Life’s an Adventure – Right?

In consulting, there are words that begin many an adventure and many a consulting nightmare: “We have an opportunity…” Opportunities mean that someone (may be the sales person, may be so-and-so who knows so-and-so, may be “that biz dev guy” (who, really, do you ever know what he does?)) has sniffed out a lead on potential work. “Work” meaning potential for someone to pay us for our opinion and hopefully, also our expertise. Hopefully not, just to be the “yes man” (that does happen, just not as often as some portrayals of management consulting would lead you to believe). 

In this specific case, said opportunity came from a meeting with Big Poppa from my parent company and a big (well, metaphorically big – can’t say for sure if this person is mass-wise big) Saudi guy. Seems there was healthcare gold to be found in the hills of sand of the KSA. And so, the email comes out: “We have an opportunity…” and I think, “Hmmm…could be interesting.”

A few months later, here I sit drafting up this post in the Frankfurt Airport Lufthansa business lounge outside of the gate that will deposit me on the plane that will take me to Riyadh. For a week in Saudi Arabia. To pursue this magical “opportunity” (consulting opportunities are always magical in my book – they are the rainbow unicorns that we all chase with dreams of cash-filled unicorn poo), has involved:

  • Many, many 5am PST conference calls to discuss our strategy to win the hearts & minds of the client (and thus the business)
  • Many, many PowerPoint presentations (cobblers make shoes, elves make toys, consultants make PowerPoints) to show the prospect our brand, our quals, or “what we can do for you”
  • One trip to New Orleans for a wine (well, since Saudi’s don’t drink alcohol, “tea” is a better word) & dine event with our prospects
  • Many more strategy discussions (a consulting sale is like dating: you agonize over how to get someone to like you – dissecting every word, gesture, email in order to decode what they really think about you)
  • And then, the decision: you’re going to Riyadh in 10 days, get cracking on those tickets!
So, back to my being in Frankfurt. In about a half hour, I board my last flight of this leg (so far it’s been SFO to DCA to IAD to FRA and then off to RUH), truly starting the adventure that I am going to call: “6′ Tall Tattooed Lady Invades the KSA” (SFTTLIK in short). Thus far my trip has involved: Abaya shopping (thank you Bay Area for providing an awesome store devoted to all things Muslim-dress), cultural education (thank you Carole at SAIC), strategy sessions allowing me to enjoy Ritz hospitality in DC, panic attacks, groggy flights and day-stays at the Sheaton Frankfurt, and now queueing for the final step to my first experience in one of the most challenging countries for a woman business traveler: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 
The posts to follow will be my commentary on the whole experience. What it’s like to arrive in such a different environment for a woman like myself. What it’s like to experience the culture. The food (I am so looking forward to the food!). The dichotomy of wealth and gender oppression. The flavor of doing business in such a non-Western environment. The healthcare system. The heat. How many times I trip over my abaya. Other observations related to being a tall woman with almost zero tolerance for heat in a land of less height-endowed women. 
Stay tuned as the adventure unfolds. I’m terrified, excited, exhausted, curious, anxious, and all sorts of emotional adjectives!

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