Guest Column: How the Arabs Saved My Life

NEW YORK On Saturday, June 23, basking in the knowledge that McCann had won at least 18 Lions at Cannes 2007, our best year in decades, I flew out of Nice Airport feeling very well indeed. My wife and I went our separate ways in London: she, home to New York; and I, off to Hong Kong for a professional/creative review of our Chinese operations.

Two days in Hong Kong, two days in Shanghai, one day in Beijing. I saw very solid strategic and creative work from all our Chinese agencies, including Guangzhou. Given my history with McCann China (I am on the board of our joint venture there) and the Asia-Pacific region (I was regional director from 1994 to 1998), they gave me the red carpet treatment. The highlight of the visit was my introduction to Can Creative, McCann China’s aggressive and successful answer to the various so-called creative shops now entering the Chinese market.

The visit concluded with an inspiring evening at an old Beijing factory/warehouse, which still bears Chairman Mao’s words on a wall. Attending were our staff, as well as faculty members of the Beijing Jiaotong University, with whom McCann Worldgroup’s John Dooner has established a collaboration to promote and foster marketing communications studies in China.

At 11:55 p.m. that evening I boarded Emirates Flight #307 to Dubai, where I would connect to Emirates Flight #201 on to JFK. The idea was to get home so I could accompany my wife, and our puppy Ginger, to Ft. Lauderdale for a week’s vacation.

It never happened.

As I walked from my arrival gate in Dubai to the transit area, looking for Emirates’ first class lounge, I collapsed with a cardiac arrest.

Thankfully, Dubai Airport is equipped with defibrillators every 150 feet or so, and incredibly alert medics. Although I flat-lined and was technically dead for about three minutes, I was resuscitated by a nameless Arab medic, and immediately sent, by ambulance, to Sheikh Rashid Hospital, a clean and capable facility maintained by Sheikh Mohammed’s enlightened government. Sheikh Mohammed, as ruler of Dubai and current prime minister of the UAE, is behind the astonishing transformation of Dubai into the city of the future/melting pot/global business hub it wishes to be.

I woke up in a windowless, immaculately clean room—with the classic clock on the wall—which I shared with four other patients, all Arab, surrounded by doctors speaking in Arabic. Was the airport bombed while I was walking? Had I been kidnapped? Not really. English conversation was supplied by a veritable platoon of the kindest nurses I have ever come across—Filipinos, Indians, Pakistanis, South Africans, New Zealanders, Australians and even Palestinians, all united by their chosen profession and the need to work and send money home to their families.

Growing up in this society, and in this business, I had developed the cynical view that people only treated you well once they knew who you were. All these people had was my boarding pass; my briefcase, containing my passport, money, etc., had been put in a safe by the police at the airport. Still, I was given the most competent and compassionate treatment possible, no questions asked, which puts the current geopolitical climate into a whole new light, at least for me.

I was charged nothing for the first three days I spent at Sheikh Rashid Hospital. It’s free! I then received the most technologically advanced services at the American Hospital, to which I was transferred after I was “found” (my loved ones had no idea what had become of me when I did not show up at JFK at the expected hour). I had great support from our associates at Fortune Promoseven, a longtime McCann partner in that part of the world. Most importantly, even though it was a weekend and people were in different places, my wife Maria (who flew over on the first available flight), my assistant Sarah Bass and my boss John Dooner found me and immediately sent the help and assistance I needed.

But the people of Dubai saved my life and they didn’t even know who I was. The lesson? I was nobody—but still a life worth saving. Thank God (Allah?) for that.

Marcio Moreira is vice chairman, global professional management of McCann Worldgroup.