Susan Rae is a very easy person to talk to. So easy, in fact, that we were still chatting an hour after I’d arrived at the café in MSQ where we’d organised to meet – and our interview hadn’t actually started.
The former language teacher, who specialised in French, German, Japanese and English as a second language, is warm, friendly and engaging – and it feels like I have known her for years, as clichéd as that sounds.
It helps, of course, that we are both Australian and have a natural affinity. But you can also tell that Susan loves meeting people from all walks of life. She readily admits that being a teacher has helped with her people skills. But I suspect that her roles as a trade consultant for the Australian Trade Commission (Austrade) and then as the UAE-based trade commissioner for Trade & Investment Queensland have helped Susan to develop this skill even further. After all, negotiating trade deals would not only need tough business acumen, but also a whole lot of charm, which she has in spades.
“I have had so many remarkable experiences,” Susan tells me. “One of the reasons that I loved the trade role is that I love meeting people. I have met some amazing people, not just dignitaries, but people from all nationalities … sheep farmers from Australia who were here doing business.
“Sometimes people can confuse meeting special people with royalty, but some of the nicest people have treated me like royalty. That is what I will take away with me: the great people who I have met.”
Originally from Canberra, the capital of Australia, Susan moved to Muscat in 2000 with her husband, Andrew, and her son and daughter, aged 10 and eight at the time. Andrew is a lawyer and in the beginning, Susan was working at British School Muscat (BSM) as a language teacher.
“I was at BSM for two or three years and was teaching French, German and English as a second language,” she says. “I really enjoyed it, but I didn’t want to work full-time and then the opportunity came up at Austrade.
“It was a challenge as I had no clue about business, but it is all about people and teachers are very personable, which are transferable skills. I spent the next three months with Austrade not knowing what I was doing, but then it clicked and I loved it.”
After spending six years in Oman, Andrew was offered a role in Abu Dhabi and Susan transferred to the Austrade office there, where she became trade commissioner. They were in the UAE until mid-2013, when they decided it was time to go home to Tasmania, which is where Andrew grew up.
But, like many expats, they encountered a diversion on their well-travelled road and their plans were put on hold when Andrew was offered a dream job back in Muscat. Despite having already shipped their belongings home and being in the middle of a well-deserved European jaunt, the couple decided they were more than ready for a second stint in Oman.
“We came back to Muscat at the beginning of 2014,” says Susan, adding that they noticed many changes to Oman in the eight years they’d been gone.
“There was lots more traffic, more buildings and it was busier. There was more to do, with golf courses, activities and the Opera House. When we lived here before we had been fairly self-reliant in making our fun, such as camping and boating on weekends.
“But now, Muscat really is a world city. Equally, when we were here in 2000, we got to know the Omani people, their traditions and to see the countryside the way it had been for centuries, which was very special to me.”
These days, Susan is putting her trade skills to good use as chair of the Australian Business Group Oman (ABGO), which was launched in 2012. While it is an informal group, its focus is on promoting trade, cultural and business ties between the Sultanate and Australia. Susan says many members are advisers in government or work for large companies, such as Australian construction conglomerate WorleyParsons, as well as smaller businesses.
“We do a range of networking events that might be casual or seminars that are of interest to business,” Susan says, adding that it is a non-profit group.
“Last year, we had someone talk about how to use social media, but we also hold customs and travel seminars. We try to hold them three times a year. In March, the CEO of Sohar Port will give a talk. And this week, Drew Dudley [the Canadian TED speaker] will be giving a talk.”
As we come to the end of our interview, I ask Susan if she has any regrets and she says yes.
“To my great shame, I think the one thing I haven’t done is Arabic, but everybody speaks such good English.”
I doubt this would be a problem for Susan. While she is clearly very talented with languages, she has also mastered the international language of business and trade thanks to her warmth and down-to-earth Australian charm.
For more information about ABGO, go to abgoman.com