In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg talks about how women are often held back in the workplace. Ms Sandberg’s words come from her experience in the USA, but they are just as applicable in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

As the Kingdom works to boost the number of women in the workforce, I interviewed a group of successful Saudi women for our report Roads to the top for Saudi Women. They talked about their own experiences and what had worked well.

CEW

A lack of women at the top is not a feature unique to KSA or Gulf states. The organisation Chief Executive Women published figures showing that only 30 per cent of executives at ASX200 companies are women and just seven per cent of FTSE 100 companies are led by women. Under-representation is a global problem. However, Saudi Vision 2030 gives us a measurable goal to aim towards.

What advice did the women we spoke to have for women looking to “lean in” and help their fellow ladies rise through the ranks?

1.      Support each other

Many of the women we spoke to talked about the responsibility they felt to pass on their success and encourage and support other women in the workplace – by backing other women, making sure they are properly heard and creating new opportunities for women in business and the public sector.

Organizations can create women-only spaces that allow more women to contribute. Amal Fatani, who wrote a blog for us with more detailed thoughts, headed a project to expand the women’s sections at the Ministry of Higher Education - from 20 ladies to 334. If possibilities for women do not exist, they cannot flourish so Amal’s example is important. Everyone should ask themselves “what am I doing to create more opportunities for women”.  

amplify

One woman talked about the example of the Obama administration, where women came up with a strategy to amplify their voice. When one woman made a comment or opinion, another woman would take that up and repeat the same point a few minutes later to make sure it was heard. Amplifying each other’s voices can be this simple – just reiterating what somebody else said in a meeting can have a powerful impact.

We all need to ask ourselves – “what am I doing to create new opportunities for women and how am I making sure that they are properly heard?”

2.      Look at the role models around you, and make sure you are a role model to others

Princess Banderi, was very clear about the effect that role models have had on her career aspirations, saying, “In my family, my mother is one of the strongest women I know. For her everything is possible, there is always a way to get to what you want or do what you want.”

There is no doubt that female members of the royal family have had a powerful influence as role models for women in the Kingdom. Queen Effat was mentioned numerous times, with one woman commenting, “When princesses started working, they broke a taboo. Families used to be reluctant to allow a woman to work because it looked as if they could not afford to live without her income. The princesses showed that work for women is as much about self-realisation.”

Strong role models are essential - to set an example for young men and women and to encourage daughters to think of more than just marriage. As one said, “Our vision is to have more women leaders to be role models. This will encourage more women into middle management and the top jobs.”

3.      The importance of finding and being a mentor

Many of the women we spoke to also talked about their experiences as either a mentor or a mentee, and why finding a mentor can be valuable.

One woman spoke of the guidance she received and how it helped her to reflect. She said, “I had a mentor… all along in my career in banking.  After he left banking, he told me my hard work and perseverance had got me where I was, but I needed to develop more skills, different skills to get to where I wanted to be. He said: stop shooting people between the eyes.  I am very direct, and I know what he means.”

Another talked about passing on advice and guidance to younger women, saying, “I think we lose track of how much we can do regarding mentoring. I believe that what younger women can benefit from is this kind of mentoring – speaking up and not being apologetic about what they ask for, about their rights and being more confident about their contribution.”

For women who struggle to find someone within their organisation, the Hadafi Women Entrepreneurship Program operates across the Middle East and provides mentors for female entrepreneurs. Other avenues are peer groups like the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce – which has a specific “Business Women” group to support women in their ambitions.

What next?

Women in Saudi Arabia are an essential part of the Kingdom’s future prosperity and achieving its Vision 2030 goals. This is recognized by the government and increasingly by employers as well.

Women can help shape their own future success. Supporting each other by creating new opportunities for other women and making sure female voices are heard are the foundations of shared success. Setting an example for the next generation as role models and working with mentors so that women continue to take up senior positions are key strategies.

Are there other systems that have been successful in encouraging Saudi women to “reach for the top”? Or businesses who are leading the way on female employment? Share your examples in the comments.

Published in Feminisation

Over recent months I have been honoured to interview leading Saudi women for our report, Roads to the Top for Saudi Women. 

There were so many insights from these inspirational women, I am delighted that Dr Amal Fatani has allowed us to share wider views from her interview than we could include in the report.

Associate Professor at the Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology at King Saud University, Dr Fatani was a pioneer in pharmacy in the Kingdom, is a leading academic in this field and has held influential roles at the Ministry of Higher Education, in the private sector as Consultant & Head of All Women Business Process & IT Services Center, as well as Board Member of Council of Saudi Human Rights Commission and lately Board Member at King AbdulAziz and his Companions Foundation  for Giftedness & Creativity. 

Metin Mitchell (MM): Your career is full of firsts. Can you tell me about some of these?

Dr Amal Fatani (AF):  I was privileged to be part of our country in the 1980s when Saudi was building itself. I started off my career in an experiment, the first pharmacy program for girls in the Kingdom. Fast forward and I was the first person in my Master’s and then went to the UK to do my PhD. At that time it was difficult for women to get scholarships so I took leave without pay for three years and literally, rather than spend money on clothes and bags, spent it on my career.

Once I started that first journey in pharmacy, it was very logical to be the first in everything – so I was one of the first people to head the department.  I was the first Vice Dean of the college and then selected to be the first Dean of nine scientific and medical colleges in KSU.

When I went to the Ministry of Higher Education, I became the first woman to set up women sections in the different sectors in the Ministry.  It started with 20 ladies and I left the ministry with 334 ladies, who were taking care of the 40% women in all the scholarship programs – the largest in history and the world.  I think we had 200,000 men and women scholarship recipients studying in more than 50 countries around the globe. My office was responsible for the women (40%), as well as the 55% females studying  in Saudi Universities.

We were responsible for supporting all the leaders in every single university female section in the Kingdom.  We brought them over to the ministries, we went and visited them, we made sure they had everything, we visited the different attachés around the globe. 

MM:  What was the driver in all this – was it family or something inside you?

AF: Both.  I had a very supportive husband, mother and father and I am a very ambitious person myself. There have been obstacles but there is always that push forward from within.

My family and my husband's family have a long history of being pioneers in healthcare, education & business.

MM:  How have you combined family life with working?

AF: I got married at 17½ and so I did everything with my kids and husband - from my Bachelor’s and Master’s to my PhD.   When I was in the UK, it was a good chance for my kids, who were aged between 3 and 15, to experience self-dependency because I would leave at 7am and come back at 7pm, though I did have some help.

My husband is very supportive.  He was with me in the UK, studying for his degree but there were times he had to come back to Saudi for work - he knew he could depend on me.  If you do not have the support within your family it is very difficult to go forward.  I have never been stopped from doing anything I wanted to do as long as I put my head to it – I was actually encouraged. 

MM:  What did the experience of the UK give you in terms of your career?

AF: The British have this concept of throwing you in the sea and if you swim, you are OK.  It taught me self-reliance.  I came from an environment that supported us 100%, especially because I was in the first batch in our studies, everyone made it as easy as they could.  In the UK nobody helps you at all and you have to come up with your ideas, you have to buy your own things.  It was a challenge to me and I learnt a lot.

Dr Amal D 2

MM:  Are there differences in the way men and women manage in the Kingdom?

AF: It is the difference in personality between men and women.  Men are very good at certain levels of decision making and taking quick actions.  Women are better at meticulous, step-wise approaches.  If you come and ask a man: you can take this job and it is CEO level or CxO level, he will immediately say yes, even if only he has 20% of the knowledge.  With a lady she will say: I am sorry, I need to learn and then I’ll do it.  They are very meticulous about what they say and do.

For example in the All Women Center in 2015 they had 400 ladies and by 2016 they were 1000 with 80% fresh graduates, which is even more difficult because they are millennials. They are excited, they think the world is their oyster so you have to manage their expectations in the right way and support them. I was supported in my career, now I need to give that back.

MM: You have seen different parts of the world.  Do you think there are particular strengths as a woman in Saudi society that help you to manage better as a woman, than counterparts in the West?

AF: Our nature of travel – we are migratory by nature, whether going to Jeddah, to Bahrain, Jordan, Syria, Egypt or further afield to Europe, America, Far East.  I think Saudis are very open-minded, they read a lot, they travel, social media, the ease of reaching information – especially this new generation now.  They are much smarter than people take them for, especially in the West when they see your abaya. If you are covering your face it is even worse.  They think that your mind is covered if your body is covered and they cannot differentiate.  So I have ladies that stand in front of the best, whether it is scientific symposia or in the business world, who will speak extremely proudly about what they are doing, with their face covered, and I am proud of that.

The second thing that gives us strength is that we have gone through a lot – difficult periods of political instability around us, oil up and down. Women in Saudi Arabia take care of the house, the kids, their parents; they have a very heavy social life that is a must, it is part of our culture.  They usually work and all of this is combined, it is the norm.  We have to get into more volunteering with the NGOs – we have more than 1000 NGOs in the country.  There is this feeling that you have to give back to society which is extremely strong.  Everybody is into some sort of support system.  All this has helped us become more holistic in our approach.

MM:  You mentioned challenges – what were your biggest obstacles and how did you overcome them?

AF: One of the first obstacles I faced was getting people to believe in pharmacy, which at that time was not understood.  Either you were a doctor or you were an allied med but nursing and pharmacy were not on the upper chain of attractiveness. We literally had to change perceptions in the country.

For example, I had a campaign that was written all over the college and we had an event called “I am proud to be a pharmacist” and they had to wear this on their chest and there were banners.  Because it has to start with you believing you are worthwhile before you convince anybody else.  Nobody could understand why I wasn’t in medicine – I had left medical college to continue pharmacy and they all thought I was a nutcase.  I have never regretted that and it is my passion.

MM:  What do you see as the role of women in Saudi achieving Vision 2030?

AF: Women will play a big role in vision 2030.  They are leaving their mark in healthcare, retail, IT, social studies & business. If you go to Ministries, if you go to sports commissions….look for women. Before, women preferred public sector, now we have ventured into business. Before the environment wasn’t ready for women, there were limited jobs and society wasn’t comfortable with the mixed environment in the private sector.    Then there was a plan to encourage women to go to the private sector and make specific centres for them where they can do as high-end work as they want in every field - but in an environment where they feel comfortable.  More importantly, where their families feel comfortable.

MM: How did anyone prise you away from academia into professional services?

AF: I have never been away from it.  My husband has been in the professional world from day one.  He was 10 years at Saudi Consultant House the precursor of SAGIA and then 10 years as the head of Saudi Council Chambers.  He then went on for 12 years in the Shura Council.  So for the whole of my career, whenever he had meetings or delegations, I would be involved with them.  We would host them in our house, we would talk together about academia and business, we have that interaction on a daily basis.  So I know a lot about business and he knows a lot about academia now.

MM:  What advice would you give to young women in the workforce to help them with their careers?

AF: Be relevant.  The world is changing.  For example, in pharmacy – by the time I had graduated, half of what I had learned had become obsolete.  By the time I had my Master’s: the same.  By the time I finished my PhD: the same.  You are into a continuous change of knowledge so be a lifelong learner.

Don’t be afraid to take chances – or of change. If you are going to be more relevant than a robot you need to make sure that you are on top of everything. Same-old-same-old doesn’t work, even your profession is completely changing and you have to be there.

Then there is life-work balance. Whatever you are as a leader at the top, don’t ever forget your family – the family unit will always remain the major portion of a holistic, stable society.  It is like a house – if the foundation is not there, you are building a house of cards. We need to spend time with our children and make them ready to fit in a global world - but not to forget their roots.

MM: To what extent do you think there is a danger of men being left behind?

AF:  I think it is the West that is facing the danger as we speak.  In general I am not worried about men because if we think about women being adventurous and throwing themselves in the sea, men have been doing that forever.  They have been very adept at manoeuvering through murky waters and looking at opportunities everywhere.  They have done it inside and outside the country and nothing stops them, so I am absolutely sure they will always get along fine.

Published in Saudi business leaders

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 Ihsan Bafakih, CEO, MASIC

What skills will the new generation of Saudi chief executives need?  This was the question posed to me by Mr Metin Mitchell when he asked for my views on What makes an Outstanding Saudi Chief Executive? (you can download the full report here).

He started by talking about the ambitions laid down in Saudi Vision 2030 and what the role of leaders in the Kingdom will be in achieving these.  Here I share more from our discussions – including thoughts on how future CEOs will acquire the skills they need.

What are the challenges facing Saudi chief executives?                                                                                                                                                          

One thing we have to do is anticipate things differently.  We now have the variables of the economy slowing down, government spending slowing down and more interventions and decrees.  These are new aspects to factor in – the economy, GDP, money supply and reforms coming in over time. 

So chief executives will have to anticipate these reforms and there is more to come, however with more efficiency comes more opportunity.  Yes in the short and medium term we have to anticipate seeing smaller margins as a result of paying taxes.  We see it in other countries also.  In Oman where they started taxation a lot of businesses were slowed down.  We might see it here and have to structure our businesses differently.  However, we are moving from an exceptional situation to a normal one practiced by many countries around the world.  Good businesses still flourished despite having these reforms which have become norms.

What is different about being a CEO in Saudi Arabia, as opposed to other parts of the world? 

We are a country in a transitional period. These next ten years are very critical for Saudi history with the transformation ahead and a dependency on issues other than oil. Communications are becoming more important. We have social media, an increasing openness of the media and far more tolerance of the government to see people speak out – more than at any time in our history. The environment of the Arab world and our neighbours makes what we do here unique – it is not the same for somebody sitting in California, the mid-West or Korea. We are going to strive to become an economy of efficiency, of productivity.

What will Saudi CEOs need to do differently in the coming years?

In the short term, we need to look at our forecasts.  Some of the plans were created in an environment where the macroeconomic aspects were more positive – they are going to need adjustment.  That is just in the short and medium term. 

In the long term, what has been postponed is taking place.  We always knew there would be a time in our country and our economy when we would have to let go of our dependency on oil.  I wish we had thought this way in the good years – it is always better to do this sort of change in the good years – but people always do things under pressure.  It is in our nature to wait until we really have to and now I think the government is showing the population what has to be done.  It’s a little bit severe and it’s painful, but it is putting everybody in a state of mind that change is coming.

What personal attributes will tomorrow’s Saudi CEO need, versus what was needed in the past?

We are a country on a learning curve.  In other countries, they have probably gone through what we are going through now – and the State has moved on from some of our issues.  We are going to strive to become an economy of efficiency, of productivity, rather than the stereotype of laid-back and dependent on oil and the government and with the government taking care of everybody.

We need the next generation to come with their merits and knowledge.  In the past, a lot of people on boards have been honorary.  We are beginning to see people appointed now for their merit, where they have a track record and proved themselves – in ministries and in business.

In the future I think we will see fewer people being appointed because of their family and more because they come equipped.

What are your thoughts on the best way to become a CEO?  Any particular route you favour or champion?

MasicI was a CFO before I became a CEO so I guess that is a pretty good route. When you have good people who grow within the organisation, that is a good way to determine a good CEO.  A good company makes good CEOs and I think the natural transition is the better one for the company.  Most of the CEOS we have, have grown within our companies. 

It can be good bringing in somebody who has spent time elsewhere and brings in different knowledge that he can apply to your business.

Is there a place in Saudi for a ‘Harvard Business School’?

I think our universities are good and I know most of my colleagues have graduated from them, but they don’t do enough on applied knowledge or on the job work.  When you go to Harvard Business School, you are analyzing current markets and coming to morning meetings where you are briefed on what’s going on with the stock markets and currency markets around the world. So you apply knowledge through doing and practicing. 

Our universities are not doing that but they don’t fall short on giving knowledge – on the principles of accounting, economics, finance.  That is being taught well here.  What differentiates us is that we don’t produce Wall Street bankers in the universities.  We produce people with a good education – there is a difference.  Look at the recent development when the Ministry of Commerce & Investment went to the US and signed up PWC and other companies to have a college here, teaching people practical knowledge.  You would have good standards in audits with accounting from a practicing company here.  Those institutes are something we need here.

What do you think Saudi Arabia will look like in ten years from now?

In ten years, Saudi will be more efficient and less dependent on oil; more results-driven; a more efficient government.  Also less inefficiency and less money wasted.  And, I hope, in ten years from now we can see the dependency on oil is less than 50% of the GDP.  We will see more contribution to our economy from less exploited areas such as: other mineral mining, industries, religious tourism and logistics.  We will see more of a service-driven economy and an efficiency-driven economy. 

On the social side I hope we will see even more tolerance, as our version of the millennials grows up.  Hopefully we will see a more absorbent society that is more tolerant and understands the differences each person has and sees that we have diversity as a plus. 

Published in Chief Executive
Tuesday, 13 December 2016 16:19

Are Saudi leaders born or made?

I mentioned in an earlier blog that I have had the privilege of interviewing a number of Saudi chief executives to ask for their views on ‘What makes an outstanding Saudi chief executive?

One of the questions we discussed was how best to groom the next generation of Saudi leaders. A large percentage of today’s Saudi chief executives are of course in family businesses and that also raises the time-old question of – are leaders born or made?

If you Google this phrase, are leaders born or made, it produces six million results! It is an issue that leaders often struggle with in terms of how much can you develop someone to become a leader and to what extent do they need to have natural leadership qualities?

An article on the Forbes site says that leaders are both born and made: “It turns out that both camps are right. Researchers have found that leaders come by their talents partly through genetics but mostly through hard work and persistence. In fact, one study from The Leadership Quarterly on heritability (that is, the innate skills you bring to the table) and human development (what you learn along the way) estimated that leadership is 24 per cent genetic and 76 per cent learned.”

What did the leaders who I interviewed think – and what did they think are the best ways to develop future leaders? We will be sharing this information in our report, out shortly, but here are some of the highlights from our discussions.

1. Education is an essential for future leaders

The general view was that the next generation of Saudi CEOs need to have a strong basic education, but they also need a breadth of experience from working in different areas of a business.

Many interviewees are excited at how this education is now extending beyond that of America and Europe, recognising the Far East will bring new thinking around business models, marketing strategies and operations.

There is a real desire for the Kingdom to do more in the way of business school education to help leaders – and perhaps to do more to adapt this to the needs of the country.

2. On the job learning

Several of those interviewed mentioned how they had worked in most departments of their family business to gain grass roots understanding of each area and how they fitted together. This was generally seen as essential for future chief executives - they need to work their way up.

Inevitably there were differing views about which skills and experience actually have the most value for the final chief executive role – should they have held the chief financial officer role, be very good at strategy or be highly skilled in business development?

As a recruiter, I know that good chief executives can come from all disciplines but a good head for finances is essential and also the ability to get things done – I emphasised this in a recent article on creating Saudi leaders; there is a particular need in the Kingdom for chief executives who can make things happen. I don’t think there is any particular discipline that will produce this ability.

There was considerable discussion around how ethics and governance are becoming increasingly important. There is an issue in terms of education – are business schools up to speed – but also our interviewees felt there is a need for a formal plan to develop these skills while working.

3. Mentoring and coaching

Mentoring and coaching is still a relatively new concept in business. Good leaders have always coached and developed those around them, but businesses are increasingly putting formal plans in place to ensure this is done thoroughly – and to teach people how to coach their junior members.

Coaching was often raised by those I interviewed and a few referred to having hired professional coaches for themselves – this was definitely seen as a good thing.   Many referred to the loneliness of being a chief executive and having a coach can help to keep a perspective on the job.

So to sum up, today’s leaders all recognised the challenges facing the Kingdom as it aims to achieve Saudi Vision 2030 and the importance of having outstanding chief executives. Will these leaders of the future be born or made – everyone agreed they need to be made. This will be done through a mix of education, learning on the job, being coached by current leaders and also bringing increased expertise in new areas such as governance.

The verdict from these interviews was that leaders are most definitely made.

Published in Chief Executive

Last month I wrote a blog on Will Saudi’s chairmen of 2030 need to look different from today? I have had a number of comments and discussions on this, both when I have been in the Kingdom and also online - and one comment in particular got me thinking.

 

Mohammed Abdul Gaffar of KFB Holding Group said “It is not just the chairmen who need to look at business differently from today” – and of course he is absolutely right. He continued: “The idea of Vision 2030 has to be trickled down to each and every individual in an organization. Proper communication of the Vision 2030 to everyone and encouraging participation from all groups is paramount to achieving success. Just my 2 cents.”

 

Well they are a good two cents and lead nicely into what I have been thinking about concerning the skills that will be needed for chief executives to achieve Saudi Vision 2030.

 

What will be the biggest challenges for Saudi chief executives?

In my view the toughest challenges for chief executives will be how they cut costs without harming businesses.

 

Just last week, Reuters reported that “Saudi Arabia will cut ministers' salaries by 20 percent and scale back financial perks for public sector employees”

 

Inevitably oil prices are having an impact in the Kingdom and the ability to make these tough decisions wisely will be critical for the long term success of both companies and the country.

 

But the biggest challenge is achieving operational efficiency through cuts – and also knowing when to keep innovating and investing. Great leadership is about achieving this balance and also bringing employees with you so they can see the better future in return for a more difficult time now.

Building a pipeline of skills

You might say that anyone can cut costs. The harder task is to manage through a recession and still build the skills needed for growth.

 

To do this, salaries are going to have to be more aligned to performance and – another tough decision – not reward people who have not performed. That is going to take a big culture change in many organisations, but bonuses have to be earned.

Connectivity with employees

In the next few years, chief executives are going to have to ask their employees to work longer hours and find new ways of doing things to be more efficient. Leaders need to create a team spirit of everyone pulling together and getting people to rotate around departments to learn these wider skills.

 

This is where Mohammed Abdul Gaffar’s comment is so important – leadership that will bring a future vision alive and encourage every employee to participate fully in the company.

We must not lose the existing outstanding qualities of Saudi chief executives

Whenever we look at change and new futures, there is always a danger of forgetting to identify and keep what is outstanding about the present.

 

In the case of the Kingdom, many Saudi chief executives are extremely compassionate towards their employees and often look after them secretly to ensure they are supported and they do the right thing.

 

There is also another very special attribute in Saudi leaders which the West would do well to learn from – they think about and plan for the longer term, looking 10, 20, 30 years ahead or even generations.

FT article on Paul Polman

I loved an article in the FT this weekend. When Paul Polman became chief executive of Unilever in 2009, the FT article says “He immediately said that he only wanted investors who shared his view that Unilever needed to shepherd the Earth’s future as carefully as it did its own revenues and profits. As one of his first acts, he announced that the company would no longer publish quarterly profit updates, as they encouraged short-term thinking. Simon Zadek, a long-time British sustainability campaigner….[said this was] more than just tinkering or public relations, it was a new business model.”

 

Well the Middle East is way ahead in this respect. Muslim teaching is that every individual must protect the Earth’s future and Saudi leaders take this long term vision and planning very seriously. It is not just talk but a daily reality.

 

If the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is to create more businesses that are globally competitive, its leaders will have to balance retaining the best parts of their culture with the need for tough decisions and still investing for the future. There is a clear strategy to do this – we just need to find the leaders who can achieve this.

Published in Chief Executive

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