very good advert to the US Forces that were based there. I threw open the doors of the van to look at our supplies. It was empty. We had a look in the back of the Landrover and it was then that a wave of concern hit me. We were woefully under prepared. The list of kit and equipment was as follows:

2 camp beds
1 satellite phone
1 laptop
1 tent
1 Tupperware box with baked beans, soup and corned beef
24 Bottles of water
1 x envelope containing $25000

That was it. I couldn't have written a more ridiculous scenario if I had tried. Not really what one would expect to set up a multi million dollar business with but I suppose it was a start.

I realised that DHL Middle East had been caught by surprise by the sudden permission to fly; so with a shrug of the shoulders and a smile we got over our initial surprise and boarded the aircraft. The plane, about 35 years old, used to belong to the Russian air force and was piloted by some large hairy Bulgarians. The plane was manned by a crew of seven. Inside the cockpit were the two pilots, an engineer behind them and a navigator sitting in the nose with a set of binoculars. There were then three more crew who played a wide range of roles from engineers, to loadmasters and tea makers. Once in the air, they revealed that a few months earlier they had misjudged their landing into Bagram airfield, Afghanistan and ended up overshooting the runway and grinding to a halt in a minefield. The air traffic controller told them to stay put to which they replied 'no problem,' turned the plane around in the minefield, and then drove out! I was not inspired with confidence. Needless to say, true to form, they managed to fly at the wrong altitude as we entered Iraq. Two US F16s were scrambled to intercept us. An image of me adorned with a Tom Hanks like beard whilst stranded in the middle of the desert flashed through my mind. Fortunately with DHL painted on the side of the plane we were escorted rather than dispatched.


Excerpted from Baghdad Business School by Heyrick Bond Gunning. Copyright © 2004 Heyrick Bond Gunning. Excerpted by permission of Eye Books Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction 9

Map of Iraq 12

Planning a Career 13

Developing a Business Plan 23

Networking 33

First Mover Advantage 47

Building a Business Process 55

Investing in Productivity 65

Marketing 73

Recruitment 83

Public Relations 91

Training 103

Charity 119

Time Management 127

Competition 137

Peer Review and Feedback 145

360° Feedback 163

Risk Management 175

Stress 193

Local Custom 203

Managing Morale 221

Epilogue 229

About Eye Books 237

About the Author 239

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Amusing and very brave."  —Forbes

"He vividly describes how it feels to be thrown in at the deep end."  —Economist

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