Negotiation Blog

Negotiators use the Power of Alliances at Dubai Air Show

By Thomas Wood

The 2013 Dubai Air Show was the most lucrative in the history of the event, with more than $200 billion in transactions in only five days. We can only imagine the intense preparations for negotiations, and the trades and sparring that followed suit. What we can say for sure, however, is that a strategic approach used by a few of the airlines resulted in a win-win deal.

On my recent trip to Kuwait to work with management and their teams at a multi-national client on their negotiations, there was much talk about the 2013 Dubai Air Show, where Boeing alone received roughly $100 billion in orders for its new 777X “mini-jumbo.” This was a truly astounding accomplishment, lauded by its CEO as the “largest product launch in commercial jetliner history.”  This was definitely NOT "business as usual." But it wasn’t just the pure volume of business that made this feat "NOT business as usual."

Qatar Airways and Emirates Airline, long-time fierce competitors, joined forces to buy hundreds of Boeing’s new models – a groundbreaking development that has been heralded as a transformative moment for the industry. As the two largest airlines in the Middle East, the two companies have had a long history of suspicion, competition, and rivalry. Executives realized, however, that although alone they each lacked sufficient negotiating leverage to demand discounts from Boeing, together they could secure better terms.

This joint effort – the first time the two regional giants had worked together in such a manner – shocked many analysts. The Wall Street Journal reported that Mr. Akbar Al Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways, explained his thinking to reporters. “Don’t you think it is good to align with one of the neighboring airlines and order airplanes? It is good for the industry and also to show to the world that we are competitors, but we also work together.” Gulf News reported that Al Baker noted, "When you negotiate with a supplier, you get the benefit of economies of scale,” and those large purchases allowed Boeing to offer discounts without sacrificing its own margins. Negotiating teams on both sides seized the opportunity to think creatively and create value for all parties.

The negotiators also created strong working relationships that are likely to pay dividends in future deals. Gulf News also reported that Al Baker proudly informed reporters that “when we do a similar program in the future, yes I hope that we will be able to do it together.”

But alliances aren't built in a day, so let’s give Boeing some credit as well. As reported by the BBC, Boeing’s negotiators identified that lucrative opportunities existed in the Middle East market and invested the necessary time and effort to understand that market’s unique characteristics. While budget gridlocks are jeopardizing opportunities in Western capitals, for example, Boeing saw that business leaders in the oil-rich nations of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are racing to become a global hub for air travel. To take advantage of this, Boeing’s negotiating team members no doubt did their cultural homework before engaging with their Arab counterparts in Dubai. The UAE government published cultural advice for Western negotiators, stressing the importance of face-to-face meetings when building relationships, and properly conveying respect when greeting your local counterparts. Boeing’s negotiators apparently took this advice to heart and earned the respect, trust, and admiration of their Qatari and Emirati partners.

Strategically building alliances and creative trades resulted in Boeing walking away from the Dubai Air Show with more than $100 billion in orders, more than twice the value of orders it’s European rival, Airbus, received. The impact of that is far reaching. As reported on NPR, Boeing is now in a stronger position to head off competition from its main competitors in the highly contested mini-jumbo market throughout the next decade.

Boeing executives may also benefit in future negotiations with its labor unions. The International Association of Machinists (IAM) in Puget Sound voted down a recent contract proposal because it had too many give backs (frozen pensions, lower wages for new hires, etc). Boeing had been on the defensive in those discussions, partly due to the success of Airbus. Now Boeing may be able to leverage its triumphs in Dubai -- the guarantee of future work --  as a solid BATNA: sending that work away from Puget Sound if a deal with the IAM isn't reached.

I always counsel my clients to think more strategically about their negotiations. Leverage can come from many sources.

Negotiating Tip

Three easy ways to build trust: Listen as an ally, show sincere appreciation for your counterpart’s efforts, and make (but link) concessions.


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Negotiation Blog

Empowering Technologists at the Negotiation Table

By Leslie Mulligan

Courtship….not necessarily a word that springs to mind when describing a mega-deal taking place in America’s bastion of high tech – Silicon Valley – but that is exactly how Forbes described Mark Zuckerberg’s pursuit of WhatsApp in an article detailing the Facebook acquisition.  This seismic, $19B deal closed in less than a week once the principals sat down at the negotiating table, but only after Mark Zuckerberg and WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum built a true partnership during the previous 2 years.

Technologists typically don’t contemplate relationship building as a cornerstone of their negotiating strategy, but that profound relationship is precisely why the Facebook-WhatsApp acquisition closed so quickly, once $ were in play.  Beginning in the spring of 2012, after Zuckerberg reached out to Koum for a casual lunch, they got together almost monthly- sometimes for dinner, sometimes to hike trails around Palo Alto. Not only did they share philosophies on business strategy and innovation, they built a trust that enabled rapid closure on terms, once Google stirred the pot and made overtures toward WhatsApp.    

Inventors and technologists usually have an innate curiosity – they push the cutting edge of their domain, fostering innovating thinking and breakthroughs in technology. Turning this natural curiosity toward your potential counterpart at the negotiating table, you can gain significant leverage before talking terms. Find or create shared experiences and build rapport – and you are on your way to earning respect and ultimately trust. Cultivating this trust is essential to spur your counterpart to reveal their underlying motivations and deeper interests.    

Once you know what is really driving them, rely on another natural skill of most technologists – creativity. Creativity – and flexibility – allows you to think through a set of alternatives that will meet some, or many, of the interests you have uncovered. If they reject one proposal, you have others ready to propose that might win the day.  But this powerful give and take during bargaining is only possible if your partner trusts you. The $19B WhatsApp deal was done in a few short days because Koum fundamentally liked and trusted Mark Zuckerberg.  

The Forbes article claims that once the deal was “done” - Zuckerberg and Koum had shaken hands on the basic terms - that Mark Zuckerberg broke out a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label to celebrate, as he knew this was Koum’s favorite Scotch. Now that is indisputable evidence that the Facebook CEO had done the work to uncover the real interests of the WhatsApp Founder!

To learn more about how to Empower Technologists at the Negotiating Table, listen to the August 17, 2014 IMI Tech Talk radio program, hosted on KFNX News-Talk-Radio 1100, when host Tom D’Auria speaks with Leslie Mulligan of Watershed Associates about this topic.

Negotiating Tip

Most people underutilize the caucus. What’s your hurry? Summarize, take a break, and make sure your counter offer is on the mark.


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