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When small guys get together

One of the great truisms of a fight came from Voltaire, who remarked that “God is on the side of big battalions.” It doesn’t take a genius to realise that when it comes to a fighting, whether its on the battlefield or in a street fight – the bigger guy usually wins.

There is, as they say, a correlation between size and raw physical power, which is in many cases the determining factor in a fight. In military tactics, the bigger force only attacks a smaller one (as Eisenhower once said “Never send a battalion to take a hill if a regiment is available.”). In nature, it’s the large animals that don’t have natural predators – they would squash any potential predator and would therefore not be worth the risk for any potential predator.

Like it or not, size matters. In any direct confrontation, the biggest guy will prevail. There is, as they say, a good reason why boxing matches are separated into weight classes. If you look at the geopolitical scene in the last fifty years, you’ll notice that the super powers are inevitably huge (USSR, USA and China were and are huge both geographically and demographically). Nobody takes on the biggest guy on the block and the big guys don’t get into fights directly because any conflict will be expensive in terms of blood and money.

So, given that the big beast will inevitably crush the opposition in any direct confrontation, what are the smaller creatures to do. The answer, as always, lies in nature where the smallest of creatures have found a way to survive against larger foes. On land, one only needs to see how bees have mastered the art of cooperation and collaboration to create honey and keep out predators. A swarm of bees have the ability to make a bear flee. In the insect kingdom, a beehive can be destroyed by a single hornet. However, when the bees of the hive cooperate and flap their wings in unison, they can actually heat up and burn the hornet.

In the waters, the most fearsome predator is not the huge killer whale or shark. It’s a group of piranhas, which are tiny. A single piranha takes just one bite out of the prey. However, a group of piranhas can strip any given prey to the bone in a matter of seconds.

Size matters in a confrontation. The big guy will inevitably have power at his disposal. However, as nature has shown, the small creatures can even the odds and send their opponents packing when they work together. Small nations that form consortiums can make quite an impact on the global stage. In my years in the insolvency business, the people that I come across that have the “most money” don’t actually work in large structures but in consortiums like bees.

On the national level, one of the small countries that comes to mind is the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is made up of seven different emirates. Sure, the most dominant is Abu Dhabi, which is where the bulk of the oil wealth lies and the most well known is Dubai, which is where most of the commerce is. However, each emirate has found security and by extension prosperity working together within the federation structure than they would have on their own.

The driving force behind the formation of the federation was the then Emir of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who would go onto become the first President of the UAE. If you look at the history of the UAE, you could argue that while oil did provide a steroid shot of prosperity, the real blessing for the UAE was the fact that it was created by a leader who understood that small units can achieve great things when they cooperate and collaborate.

Furthermore, if you look at the geopolitical situation that Sheikh Zayed found himself in back in the 1960s and 70s, the creation of the UAE was a master stroke. The British, who were the proverbial big fish and the protector of what was then known as the Trucial States, suddenly withdrew. What we know as the UAE sits between Iran and Saudi Arabia, two much larger neighbours, whom have not always been friendly (Iran or Persia as it was known had seized three islands from the Emirate of Sharjah, which remain in Iranian hands). Sure, oil made the Emirate of Abu Dhabi wealthy overnight but in a sense more vulnerable (one does not want to be a rich minnow next to a hungry lion).

So, the creation of a federation was a way of unifying people and working together in what is essentially a tough neighbourhood. As Sheikh Zayed’s Wikipedia page notes, he was exceedingly generous with Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum who was then ruler of Dubai. The point being that he understood whatever he gave to the ruler of Dubai would be more than repaid if they could work together. Sheikh Zayed’s Wikipedia page is as follows: [LINK]

One can argue that Sheikh Zayed was also lucky in that he had a partner in Sheikh Rashid, the then ruler of Dubai, who also saw great value in working with Sheikh Zayed in a Federation. As Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the current ruler of Dubai recalls – Sheikh Zayed offered the presidency to his father (who was the elder of the two), who refused it and insisted that Sheikh Zayed be the president. The current Dubai ruler notes that this is something that has never happened in the Arab World. The Dubai ruler’s recollection of that event can be found at: [LINK]

The UAE, which celebrated its 50th anniversary recently has been a success. Whilst oil wealth has undoubtedly played a part in that success, a good part of it is due to leaders who understood the value of working together and being open. Sheikh Zayed, as its founding president was generous in using the oil wealth of Abu Dhabi in helping build up the human resources of the other emirates. Whilst he was at the time of the formation of the UAE, one of the wealthiest men on the planet, he kept himself close to the people and was happy eating with Bedouin tribes in the traditional manner: [LINK]

How Many “Modern” people do you know would sit for this meal?

The UAE is not perfect by any means. Its record on treatment of foreign labour, particularly those from the Indian Subcontinent is not great and it has not exactly won international praise for its participation in the War in Yemen. However, you cannot argue with the fact that the country has come along way in 50-years, particularly when you consider that at its formation, it was described as being like a collection of desert tribes. The National, Abu Dhabi’s main English daily describes the initial meetings between Sheikh’s Zayed and Rashied as being “like tribal chieftains.” [LINK]

Then, you have to look at the fact that the UAE is not the only “amalgamation” in the region. There was the union of Egypt and Syria under the United Arab Republic between 1958 and 1971, which failed. Both Arab republics had a long history of statehood than the Emirates. So, how did they fail whilst the Emirates succeeded?

Simple argument, the individual Emirates found a way of working together. Sheikh Zayed allowed the other emirs a degree of independence, thereby giving them power within their sphere. By contrast, then President Naser of Egypt had no intention of giving his Syrian partners any real power. In the United Arab Republic, there was never a need to cooperate and collaborate like there is in the United Arab Emirates.

When small units are given the chance to get together when they need work together and are also allowed to be themselves when there’s no need to be in a large group, they achieve great things. By contrast, if you get a situation where units come together but only one personality insist on perpetual power, the union is bound to fail. The Emirates succeed because they are together when they need to be but they have autonomy to be themselves. The United Arab Republic failed because one man wanted to control everything.

Its even true at the commercial level. In seven years of being insolvency, the best business structure come from my asset buyers. These are consortiums of individuals, who contribute their talents for that particular project then go their own way when they want to act on their own. These guys have always been easy to deal with and when they pay, they pay in large sums. At the other end, the organizations that end up as boxes in the office, are usually run by ego maniacs who insist on controlling the brand of boxes used by the business and insist in not allowing their clients to speak in meetings. These are the guys who somehow talk big but shrink as they make half hearted attempts to put dreams into reality.

 

Tang Li

*Although I’ve been based mainly in Singapore for nearly two decades, I’ve had the privilege of being able meet people who have crossed borders and cultures. I’ve befriended ministers and ambassadors and worked on projects involving a former head of state. Yet, at the same time, I’ve had the privilege of befriending migrant labourers and former convicts. All of them have a story to tell. All of them add to the fabric of life. I hope to express the stories that inspire us to create life as it should be.

 

 

yyy
READER COMMENTS BELOW

8 Responses to “When small guys get together”

  • theforgottongeneration:

    In SG, small white pigs get together using the GRC system, paid themselves million$ thinking they can fly. But pigs cannot fly means cannot fly, lah; given a long runway also no use, hor.

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  • Biden's Flatus blurps:

    This is an interesting profile of a founding father, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahya who lurks behind the scenes at so many of the inflection points in Middle East history. However, their new found military adventurism and blatant political interference in the internal affairs of their neighbours is both reckless and naive in my opinion. I couldn’t finish this article, I stopped about a third of a way through because it read like a hagiography. It completely glosses over the atrocities that Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MBZ), Crown Prince of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, present Deputy Supreme Commander of the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces is seen as the driving force behind the UAE’s interventionist foreign policy and is a leader of a campaign against Islamist movements in the Arab World.

    I believe they are better off using their resources as a stabilizing force by being an economic catalyst and a neutral ground whereby differing parties can resolve their disputes around a round table. First a correction: MBZ worked with late king Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to overthrow president Morsi of Egypt in 2013, long before the phenomenal rise of Mohamed bin Salman in 2015. It is interesting to know as well how much money can do to improve the image and circumstances in a tightly controlled, artificially engineered, environment —the UAE and Saudi Arabia; and the mess it can cause beyond such an environment — think of Libya, Yemen and Egypt. To believe that this sort of influence will last for the next fifty years is preposterous.

    This crown leader MBZ in an Arabic Muslim country or ‘federation’ (the U.A.E.) is lucidly proposing l think, nothing else but a limited prospect for the future of the region: either a ‘benevolent’, ‘modern’ royalty like his own or ‘democracy’, which in a Muslim society spells as the Muslim Brotherhood… However, against all odds, the Iranian society is much more developed than any kingdom in the Arabic Peninsula. MBZ is simply one more tyrant in a long line of dictators who present themselves to Western audiences as a bulwark of
    liberalism while pursuing fundamentally destructive policies that only exacerbate the region’s pathologies. How many times are we going to be fooled by people like MBZ and his ilk? Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan would be turning in his grave right now.

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  • Insightful:

    Insightful.
    Thanks for the info.

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  • AhLi piggyback on Voltaire:

    “Don’t think money does everything or you are going to end up doing everything for money. Sensual pleasure passes and vanishes, but the friendship between us, the mutual confidence, the delight of the heart, the enchantment of the soul, these things do not perish and can never be destroyed…. It is love. Love, the comfort of the human species, the preserver of the universe, the soul of all sentient beings, love, tender love.”

    - Voltaire, 18th cent. France

    The philosophical works of the French Enlightenment scholar Voltaire – such as his satirical novel Candide – influenced the beginnings of the French Revolution, in promoting new humanistic and political ideas and concepts, through which Voltaire used both wit and sarcasm to prove his points against injustice and cruelty.

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  • Committee talking cock:

    Straits Times: WP CEC voted to expel Raeesah Khan over Parliament lie without full facts: Committee of Privileges

    This is laughable. The PAP-led Committee of Privileges is trying to use the words of a CONFIRMED LIAR (Raeesh Khan) to discredit her party (WP). How do they know she was not lying AGAIN when she testified before the Committee to make herself “look good” by throwing her party “under the bus”?

    BTW, the “mother-of-all lies” in Singapore comes from LKY (and his son). LKY said, “the value of HDB flats will never go down”. When, in fact, it will be worth ZERO when the lease ends. This lie was repeated by PM LHL.

    Other big lies in Singapore are:

    (1) Singapore is a democracy.

    (2) Singapore is a First World country.

    (3) HDB flats are “affordable and subsidized”.

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  • Singapore never "inclusive":

    Straits Times: How can excluding singles from buying PLH flats be inclusive? – Grace Leong, Senior Business Correspondent

    Singapore under PAP has never been “inclusive” despite of what it claims because of LKY’s “pick-the-winner” policy and the practice of “screw the relatively well-off Singaporeans so PAP “looks good” to the less well-off.”.

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  • PAP barking up the wrong tree:

    Straits Times: WP chief Pritam Singh denies telling Raeesah Khan to lie, but says he took no steps to correct untruth from Aug to Oct

    PAP will try to make “political capital” out of this saga but it will fail for the following reasons:

    (1) Pritam and WP are more credible than Raeesah Khan who is an admitted/confirmed liar.

    (2) Pritam did the right thing giving Raeesah a chance (and time) to do the right thing and take responsibility for her action.

    (3) There was no harm sorting out the mess (correcting the untruth) earlier because the police were no longer doing any investigation on the matter.

    (4) If PAP believes it has a “smoking gun” on WP then it should agitate for the WP MPs at Sengkang GRC to resign so a by-election can be held.

    (5) The Committee should call Raeesah Khan again to clarify her claim that the WP told her to lie.

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  • WP leaders did the right thing:

    Straits Times: Top leaders knew of Raeesah Khan’s lies but chose not to disclose to others in party: WP vice-chairman

    WP leaders did the right thing. There was nothing to be gained disclosing Raeesah lied to others. Also, it was necessary not to disclose it to others so she has time to take responsibility for her lies and do the right thing.

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