Just three weeks to go until the end of 2019, and it’s time for one last gathering of the global industrial gases business to share insights and opinion on the dynamics driving today’s business opportunities.

The forum for that intel is here at the MENA Industrial Gases Conference 2019 in Dubai, UAE. And what a gathering this has proven already.

Over the two days of conference programme, we expected to learn more about the dynamics in the region, its still huge potential, and of course more about the man at the very top of Air Products, Chairman, President and CEO Seifi Ghasemi. Indeed, one of the big talking points on the sidelines of the event had been the anticipation for this prestigious keynote. And no-one here was left wanting.

We knew it would be special and to an extent, personal. gasworld Publisher and CEO John Raquet had already noted how this region was in Ghasemi’s DNA. But when his keynote did happen, it was even more than that.

It was not necessarily the stage presence that captivated, it was the added value after that as a unique Q&A session unfolded. We were reminded beforehand by Raquet himself that this was a rare opportunity to grill such an eminent member of the industry, and so it proved.

It was refreshingly raw and powerful, at times almost emotive, as Ghasemi responded to audience questions over the industry’s future and topics such as sustainable business paths; exchanges that will have left a lasting and positive impression on all those in the room this morning. Clearly, I was one of those indelibly marked by the experience.

For that reason alone, it declared this MENA conference a must-attend and must-see event, a candid gathering with an executive at the very top of this industry that simply isn’t ordinarily available. Ghasemi’s bond with the audience in those moments, those 45 minutes of keynote and Q&A, made it feel almost like a personal, invite-only experience.

Seldom is such star value in these kind of exchanges or forums truly realised.

robc-QUOTE2-MENA19

The theme of this entire gathering has perhaps been embodied by a sense of ‘added value’. That may sound a little obvious, it’s clearly very much a term of business speak, but it has definitely been a strand of so many conversations over the last few hours and days; that need to innovate, to meet a specific need and carve out the value proposition, both globally and here in the Middle East in particular.

It’s been something of a shake-up in the usual rhetoric around these MENA gatherings. We have so often referred to the new industrial gas frontier that the Middle East is, to the abundant growth opportunities in the region – and that is absolutely still the case, arguably more than ever before. Indeed, Ghasemi spoke so passionately in underscoring those opportunities in his own keynote.

“The Middle East has all of the ingredients required for this region to have great progress and prosperity. That is why we want to significantly expand our presence here,” he enthused.

But there is a noticeable evolution in the narrative around this land of opportunity, to the effect that it’s as much about realising the right opportunities, in the right areas – and doing so with the delivery of a firm value proposition. This was emphasised by Air Liquide’s Omar Germouni who, in his discussion of the business models for success, discussed the value proposition at length and stressed the importance of developing a value proposition with the customer in mind and not the shareholder or balance sheet. This, he explained, will ultimately generate the best returns.

Ghasemi had also spoken of creating value for Air Products’ customers, and in lively coffee breaks and exhibition footfall here, it is clear that so many of the discussions are around those all-important value propositions between customers and suppliers.

And as we look forward to the rest of the conference unfolding over the next 24 hours, there will no doubt be more and more great value to be imparted on the stage from a collective of great speakers, not least our closing keynote tomorrow, Phil Kornbluth (Kornbluth Helium Consulting). I understand we’ll learn more about Helium Shortage 3.0, life beyond the BLM one day, and what we can expect for helium in the year ahead. In times like these, insight on global helium markets is certainly of value.