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Alumni Spotlight: Consultant Helps to Grow New Markets in Middle East

A city like Dubai is the stuff of science fiction. Its Burj Khalifa skyscraper is the tallest on earth, about the size of two Empire State Buildings stacked on top of one another. Its coastline features two man-made islands in the shape of a palm tree. It has the world’s largest indoor shopping mall, the world’s largest indoor snow park, and soon will have the world’s largest indoor theme park. Next, Dubai plans to expand its airport so that it becomes the world’s largest hub.

In short order, megaprojects have transformed Dubai and other Middle East cities from small desert cities into global tourist and business destinations.

Dennis Steigerwalt (BSBA ’03), international director for the Pittsburgh firm IBACOS Inc., helps foreign companies invest in and engage with the growing markets of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.  Specifically, he helps large multinational manufacturers identify products and technologies for which there is a market demand or opportunity. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is his primary focus.

“IBACOS is an innovation company focused on new markets and opportunities,” Steigerwalt says. “With this project, we’re helping the Kingdom diversify and create a more sustainable and profitable economy.  We’re also helping manufacturers to sell more of their products. It’s a win-win situation.”

In January 2014, Steigerwalt and his wife moved to Dubai to be closer to the action and enable that collaboration. Expatriates like himself represent anywhere from 80-90 percent of Dubai’s population of 2 million people. Steigerwalt says the melting pot of cultures, combined with Dubai’s focus on economic growth, makes it the region’s most progressive and liberal city.

Oil revenues have fueled the explosive growth of the Gulf countries, and specifically Saudi Arabia. But even with all that wealth, GCC countries are faced with the challenge of not having enough jobs for young people, which is a problem considering that two-thirds of the Middle East region’s population is younger than 30 years old.

Steigerwalt looks at this situation and sees potential — not the least of which is the need to build basic infrastructure to support the growing population.

“It’s a relationship-based society. If you build trust with the right people you can have a lot of freedom to try big ideas,” Steigerwalt says.

The international operation at IBACOS is very different from its domestic operations. In the U.S., the company helps develop and integrate products and systems to improve energy efficiency and performance in single-family homes. Its primary clients include the U.S. Department of Energy and large national and regional homebuilders.

Steigerwalt says the common thread between the two business lines are the company’s emphasis on innovation and its systems-focused approach. Additionally, IBACOS’s expertise in real estate and the construction industry is a good conversation starter in the Gulf States booming development market.

“We strive to be strategic partners. That’s the difference between us and a consultant. We want to develop and maintain long-term business partnerships,” Steigerwalt says.

At Pitt Business, Steigerwalt majored in finance and accounting. After graduation, he worked as an advisory representative at Lincoln Financial Securities Corporation and then founded his own company, where he served as president of Steigerwalt Capital.

“I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, and if I was going to run my own business, that I needed to own the numbers. My education at Pitt prepared me to do that,” Steigerwalt says.

He says he and his wife have loved living in Dubai. The city has captured their imagination, just as it has the rest of the world’s.

“The expat experience is something I would recommend to everyone,” Steigerwalt says. “You can take on more responsibility and accelerate your career when you take chances like this.”