I am frequently asked this question, is it the end of the road for ex-patriates in the GCC?

Given what is being written about ex-patriates and the economies of the GCC at the moment it is an entirely legitimate question – these articles by Simeon Kerr of the FT and Sarah Townsend of Arabian Business give a good overview of the issues. But the answer is not straightforward.

In some cases the answer is a resounding ‘yes’, it is the end for ex-patriates. But overall the picture is more complex and more dynamic than one might think.

The three cultural ex-patriate clusters of the GCC

To give an accurate answer I think we need to break the ex-patriate community down by region of origin and by what is going on in specific GCC countries. For example the experience of ex-patriate professionals is very different in the UAE to what it is in KSA.  

Broadly speaking ex-patriate professionals fall in to three clusters of origins: Western, Regional (Lebanese, Egyptian, Palestinian, Jordanian) and Asian.

What is happening to these three clusters is very different.

Twenty years ago the majority of senior talent that I used to recruit for the GCC was Western. It made sense then. And I think many ex-patriates did a great job in helping the local economies develop. Dubai is a great example of this. And yet today as a recruiter of senior level talent I rarely have a Westerner on one of my short lists.

Why is this? 

Where are the jobs of the future for GCC ex-patriates?

There is now an abundance of regionally produced talent that can do the jobs better than Westerners - for reasons of language and cultural affinity.  I think this is healthy. It shows in particular the success of multinationals in shaping a whole generation of regional talent. In particular I would point to the very positive contribution to the development of human capital in the region made by companies such as HSBC, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Nestle, Mars and Pepsico – to name but a few.

Having said this there are still key industries such as commercial banking where there is likely to be reliance on Westerners in key functions for the foreseeable future.  There are also emerging activities such as Digital Marketing and Digital Technology where the talent will for a short period of time (5 years?) still need to be imported, particularly from the West.

My guess is that regional talent from outside of the GCC – most notably those from Lebanon, Jordan, the Palestinian Diaspora and Egypt will continue to play a critical role in the economies of the GCC. 

However opportunities will be less. Partly because of economic tightening, societal changes and the simple fact that they are outpricing themselves. 

What I have seen over the past 18 months is a significant number of Lebanese CEOs, CHROS and CFOs lose their jobs because of the tightening economy and not able to find new jobs because their salary expectations are too high and the job opportunities are too scarce. In Saudi Arabia whole layers of jobs that were traditionally held by non GCC regional talent are now being replaced by Saudi Nationals. Which, objectively, is the right thing for Saudi Arabia. 

But I have also noticed that in some cases – particularly, as it happens, with CFOs – that regional non GCC talent is starting to price itself out of the market.  For example it is often much better – in terms of cost and performance- for a GCC employer to recruit a CFO directly from Italy than it is to recruit a Lebanese, Palestinian, Egyptian or Jordanian because of outsized compensation and benefits expectations.  

The Asian professional class is one to which we all owe a debt. In the last twenty years I have seen time and time again the quiet dedication of those from the Indian subcontinent. I know how many organizations function because of the administrative backbone that professionals from India and Pakistan provide. All the signs are that they will continue to prosper and undoubtedly will find greater opportunities at the expense of more expensive ex-patriates. That said the challenge will be for greater numbers of them to break in to leadership roles where they are responsible for different nationalities. It is happening but I think there is still considerable room for growth. For this to happen they will need to develop universal communication skills and universal emotional intelligence and greater cross-cultural assertiveness.

This Forbes list of 50 Indians in leadership positions in multi-nationals and Arab companies shows it can be done.

The expat dream is over for those who are ‘superior’

So have we reached the end of the road for ex-patriates? The age of expats is over for those who come believing in their own innate superiority and the dream of the ‘expat’ lifestyle.  It is over as a significant factor in Saudi Arabia. It will however continue in the UAE for those who genuinely have something to contribute. Going forwards the recruitment of ex-patriates will be more selective and value focused.

One age closes. Another dawns – how do you see that new dawn?

 

Please share your views in the comment box below and follow me on Twitter

 

Published in Insights

Guest blog by Mr Anees Moumina, CEO, SEDCO Holding Group

I was interested to be interviewed recently to share my thoughts on What makes an Outstanding Saudi Chief Executive.  This is an important subject because if you look at the different areas and objectives that Saudi Vision 2030 is trying to promote, we will need excellent leadership to achieve these ambitions.

It is thought provoking to be asked for your views on subjects like this and I thought I would share my views in addition to my comments that are included in Metin Mitchell & Company’s report on this topic – I have included the questions behind our discussions.

When you think about the old days compared today, then look ahead at the coming years, what are the different skills that Saudi chief executives will need?

This is something I keep reminding myself, that as a CEO I now have to wear two important hats.  One is looking at the market risk factors which have impacted payment collection, due to tightening receivables and credit sales.  You have to put realistic figures to companies, so If you want to grow in a declining market, you can but if the growth is based on credit terms rather than cash then you may be surprised with credit problems after two or three years, and there lies the risk.  The second hat is opportunity. Declining markets are often the best time to look at good deals. You have companies selling, so it could be the best time to buy.  As a CEO you need to balance the opportunity and the market risk, especially when you have the cash and the appetite to invest in a declining market.

What are the different challenges facing a Saudi CEO compared with CEOs in the West?

I see the challenges for a chief executive as the same, wherever they are.  A CEO is a CEO.  A CEO should be trained to weather cycles and to deal with different regulatory environments.  Challenge is an opportunity – that is how I look at it.  In Saudi Arabia, you have regulatory requirements, you have to test the market, have good market knowledge through different organizations – these are the same challenges in the West.  You have to know what to do depending on the market.

What is the best way to train and develop chief executives?

Ex bankers tend to have a faster grasp on a situation because you deal with different organizations.  You look at the credit of a company and what is the critical success factor; you deal with boards, regulators, people with the most sensitive item - which is money.  You need to have a broad vision.  The challenge is when individuals move from a publicly listed company, which has standards, to a family business and that is a different question.  This might be a company which is not internationally regulated and the challenge is risk.   A lot of family businesses have very strong corporate governance – boards, processes, systems, KPIs, compensation procedures. I think one of the best ways to develop chief executives is to ensure they have worked in regulated companies.

Companies have to believe in developing their people.  In a downturn market the first thing we see being cut is training, which is wrong.  You need to spend more on training. We look at the weakness of an individual and then do proper training to address that. Our people have to learn to innovate, to try new things – invest in IT, go into greenfield activities.  We also have to train in risk management.

How are we going to get more Saudi women in the boardroom?

Before we can have more Saudi women in the boardroom, we need more in executive positions. There are Saudi women in the boardroom but these are in family companies and where they are a member of the family. 

Things are changing.  We see progress in institutions and regulators are helping this – there is an abundance of candidates.  When you have a vacancy you see both genders applying and if it is suited to hire a lady, according to the regulations, it is happening more and more.  It is a good thing.

In our group we are in different businesses and have ladies working in different companies – in our hospitality business, our automotive business, our restaurants and in the pharmacy business.  We welcome that.

Saudi Arabia is committed to change – what will be the impact over the next ten years?

Companies have to be dynamic, geared to change and rate of change.  Business models are changing.  There are proposed fees and taxes on hospitality items, restaurants, hotels and on labour, so the private sector has to get more involved and proactive with the economy. That is a challenge. This is where the dynamics of a company come in.  If you want to get more market share you have to have the mentality of ‘let’s do things differently’.

What is your view on tenure of the role of CEO – assuming they are doing a good job?

Assuming they are doing a good job, then look at ways to retain them. Keep them motivated and challenged and compensate them.  I think a minimum of six years as chief executive is needed - usually there is a term of three years, so have another term.

What are the particular challenges for CEOs in Saudi Arabia?

A lot of businesses in Saudi Arabia are family businesses.  They have been started by the first generation and are now moving from second to third.  Saudi Arabia needs to learn from other organizations how to move these vast family companies from one generation to another successfully, it is a corporate governance question.  Without good governance, any problems at family level – such as splits between brothers and sisters – will affect a business model. You learn that from a bank – look at ownership.

The critical issue is to look at how transition is happening. Moving from fathers to sons – that is fine. But moving to the third generation – this is difficult and I worry about these third and fourth generations. 

What advice would you give to chief executives in Saudi Arabia now?

Wear two hats: risk and marketing opportunities.  Balance both.  There are some opportunities in a declining market so take advantage of that.

Published in Chief Executive

I’ve worked in executive search for 20 years, recruiting leaders for Middle East organisations of all types. One of the most interesting countries has been Saudi Arabia, where the types of leaders needed have changed as the Kingdom has grown and diversified.

Now Saudi is at a critical point in its development. There is an ambitious future set out in Vision 2030 to transform the Kingdom. At Metin Mitchell & Company, we have been looking at what skills will Saudi chief executives need over the next 15 years in order to help our clients in their recruitment. These skills are what will ensure the Kingdom achieves its Vision 2030.

To play our part in helping Saudi through this evolution, we have interviewed leading chairmen and chief executives to hear their views and add our own thoughts. We are grateful to these leaders who have given their time and wisdom, which we have incorporated into our research report, What Makes an Outstanding Saudi Chief Executive. Below we look at the key findings – you can download the report for free by clicking here

• Mr Loai Abduljawad, CEO, Emirates NBD KSA
• Dr Badr Al Badr, CEO, Dur Hospitality
• Mr Ihsan Bafakih, CEO, MASIC
• Dr Adel Ezzat, CEO, Saudi Paper Manufacturing Company
• Mr Adel Al-Ghamdi, Group CEO, Abdullatif Alissa Holding Group
• Mr Ibrahim Al Jammaz, CEO, Alamar Foods
• Mr Aiman Al-Masri, President and CEO, MESC Group
• Mr Omar Al-Midani, CEO, Beatona
• Mr Anees Moumina, CEO, SEDCO Holding Group
• Mr Musa’ab Al Muhaidib, CEO, Al Muhaidib Technical Supplies
• Mr Sulaiman Al-Rumaih, Vice President, Power & Industrial Group, Tamimi Group of Companies
• Mr Raeed Al-Tamimi, CEO, The Company for Cooperative Insurance (Tawuniya)
• Mr Fahad Al-Zomaia, CEO, United Matbouli Group
• Mr Khalid Abunayyan, President and CEO, Abunayyan Holding
• Eng Talal Al Maiman, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Investments and Developments at Kingdom Holding Group
• Dr Hilal Al Tuwairqi, Chairman, Al Tuwairqi Holding

Our interviewees say future Saudi leaders must be inspirational and able to clearly communicate their vision through a period of great change. But alongside this they must be able to make tough decisions as they drive through new efficient operating models and make the necessary cuts. They also need to have an ability to spot opportunities.

In my view, the biggest challenge is going to be how businesses transform the way they operate. Saudi needs leaders who can make things happen and achieve a new type of employee culture to deliver this.

We asked about the role of women for future success. I was delighted at the unanimous enthusiasm to see more women in senior positions – they are recognised as hard-working and talented and the Kingdom needs their skills. This is certainly reflected in our experience of recruiting – female candidates are generally outstanding. Yes, there are still cultural challenges to achieving more women in leadership positions, but chief executives want to see women promoted within organisations and also welcome the number of women who have studied abroad, who bring wider experiences to the workforce.

Our interviewees agreed that while much can be learned from Western CEOs, it is important that key elements of the Saudi culture are not lost – particularly the genuine care for employees and the long term generational view of business.

It was good that so many recognised the increased importance of corporate governance – I looked at this in my earlier blog, Will corporate governance create a clear path for Saudi Arabia?. There is no doubt corporate governance will be the big challenge for chief executives of the future. They will have to understand the regulatory and compliance issues, but also learn skills in how to challenge board members – especially when these are more senior family members.

Our interviewees had mixed views about how to train chief executives of the future. While international business schools have their place, the general view was that the new generation of Saudi chief executives must work their way across and up a business, so they understand how different disciplines work.

So to sum up the key findings, future chief executives will require a different mind-set from that of the boom years. They need to be cost conscious, look for hidden opportunities and inspire their workforces. But get the leadership skills right and Saudi is a country full of opportunities.

Click here to download a copy of What Makes an Outstanding Saudi Chief Executive. I would welcome other views and am happy to discuss this research in more detail and look at its implications for your own organisation.

Published in Saudi business leaders

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