He may be a Master of the Universe in the business world, but this doesn’t mean his nearest and dearest always remember his birthday.
So says Tim Searle, founder of the Dubai-based international advisory firm Globaleye, describing a typical high-powered expatriate executive client of his business, as he explains how the now-famous Globaleye birthday cake came into existence.
It is not just that forgetting birthdays is easy to do. Many business people also actively go out of their way to downplay their birthdays, both to avoid appearing frivolous as well, in some cases, to avoid calling attention to the march of time.
The result, Searle explains, is that when his birthday finally arrives, poor old Mr Jones in the corner office is sometimes left feeling ever-so-slightly overlooked and under-loved.
“Picture the situation: his wife forgot, his kids forgot. Even his mum and dad forgot,” Searle says.
Unlike wives, parents, friends, children and even secretaries and PAs, however, Globaleye never forgets its clients’ birthdays. (It has a computer which sees to that.)
And the clients, Searle says, “love it”.
“We’ve even had complaints from other clients who didn’t get a Globaleye cake on their birthday,” says Searle.
Other times, wives have come in to Globaleye’s offices and explained how they had forgotten their husband’s birthday, and were saved by the Globaleye cake, which, with its Globaleye logo on top, ended up being taken to a restaurant that evening, where, Searle says, “their friends all wanted to know about this financial adviser who sends his clients cakes, since theirs doesn’t”.
In addition to the cakes, which are neither ordered nor paid for by their recipients, Globaleye’s Gold clients also receive a birthday card and, at some point, a personal phone call from his or her regular Globaleye adviser. (Globaleye clients who don’t enjoy Gold status don’t get the cakes, but do receive the card and phone call.)
Not just cakes
To hear Searle talk about his Father Christmas-like dispensing of cakes to clients around the globe, it would be easy to credit Globaleye’s success over the past 12 years to an unusually high degree of good old-fashioned attentiveness to its clients, along with, perhaps, an exceptionally reliable recipe for Victoria sponge.
As Searle explains it, though, the cakes are just a whimsical sideshow of an otherwise serious and professional business that – while indeed prioritising contact with clients – is also at the forefront, for example, of using technology to manage accounts and stay in touch with clients.
At the same time, Searle is shrewd about choosing the markets he is in, unafraid to try new ones, and quick to leave – as he did recently in Qatar – if he decides that the costs of operating and being regulated are disproportionate to the amount of expatriate business that is there to be had.
“We’re not afraid of being regulated – bear in mind we’re in some highly regulated markets, like Singapore and Hong Kong – but in some places, like Qatar, the number of expatriates is not sufficient to justify the effort, at least at present,” Searle says.
“Oman is another country where we do have some clients, but there is not enough business to justify an office.
“So I’d rather focus my attention on capital cities like Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai, where the critical mass of a business for a company like Globaleye exists.”
This is why, he says, Globaleye has just opened an office in Shanghai, which is fast becoming a major outpost for English-language expatriates, and why he is currently looking at some other cities he declines to name – but is no longer in Bahrain, Moscow or Nairobi. An unblinking look at the expat demographics is also why Globaleye’s Brazil office is now located in São Paolo rather than Rio de Janeiro, Searle points out.
Searle’s pragmatic approach to where Globaleye opens and, occasionally, closes its offices may have been influenced by his eight years as an officer in the British Navy, which, he admits, also gave him a taste for the world beyond Blighty’s shores that few young Britons normally enjoy. Then too, he himself was born in Canada to expatriate British parents, initially growing up in Vancouver, where his father was an architect, before coming to Britain when he was around eight years old.
Whatever the reason, he didn’t hesitate when offered the chance to work in Dubai in the late 1990s, even though at that point it was not yet well known outside the Gulf – although it was, in fact, beginning to take off as a regional and financial hub. (The Dubai International Financial Centre – which Globaleye does not have its offices in – opened in 2004.)
At first Searle took a job with OFS, then a major advisory firm, where he learned the ropes and gathered the experience and contacts he would need to strike out on his own – which he eventually did with a partner in 1995.
“We called it Fletcher Young and Associates, which seemed a nice, old-sounding name,” he recalls. “Then another guy whose company was named Young wanted to move his clients under my umbrella, and I saw the time had come for a new identity. All those ‘Youngs’ would be confusing. So I picked ‘Globaleye’ out of the air.”
This was also when he managed to get, as his legally-required Emirati business sponsor, Sheik Suhail al Maktoum, a member of Dubai’s ruling family, who retains a 51% stake in the business but, according to Searle, does not get involved in the day-to-day running of it. A member of Searle’s own family, meanwhile, is involved in the day-to-day running: his 22-year-old son, Ben Searle, is operations manager of Globaleye’s Dubai business.
Like many – but not all – entrepreneurs who run businesses they have started, Searle’s passion for his company and his clients is tangible and, it seems, genuine.
He is almost always reachable by email or mobile phone, even at home in Dubai. And he is noticeably agitated by the fact that some clients persistently decline critical illness cover, because he believes that they are making a mistake, as he has repeatedly seen the value of such coverage when even relatively young clients have been diagnosed with serious illnesses.
He is also adamant that Globaleye clients keep in active touch with their respective Globaleye wealth managers, and vice versa – particularly if the clients have concerns.
“After three months, all new clients get a survey, asking: ‘What do you think about us? What do you like? What don’t you like?’” Searle says.
“We review our clients quarterly, and send them monthly bulletins, and even do a weekly portfolio review.
“My philosophy is, if we get things wrong, tell me – I’m a very approachable CEO, I actually respond to complaints.” He is less concerned, however, about hearing from clients when Globaleye gets it right. “In that case, I don’t want them to tell me,” he says. “I want them to tell everyone else.”