Laudy Lahdo has expanded Servcorp's serviced offices throughout the Middle East — providing easy access for entrepreneurs to top grade infrastructure.
Australian-Lebanese businesswoman Laudy Lahdo had little expectation of being in the Middle East no longer than five years. She's now on nine years and counting at Servcorp, a global provider of serviced and virtual offices, where she's general manager of their Turkey and Middle East operations.The company is worldwide with 120 locations in 22 countries – a number that now covers a fair bit of the region: Bahrain, Kuwait, Beirut, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
Lahdo has had a fair hand in making that growth happen. And she's been happy the family has had the opportunity to spend years abroad with her. “It's been a family decision to stay. I have two teenage children. Growing up in Dubai, even though they are in private English schools, Arabic is compulsory. They can read and write in the language, and they get to know the region.”
Lahdo says her leadership over these years has been based on making tough decisions and staying humble. “Whether you're male or female, you'll be judged by how well you work under pressure,” she remarks. “Your team is looking to you for guidance, and you must take complete responsibility for the outcomes of decisions.”
The company's first Middle East offices were in Dubai's Emirates Towers. Location, location location: “By having our base in Dubai,” Lahdo says, “we were able to look after some of the biggest internationals.” The Servcorp brand thus grew on the strength of the brands their offices would host (JP Morgan, GE, Rolls-Royce and Bloomberg, to name a few), providing the credibility necessary to attract additional clients.
Lahdo calls Servcorp's product “very good for the one to ten man business.” What they offer are fully serviced office suites or virtual offices coupled with access to meeting spaces. That being said, she adds that large corporations often join Servcorp when either setting up new offices in a country, or for special projects when the company's established offices aren't enough. “We're predominately a short-term solution,” Lahdo says. “But having said that, we've had clients with us for years. It gives any business the chance to present themselves in a completely professional manner.”
The point is the ease of use. Entire physical office suites or online services are quickly available, contract terms are only a month long, and there's no deposit if it's paid for with credit card.
The monthly rates run from $150 for their “meetings package” to $160 for the “address package,” and then $190 for the communications service. All three are available for $360. Also available at $470 is their “global package.” Lahdo argues the value: “If you're an entrepreneur with limited capital, you pay the $360 a month and you've got a great address on your business card, you can meet potential clients in the Servcorp offices which project a five star image, you have access to T1 super fast internet, assistance from the team, and all of your communications are readily available via an internet connection.” Members get to keep the telephone number even after they've left Servcorp. In addition, members have access to the other Servcorp offices worldwide.
What Servcorp emphasizes is a consistent product worldwide and a strong emphasis on IT infrastructure — particularly when it comes to communications. The company reports having spent a sum upwards of $50 dollars in developing technology. “We develop all of our software in-house,” Lahdo explains. “It's tailored to a multi-tenant environment such as we have. Our built-in data and voice platform, for instance, could allow a SME to plug in from any place in the world and access the services we provide.”
When a client calls a business using Servcorp's telephone answering service, a 24 hour receptionist answers in the company name, following whatever instructions the business has provided. That phone call can be directed toward a mobile, personalized voicemail, office or any other location worldwide. They've developed software called Onefone that turns your laptop, iPhone or iPad into your business phone. In short, a single phone number makes you accessible wherever, and whenever. “It's at a local cost to the caller,” Lahdo boasts, “and incurs no roaming charges for you.”
But they still obey the bricks and clicks demand of the market — especially as it is here in the region. Sub-standard infrastructure in many countries (Lebanon leaps to mind) and a business culture that emphasizes personal connections with face-to-face meetings continue to make office space a key component of how a business presents itself. “We always encourage people to visit us and get a feel for the Servcorp experience,” Lahdo declares. “For example, there's the granite marble tables. How many times have you been to an office in which the boardroom is in terrible shape?
These are things SMEs should consider.” Then there's the address — useful for meetings, or just as a mailing address to project status. Servcorp members receive what Lahdo calls a “premium” address; in Lebanon, that's in Allenby Street in Downtown Beirut's Souks.
This article was originally published in the November/December 2012 print edition of Entrepreneur Levant with the headline: Offices on demand