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London Forum Notes  Iran Potential
Economy, Domestic Economy

London Forum Notes Iran Potential

As the first historic Iran-European Forum on future trade opportunities came to a close on Thursday in London's Marriott Grosvenor Park Hotel, business leaders and entrepreneurs at the event left with an overall positive attitude at which way future business connections may be heading.

Business leaders from several high profile companies spoke at the landmark event, which brought together the cream of crop in terms of Iranian business leaders and foreign CEOs. Staffs from several high-profile companies were present over the course of the two-day event including the Managing Director of WPP, Martin Sorrel, one of the world's largest Public Relations Firms; other companies included US-based Cisco Systems and Citigroup Bank, many high profile European companies also made it on the day including Switzerland's Nestle, France's Total Oil and L'Oreal cosmetics. Other companies included at the event European aerospace giant Airbus Group and Swedish industrial automaker Scania.
 
As Iran becomes a possible future investment opportunity for foreign multinational corporations, the prospect of an Iran able to trade with the world becomes more feasible. Business types at the European Voice-sponsored event showed their thoughts through their keynote speeches and via social media accounts.

At the beginning of the first day, former British Foreign Secretary and all round Persophile Jack Straw highlighted the points of political leaders and business people from the United Kingdom. Straw said that in regards to current negotiations between the P5+1 group and Iran over the latter's nuclear energy program. He was quoted as saying, "A deal is far better than no deal for Iran, the region and the international community," adding that if we want rapprochement with Iran we need to understand their perspective, not just their government rhetoric. Straw went further by criticizing the incumbent British Prime Minister David Cameron for his recent address at the UN General Assembly, which he said embarrassed Iran's President Hassan Rouhani after their first landmark one-on-one.

Going back to Iranian business speakers on Wednesday, Cyrus Razzaqi of Ara Enterprise highlighted that the outside world has many misconceptions with regards to the Iranian business landscape, saying that "it is wrong to say that all industries in Iran are government-dominated," going on to say that food and beverage, construction and real estate are generally in the hands of the private sector due to the nature of the businesses. He told the members of the audience that Iran is on the verge of becoming one of the best emerging markets and probably the last remaining large country so far for private business to enter.

>>>>Banking & Finance

Rouzbeh Pirouz, one of the founding members of the Iranian Business School located in Tehran, chose to highlight how Iran is one of the best opportunities for business education and investment in the long term. Pirouz said that Iran previously lacked world-class business and managerial education standards and with the advent of IBS, tutors from as far afield as London Business School, Harvard Business School and INSEAD have now appeared at the IBS. He went on to say Iran is blessed with a young and educated population but admitted that the country does have issues regarding the corporate management skills.
 
Ramin Rabii of Turquoise Investment Partners on the second day of the event used his time whilst speaking to highlight the potentials of the Tehran Stock Exchange. Rabii went on to say that Iran is the last large untapped emerging market in the world, pointing out the fantastic opportunities and returns on investment in the country. He added that, with its current GDP [along with the current economic restrictions] Iran should be a member of the G20 group of nations.

Rabii also made an interesting point in highlighting that if global institutions conducted a "self-sufficiency report" Iran would come out on top above all other countries.  Rabii during the course of his keynote also highlighted another misconception in regards to the Iranian economy. He said that it is wrong to say that Iran's economy is entirely oil-based, highlighting that last year, only 10 percent of the country's GDP was from the oil sector. Moving on to the TSE, Rabii said that local bourse was the best performing market in the world in 2013, giving returns of over 130 percent, adding the TSE offers a relatively cheap market, low P/E and high dividend yields.
 
Parviz Aghili, CEO of Iran's Middle East Bank, also took the stage at the event. In his speech, Aghili said at least 50 percent of Iranian Banks around the country are now privately owned (with many more currently under negotiations to privatize). He also highlighted that some semi-private banks – those in which the government or institution has a percentage – are not too dissimilar from private banks as they are run by the same method. He said that Iran's banking system has two major challenges currently; which are non-performing loans (NPLs) and equity investment buyback schemes. He also discussed the organizational framework of Iran's banking system, saying it is unique in its construction [as opposed to the Arab states in the Persian Gulf region] with the creation of parallel Islamic and conventional banking mechanisms.
 
Charles Robertson of Renaissance Capital also had the stage at the forum. His talk focused on the broader investment opportunities available in Iran in the upcoming decade. "Iran is the biggest opportunity in the next decade," he said, adding that he had some worries about Iran's banking system overall, but the country's share of public debt is low compared to other countries around the globe. In his final message Robertson did point out that Iran is the only country in the world that exports under every single category tracked by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

>>>>Technology & Internet Economy

In this section, Iranian and international speakers took the stage to showcase the rapidly developing internet and technology sector in Iran. Rupesh Chatwani of the Damavand Investment Group highlighted the breakneck speed at which Iran's ICT sector and internet economy has been developing over the past few years.
 
Chatwani said, "Only 0.6 percent of Iran's economy is internet-based, whereas the number is around 8 percent in the United Kingdom," adding that Iran's online industry is following the course of Russia and Turkey, despite current sanctions against the country. He said Iran has a good logistics infrastructure – very similar to Turkey, which has many of the same demographic markers and has a much larger internet economy. Describing the long term prospects for the internet-based economy, Chatwani went on to note that Iran has a strong market for e-commerce opportunities and that he and his company want to help build successful new enterprises in Iran in the next 5 to 8 years.
 
Elsewhere, Saeed Rahmani, highlighting Avatech new business startup accelerator and Digikala, said that these companies are exemplars of Iran's rising internet economy. He also noted that over the past few years, Iran's economic downturn have been disastrous for the internet economy in particular, but said he was hopeful of seeing a technology company being listed on the Tehran Stock Exchange in the near future. Rahmani added that Iran has by latest statistics 54 percent of internet users in the entire Middle East region, far higher than similar countries, like Egypt, by number.

Neda Amidi, an American-Iranian startup expert, partially representing the Plug & Play Startup Hub based out of California pointed to the amazing statistics of Iranian female entrepreneurs playing an integral role in the startup business economy in Iran. Amidi stated, "More female founders and engineers create new startup ventures in Iran than in Silicon Valley." She added that three of their most successful startup ventures were founded by Iranian technologists; these include DropBox, Soundhound and Zoosk.

Sifisio Dabengwa, CEO of South Africa's MTN Group – main partner of local mobile phone network operator Irancell, pointed out that his company will eventually roll out free WIFI hotspots in Iran, after the initial upgrading of the local mobile telecommunications infrastructure up to 3G and 4G standards. Dabengwa added that Iran has not been too different from other markets with regards to mobile network operations, but did have to add that due to the US-led anti-Iran sanctions, repatriating profits from Tehran has been difficult.

 

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