Christmas Lunch 16 Dec:  Ironmongers' Hall
Charities Supper 15 Jan 2020:  Skinners' Hall
Click here for our rolling events programme

The Joys of International Consulting....

 11th hour visa;  windowless rooms;  locked in - and then locked out;  Past Master Bob Garratt relies heavily on a small Swiss Army knife during a routine 5-day assignment in Saudi Arabia....

It was only a five day assignment in Saudi Arabia.  The client just wanted me to discuss some 200 slides that I had presented publicly in Dubai in September 2015.  I had not been there for 14 years and had heard that changes were happening.  Was this true?

At airport, waiting for Passport and Visa....

Then the logistical problems hit hard.  I knew that it takes time to get a visa so I used an agent and submitted in good time.  The embassy then lost it for five days.  The client , a Minister, and his staff were getting more and more concerned.  So was I.  The last flight I could get to make the meetings was on the Monday.  By Friday afternoon there was no sign of the visa or my passport and the embassy closed.  Over the weekend all sorts of ministerial messages were flashing between Riyadh and London whilst I booked new flights.  By Monday morning I was packed and ready to go – but still no visa.  Lots of Ministerial threats to the London Consular office.  Because my flight was not simply to Riyadh but had to connect to a smaller Gulf-side airport there were only three possible flights that would deliver me in time.  As the morning progressed I had to cancel the BA flight via Riyadh, then the BA flight via Bahrain.  I was left only with a flight via Doha in the early afternoon.  Finally the message came through that the visa was issued and I set off rapidly for Heathrow Terminal 4 with the guarantee that a courier would deliver the visa and passport in time for the 1500 Qatar Airways flight.  But I would have to pay for the courier.

Unexpected incident around an un-programmed Force 8 gale....

At Heathrow at 1330 I told my story to the check-in desk at Qatar.  They were very sympathetic and rather rude about the Saudi administrators.  Less than an hour before take-off  I had a phone call from the courier.  He would be there in ten minutes but was in a car, could not park, so would I come out and collect it?   I did, except that it was blowing a Force 8 gale and as I got outside I was blown over and twisted my ankle.  I limped back to the Qatar desk to their great whoops of joy that I had a visa and they rushed me through security and onto an electric buggy that delivered me with 20 minutes to go.  The cabin crew were ready for me and I crashed into a very comfortable seat, with a huge sigh of relief and a quick text to Sally to say that I had made it.

Not valid?

The Qatar flight was impressive and they even administered cold and hot towels to my ankle during the flight.  On arrival in Doha they had me registered as  disabled so was whisked through security and into the transit lounge for Damman.  90 minutes later I was on another Qatar flight and found that I was still a wheelchair case when we landed an hour later.  So, easily through security and I proudly presented my brand new and hard-fought visa.  No-one spoke English but it was signalled that it was not valid!  Consternation.  It was now 0130 hours and I was both annoyed and tired.  My wheelchair pusher was a young Bangladeshi with very limited English but able to tell me that the Saudis were saying that there was an ‘internet’ problem.  Neither of us could work out what.  I flourished various ministerial letters in Arabic and this caused even more consternation.  It was signalled that I would have to wait at least another four hours until a ‘big boss’ turned up.  I was parked in a pleasant enough office but was not happy.  After 90 minutes my wheelchair pusher took a huge personal risk and berated the officials on duty pointing to the letters, my white hair and the wheelchair.  It worked.  I had my photo, thumb and fingerprints taken and was finally free.  My driver had waited and after a generous tip to my pusher I was away.

What happened to the sea?

Driving in Saudi is always a nightmare and even at 0500 hours risks were being taken about which it is better not to calculate the consequences.  I arrived shattered at the hotel and check-in, crashed out on the bed and then realised that there was no window!  This seaside hotel has been designed so that over 20 rooms are windowless …. I complained and was told that all rooms are full.  So I decided to sleep for a few hours and leave the problem with the Minster’s aides.  It turns out that some 15 of our very senior group are in windowless rooms so all hell is let loose as they rebook them into a nearby hotel.  But we keep the very good conference facilities at the original hotel.  That afternoon I finally get my proper briefing, have a meal and a very needed sleep.

Unexpected re-drafting of Law and Codes on the hoof....

Next morning we are all up early and I’m introduced to the Minster and he’s very keen to get going.  As I start my presentation I realise that none of the briefings have been quite accurate.  The client is taking each slide in turn and comparing and contrasting what they already have or need in Saudi.  We are redrafting the Company Law and Corporate Governance Codes!  It goes very well and by the second morning I am asked to let them have a 30 minute session in Arabic to consolidate day one.  It lasts three hours of very excited and animated debate.   By the time we finish our allotted time there are lots of new ideas and processes to be pursued and the participants, even the legal team, leave with enthusiasm.  I felt that a good start had been made to help the country develop and open up its thinking in the corporate governance areas.

Out comes my Knife....!

Two other problems remained in my mind.  On the first night I was so tired that I declined, with the Minister’s understanding, an invitation to go to a restaurant some way away.  I had to do some revision of slides. Then I found that I was locked in my room.  The electronic door lock had failed.  The engineer who was sent to mend it did not speak English and the door was solid so we could not see each other.  I knew that what was needed to release it was on my side but he kept attacking another part of the mechanism from his side.  This was never going to work.  Eventually I managed with my small Swiss Army knife to dismantle part of the lock on my side sufficient to create a small hole through which, after a lot of gesturing, he passed me a large screwdriver that released the lock finally.  But they couldn’t mend it so I spent the night with an open door.  Next day I was told that all was now OK, yet when I rushed to pack to get to the airport I found that I was now locked out of my room!  It took an hour to get it unlocked and so the drive back to the airport was even more fraught than usual.

And then there was the issue of the Swiss Army knife. I always travel with it and a small torch after all our adventures travelling in Asia and Africa.  I had used it to dismantle the lock.  Back in London I took it out and then realised to my horror that I had not followed my usual procedure of carrying it in my checked-in case.  It had been in my flight bag throughout the trip.  This meant it had been missed at nine security checks.  Security anyone?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Professor Bob Garratt       3 Beresford Terrace   London N5 2DH  UK                                                               

Tel: 44(0) 20 7226 2403                garratts@btconnect.com      www.garrattlearningservices.com