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We’re back with another exciting story from the AstroLabs Coworking Community. We explored our entrepreneurial hub and sat down with one of our members to learn more about their experience.
Would you like to introduce yourself?
My name is Mário Valente, I’m 43 years old and I’ve been living in Dubai since 2007. That’s before the last economic crisis. I’m the Project Director at an UK based company called HR Wallingford.
Tell me a little bit about your company?
HR Wallingford is traditionally a civil engineering consultancy. Traditional in the sense that it is the type of business that has been around for decades now. We’re headquartered in the UK, close to London, with a workforce of 250 people. The Middle East is our biggest foreign office amongst the list of China, Australia, USA and even Europe.
What brought you to Dubai?
Well the Middle East has been a huge market for us, be it in terms of marine engineering, real estate or even industrial development, where we provide consultancy services. Our local clients needed a local presence and having that one lone business development person was not making the cut. They wanted to see a project manager, a decision maker or even the actual engineer working on the project. It was very difficult for the UK office to serve local presence owing to the different working hours, work days and even public holidays. In the end you just couldn’t provide engineering at a distance. Dubai was an obvious choice for the headquarters for the region as there is experienced manpower available here that isn’t available elsewhere.
What connected you to AstroLabs?
In 2018, we were growing from a lone wolf setup and starting to build a local team. Majority of our members lived around the area, Dubai Marina, The Greens, JLT, it’s such a successful part of Dubai. We would pass by AstroLabs everyday and we’d see a clean space and people always enjoying themselves and it just made sense to go in. We were welcomed by the management with a big smile, and positive energy. As it happened our manager came in from the UK and visited the facility, and it just ticked all the boxes that we needed for the well being of the team. We just couldn’t beat the offer of AstroLabs, be it the quality of the space, the common facilities, the monthly activities or even just the people around. We were looking for someplace that would welcome us in and we’ve been here ever since.
What’s one learning you got from within the community?
The reception on the first day, that attitude of ‘make it happen’, it’s not just a motto on the wall. If there’s something that we need, the AstroLabs team will just get it done. No questions asked. The attitude is always ‘Guys, how can we help you?’. It could be minor things like copier issues to larger requests like organising training sessions for 20 people, you just approach the team and the answer is always affirmative. It’s that attitude that makes all the difference, it’s all about supporting one another and getting things done.
Have you been inspired by somebody within the community?
It’s been fun for us as civil engineers to come to the space everyday and have that daily interaction with other people building other businesses, there’s always something to learn and there’s always something to share. The human aspect of it is really what makes the difference for us. It could be videographers from Lithuania doing shoots of marriages and stuff or the group of uber restaurants, who were in the packaging and designing stage and every week we had new food to taste. It’s amazing to watch how different things are for different people and witnessing their team and business grow. The human aspect of it all really makes the difference for us.
What has been the biggest challenge for you in the past year?
It has been on the personal front not the professional sphere. Having to deal with having children in school with the current level of restrictions. I would say that has probably been the biggest challenge. We’ve had to change schools and houses, so that we move somewhere where we could provide a learning environment more suitable for our children.
What are the goals for 2021?
The consultancy business in the construction industry is sometimes a bit detached from the real economy, because when a government wants to build something, we have to start the year in advance. So funds get released earlier for consultancy so that you can get the design ready, the contract out and then the real money starts at the contracting stage. So professionally we’re already way down the line, 2021 is done for us. We’re in May, we’ve signed the contracts we need to sign, we’re following the pipeline of the projects we need to follow, so the dice for us were thrown in january. We’re into 2022 now!
What are your biggest learnings as an entrepreneur?
Working here in the Middle East has been quite wonderful, in a sense that you get to work with so many different people from different religious, cultural, ethinic backgrounds. Challenging yourself to adapt to the person you have in front of you, because at the end of the day all that matters is how you connect with people. It comes down to the basics of respecting people, learning with other people, always listening before you try to speak. Understanding their point of view and knowing how you can put your across to them. I would say that the key to being a successful entrepreneur is to build relationships with everyone, be it your suppliers, your colleagues or your clients.
What’s the best advice you’ve received?
It’s not advice so much as learning from experience. Seeing successful people around, how they act, how they behave, how they build their projects, and then learning from example. I’ve learnt that it’s been through the human relation aspect, through the networking and finding people you trust.
How did you make it happen?
We have been fortunate to have built relationships. Our key clients have continued to trust us over this period, and they have come to us with their business. We’ve been successful in 2021, because of the good work we have been trying to do in the previous years. So we’re building on top of previous relations and that’s been the key to this year’s success so far.
What hour of the day are you most productive?
Typically in the morning before lunch, but then it depends on the day. There’s also a weekly cycle, where Sundays tend to be a bit slow, Mondays & Tuesdays are busier, and then Wednesdays & Thursdays are rushed. So there’s weekly and daily variations, but typically in the morning.
What are the 3 things you love about the community?
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