Even adages can become obsolete these days. Whoever says Rome was not built in a day, hasn't been to Dubai, the second largest of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

While it would be an exaggeration to say that the city of Dubai sprang up overnight, its landscape has undergone a transformation so phenomenal in the last 10 years, a first-time visitor like me couldn't help but view the sometimes outlandish, state-of-the-art buildings and the huge number of soaring skyscrapers, with dropped-jaw awe.

Yet, Dubai was once nothing more than a fishing village watered by a creek, on the edge of the Arabian Desert,.

And herein lies a lesson for Malaysia if it wants to make its growth corridors a success.
The government of Dubai has shown that with determination and radical policy changes, anything is possible. The fact that it has lots of moolah makes a huge difference, of course.

But the success story of Dubai is not just about how its leaders have been putting its huge cash-pile to good use, as members of the Kuala Lumpur Business Club (KLBC) mission to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, from Nov 3 to 6, found out.

It is also about the ability to adapt and change with the times, to accept the changes that globalisation brings, and more importantly, to push through effective execution of decisions and delivery of results.

It is about how the private sector has taken over the baton for development from the government, and where the motto for everyone seems to be, if it makes business sense, it makes sense in Dubai.

Innovation is a major thrust, reflected in the creation of the Hydropolis, an underwater hotel. Then there is this new township in the sea in the shape of a palm tree and of course, the construction of the Burj Dubai, which is touted to be the next tallest building in the world. Dubailand, the largest theme park in the world, is under construction. The list goes on.
These are lessons Malaysia can learn from the Emirates.

From our conversations with the people in Dubai, the explosive growth of skyscrapers and megamalls is not about building iconic structures, but to be the best in everything they do. And there is nothing wrong with being competitive.

It was only in the 1980s that the Dubai government made a major effort to wean the emirate from its dependence on oil revenue because of dwindling reserves. Today, oil contributes less than 10% to its gross domestic product (GDP). Tourism and financial services have become key growth areas, and it has emerged as the financial and cultural hub of the Middle East.

Consider these statistics.

According to the Dubai Statistics Department, last year, Dubai's population grew by 292,000, to 1.422 million people. This translates into 24,333 new people in Dubai every month, or 800 people a day.

In the last six years, Dubai has registered GDP growth averaging 13% per annum, surpassing the growth rates of even China and India. And the plan is to sustain this growth at 11% over the next 10 years.

Dubai is also a truly global village. Close to 90% of its population comprise foreign labour from some 165 countries, and the locals do not have hang-ups about that either. The largest corporations and, yes, even government institutions, are headed by foreigners, because the government subscribes to the philosophy that if Dubai does not have the talent, it can import it. And as long as these foreigners make profit for the companies, that is the bottom line.

Today, there are about 4,000 Malaysians working in Dubai. We are talking about a brain drain from Malaysia here.

Dubai is often described as the world's most luxurious tax haven, and a major business hub between the East and the West. Because of its strategic location at the epicenter of the Middle East, Europe, Asia and Africa, it has become a transport hub.

Of course, along with the explosive growth in the last 10 years, comes its own set of problems – pollution, traffic congestion and the social problems that the huge influx of blue-collar migrant workers, mostly from India, brings.

But then again, these are problems that are not unique to Dubai alone.

At the end of the four-day visit, most KLBC members were impressed with what they had seen and heard. Dubai has sold itself very well.

And herein lies another lesson for Malaysia.

We are not doing a good job selling the country abroad. David Eldon, chairman of the Dubai International Financial Centre and who once served in HSBC Malaysia, stressed this point when he gave a dinner talk in Dubai during the KLBC mission.

It takes more than trade missions once every few years to create awareness. We are not aggressive enough, even though Malaysia has all the necessary ingredients to compete head to head with the other countries.

Indeed, in many instances, we were first off the starting block but we fell short on delivery and execution. For example, we were first to explore becoming an Islamic financial hub, and the first in Asean to open the education sector to foreigners. But today, others are not just catching up, but overtaking Malaysia.

So, it is time not just to increase the drumbeats, but also to ensure that rhetoric is translated into action.

By The EDGE (By