Founder Interview: Romain Gerardin-Fresse, founder of GFK Strategies

Romain Gerardin-Fresse is a former political and diplomatic advisor, and award-winning CEO and attorney. As Founder and CEO of GFK Conseils-Juridis, he provides intergenerational wealth, estate planning, luxury lifestyle management and investment advisory services to High Net Worth individuals, affluent families, royalty and governments. He established his first office in the UAE in 2019 and has recently been named ‘Middle East Outstanding Leader of the Year’ at the Burj CEO Awards by the CEO Clubs Network in Dubai.

Tell us about yourself and your background. What is it that you do?

I’m an advice man. I’ve always been driven by this vocation – to bring my vision and insight to bear on situations that require holistic consideration and guidance.

In 2017, I decided to set up a firm in France that would break away from traditional standards and offer a global solution. We discovered that the clients we were working with were really looking for a way to centralize their needs, which revolved around protecting and defending their interests.

So, I took the gamble of setting up a firm that concentrated on all the parameters of the consultancy package: law, strategy definition, financial management, crisis management, and personalized support for their direct investments abroad. We were no longer just a law firm, but in fact a multifunctional tool that became their daily support.

The gamble paid off, and in the face of growing demand I opened in the UK, then New York, Dubai and finally Singapore. The Covid-19 crisis reinforced our position as a leader in crisis management. Gradually, the development of our client base has also led us to manage more and more sports and acting careers, in all their various aspects.

What drives/motivates you? What is your mission?

I enjoy finding solutions to complex problems. Some might call it a challenge, but this mental gymnastics is what I like about my job. Secondly, there’s the pleasure of supporting and carrying out superb projects in new areas, and successfully adapting them to local requirements and to the macroeconomic analysis we carried out. My mission is to find the best strategic mix for successful market penetration.

Why have you made the decision to relocate to Dubai?

I’m fascinated by the foresight of the Emirati government and by the economic dynamism that surrounds the UAE. We opened our first branch here in 2019 and saw what the UAE had managed to achieve in 48 years since its establishment, which was nothing short of breathtaking. It developed 10 to 15 times faster than any newly created state.

But what fascinates me even more is the ability to anticipate crises. A large part of my work involves anticipating problems and implementing solutions to prevent them from occurring. As we saw with the management of the Covid-19 crisis, which they handled masterfully, the Emirates know how to anticipate and manage a crisis.

Beyond this, it is also the foresight to advance the country’s attractiveness for doing business, by adapting legislation and creating major programs, such as the Dubai Economic Agenda (D33) objectives, as defined by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Vice President, Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai The aim is to double the size of Dubai’s economy over the next decade and consolidate its position as one of the world’s top three cities. Dubai’s D33 economic agenda includes 100 transformation projects.  

What do you see as the biggest opportunity/advantage in the UAE right now? 

The UAE is a global crossroads between Africa and Asia. It is a safe country, in terms of both physical and economic security, with legislation and a tax system that is adapted to the challenges of today and tomorrow.

Public policy is incredibly forward-thinking, and the UAE knows how to use its geographical location to develop projects that attract FDI. It’s a liberal country, in the noble sense of the word. Few business destinations today have a real liberal application, which many investors and entrepreneurs are looking for.

What has been your biggest challenge in establishing your business in the region?

That would be convincing our partners and customers that our relocation was not motivated by a tax mechanism! I have to say, we needed to be rather pedagogical in explaining that Dubai is not a tax haven or an offshore destination. It’s a real economic machine that allows investors to flourish, with real assets that go beyond the simple ‘tax oasis’.

I’ve found real entrepreneurial freedom in the UAE. We have refocused on Dubai because Europe no longer corresponds to our working philosophy, so the challenge was also to adapt our processes to fit in with this new plan.

What has been your biggest success since relocating to UAE?

We have succeeded in attracting a large number of Western investors, our long-standing customers, and have introduced them to the many opportunities available here, whatever their field of activity (investment, real estate, commerce, etc.).

What’s amusing, and what I’m particularly proud of, is that for some of them we’ve suggested relocating the working meetings, and rather than doing them via Zoom, inviting them to spend a few days here.

They have all been won over. Almost all of them, who were not already economically established, set up their own company and rethought their distribution plans. It’s been a real success.

What advice would you offer other founders looking at relocating or expanding into the Middle East market? 

Go for it. Don’t let the opportunity pass you by. The market is still accessible, and it offers the opportunity to be part of the long-term dynamic of the next ten years.

You need to be surrounded by people to ensure that the choices and measures you take are the most appropriate, and that you are solidly equipped to deal with the economic acceleration we are about to witness.

As well as being here, you must take part, and the UAE is definitely a place to do that.

What are your business goals in the UAE over the next 5 years?

We want to continue to relocate the rest of our activities that we have had to leave in Europe for the time being, particularly in view of the need to maintain close relationships with certain customers, particularly institutional customers. The transition will be a smooth one. We also want to open another branch in Abu Dhabi, after we open in Ras-Al-Khaimah in November.

How can readers find out more about yourself and GFK Strategies?

A lot of information is already available as open source on the Internet, in English, French and even Arabic.

For readers who would like to meet us, we would be delighted to welcome you to our offices in the Emirates Tower, the architectural landmark of DIFC, owned by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum.

Editor-In-Chief of Bizpreneur Middle East