Guest

Guest

Rumi Contractor recently spoke to Metin Mitchell about cyber security in the boardroom  and as a follow up, has written this guest blog on the biggest cyber security risks facing businesses.

I collected this list of cyber security risks, based on some of the reports and trends I read and came across on the Internet. These are risks as they exist today and will continue proliferating at a fast pace, impacting all of us individually and as corporates going forward ….

1) IoT device manufacturers will need to address major threats

The Internet of Things or IoTnternet of Things or IoT refers to the litany of devices that have come online in recent years. Everything from your dishwasher to your coffeemaker is online now—your refrigerator probably has a Twitter account at this point. With all of these devices coming online – and perhaps more importantly, networking with other devices online – it creates a new attack surface that is extremely vulnerable.

Until IoT manufacturers identify authentication risks and establish identity assurance requirements, the threat will ensue. Many organizations are trying their hardest to build Open Platforms to allow manufacturers such as Alexa and others to access other vendor products – I personally am wary of this technology as it exists in its current guise and maturity! As a matter of fact I shy away from using technology which is still very much bleeding edge and not established through industry accepted standards.

jonas leupe 426231 2

2) Mobile payments will come under attack

If you’ve been to a Wallgreens, a Starbucks or any of the other large retailer lately, you know how many people are paying for things on their phones these days.

It seems like everyone – from retailers to technology titans like Apple and Google to banks – are designing NFC (Near Field Communication) and RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) mobile payment platforms these days. The idea is to make us all transact electronically without the need of any physical currencies! The other reason is that as humans we have a tendency to spend more when we are not transacting with physical tokens and currencies, this is a human, psychological issue which the retailers love to exploit in the name of convenience.

As you can imagine, this is an exciting new target for cybercriminals, who are already actively looking for a way to breach these systems and gain access to money and valuable financial details. Think about the Open Banking Platforms and PSD2 standards etc. that are already coming to banks in Europe. This is where regulators are asking banks to open up client accounts to established APIs so that Fintechs can piggyback on banking accounts and the power goes from a bank to the client! Crazy stuff is coming our way …….

3) Ransomware will continue to evolve as a threat

Ransomware is just one part of a larger threat: digital extortion. To date, it is the most effective weapon in the digital extortion tool box. The ability to take over a system and effectively hold it hostage until a financial (aka Ransom) is made is an attractive new business for the cybercriminals and this form of extortion will likely grow substantially from here onwards.

Even with certain strains, such as the CrySiS Ransomware strain having been defeated in 2016, others are already actively taking its place. Watch this space – this is a money making solution and while at the moment the target is unsecured individual PCs, the reality is that this will affect corporations in a big way in the future.

4) Autonomous vehicles and the lack of security standards

Each year more and more automobile manufactures advertise advanced digital systems that they have added to their cars and trucks in order to stay competitive and technically relevant. From promises of ‘hands-free’ driving to providing an in-house internet experience to passengers when they are in their automobiles!

While this is exciting, it also creates a brand new attack vector. Consider for a second just how terrifying it would be if any of your car’s online systems were to come under attack while you’re in transit on a highway—or anywhere really. This is something the automobile manufacturers will need to address quickly.

Worse than this, if a virus were introduced in a car’s digital DNA it could ‘leak’ itself into your mobile phone or tablet – which we also connect to these days while driving in the car!

5) Learning to live and operate in the Cloud

As part of a continuing trend, expect to see a greater number of attacks on cloud-based management platforms, workloads and enterprise Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications. This, in turn, will cause the majority of companies and organizations to reassess their security budgets and redistribute a greater portion of it to cloud-based security, which could weaken the level of security on traditional servers and desktops.

The reality is that more and more systems are going to be hosted in the Cloud or Hybrid Environments where some systems will be in your premises, some with AWS, some at Azure and some others with Dell/EMS etc. This means that not only do you have to worry about your environment being secure, you also need to worry about your partner hosting environments also being secure and hacker-proof.

6) Password hygiene @ Client and Server end will be challenging

Major password breaches at established Internet Services organizations such as Twitter and Yahoo should have scared all of us into a greater awareness about our password hygiene. These breaches will continue in 2018++.  At the core of the issue is our human tendency to re-use the same password across multiple accounts. Meaning with just a single compromise, the hacker gains access to passwords across multiple other accounts as well.

The right behaviour for all of us should be to use varied passwords or password sequence, and whenever possible to use two-factor authentication or other biometric recognition technologies. These technologies are becoming more and more mainstream and worth investing in. Using multiple biometrics across all devices by clients and employees can help mitigate this risk but all of this comes at a cost.

7) Social engineering attacks on employees will continue to grow

With companies and organizations across the world spending more and more time on their digital security strategies, cybercriminals have been forced to become increasingly creative in their attacks. We are now entering an era where Social Engineering Attacks are reaching the level of an art form.

Social Engineering is a tactic where cybercriminals attempt to create a believable cover from which to breach a network or to take advantage of a known vulnerability. In this context, it’s usually an email-based phishing attack which impersonates an employee’s co-worker or superior in a believable-enough way to get them to click a link or open an attachment—though it can take other forms as well.

It’s absolutely crucial that all companies and organizations spend time and resources training all their employees on threat detection and how to handle anything suspicious that gets sent their way.

8) Open Source risks

The move to Open Source has been an amazing change in the world of Information Technology over the past 20 years with the early advent of Linux in the late 90s to the myriad number of systems, applications, software development enablers and applications. How does one protect and ensure that code and functionality that is being developed by many of the commercial organizations is not fraught with some time bomb(s) hidden within the code? IT teams in organizations will need to develop new techniques, skills and processes to ensure that this new vulnerability does not destroy their organization in the days, weeks, months and years after the code is released into production.    

9) Commercialized anti-DDoS will emerge

This is a threat with the potential to affect entire countries—not just companies and industries. Recently, we’ve seen DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks in excess of 100’s of GB. This is a staggering amount of power on the part of the attacker. These attacks can take entire server farms down for as long as they continue to be executed, and put companies and organizations at the mercy of their attackers.

It’s only a matter of time before a start-up is formed in a largely unregulated country that can directly attack or patch botnet systems. This will mark a new chapter in the history of cyber warfare as it will give lesser developed countries access to a powerful weapon while forcing entire nations to reckon with the threat.

10) The attack of the Bots

The future looks amazing with the advancement in technology and programming languages. There is an opportunity truly to turn many of the science fiction and Hollywood imaginations into realities.

Humans can handle exception processing and reasoning better than machines can ever do. However, machines can handle repetitive processes which are voluminous much better than humans can ever do. And the one place where ‘software robots’ can truly make a difference for the better is in handling repetitive client requests and manual processing AND unfortunately this strength is also going to be aimed at bombarding networks and millions of servers and routers in the ever expanding world of connected devices. This means that going forward the amount of DDoS  attacks will multiply at an alarming rate – and ‘HW based software patching’ will continue to pose a big challenge for the large hosting organizations, as they try to manage the growing number of devices and automatic software updates. The Attack of the Bots is coming at a theatre near you – shortly.

Thursday, 23 November 2017 10:29

Inspiring Saudi women into leadership roles

We have recently launched our report, Roads to the Top for Saudi Women, based on interviews with extraordinary Saudi females.

Here Dr Taghreed Al-Saraj has allowed us to share her fuller interview. A best-selling author, international educational consultant, women leadership coach and international public speaker, her most recent role is Head of eLearning Content Development at Takamol Holding. She is passionate about helping and inspiring women to take on leadership roles in Saudi Arabia and addressing youth unemployment in the Kingdom

Metin Mitchell (MM): What changes are you seeing in Saudi that are helping women into leadership roles?

Dr Taghreed Al-Saraj (TAS):  Women are not treated equally around the world and inequality looks different in different places.  In the West, a big issue is that women are not paid the same.  In Saudi, equal pay is not our challenge but here we need to empower women more.  We are now seeing a lot of rules and regulations, especially with the 2030 vision, brought in order to support women empowerment and that is really helping to bring change.  This is part of encouraging women to enter the workforce and progress into leadership roles.

When people talk about equality for Saudi women, you would sometimes think the rest of the world has solved this and it is only Saudi that is left to tackle this issue….  My big eye-opener was at a graduation ceremony at the University of California, Berkeley. I was part of the faculty so we were sitting behind the guest speaker at the ceremony, who was the CEO of Salesforce.  In his talk, he said he had found his company didn’t pay men and women equally, so he made the finance department go back to the books and managed to change the salaries to be equal between men and women.  I was watching my colleagues’ faces as well as the students’ faces on the other side of the stage, who clearly understood this as a really big issue, and there was a lot of clapping.  I immediately compared this issue with us in Saudi and realized that it is not an issue for us in Saudi.

Each country has different challenges to address and we are now seeing real change in Saudi, supported by the government and society.

MM: Looking back to obstacles you have faced, how have you got round these?

TAS: We moved a lot when I was a child because of my father’s work in the military. I ended up living in Washington DC, Miami, San Francisco, Toulon (France), and in Pakistan… As a child, I was exposed to so many cultures and you are forced when you move around to change your styles and habits if you want to interact with the locals.  Language was an obstacle of course. When I moved to Washington DC as a child coming from Saudi Arabia, I didn’t speak a word of English and stayed silent in school for three months, I just signed and nodded, until I got the words to articulate my thoughts and the message I wanted to convey.  Language and culture are barriers but I think I was fortunate because I was constantly exposed to different cultures and my ears were exposed to different languages at an early stage of my life which made me the person I am today: full of tolerance and acceptance of others as they are.

As an adult, adapting to new surroundings wasn’t quite as easy as when you are a child. When I moved to the UK as an adult, it was a bit hard at first even though the language was not a barrier. I was so used to the American way and constantly comparing the two cultures and way of doing things. For example the flats (apartments) were tiny and double the price in London, while in Miami (Florida) everything was big and spacious. I am not saying one is better than the other. It’s just the constant comparison that I was switching between that was a bit exhausting. It took me a year to adapt and say: this is it! Either get on board or leave….  When you accept that way of life and culture, you will start to open up and love the city for what it is and what it offers you.  Throughout my life, I had many homes around the world where I was connected to new friends and neighbors I made along the way…. it was a fantastic life journey!

51WToolXWCL. SX331 BO1204203200

MM: What was your first big accomplishment in your career?

TAS:  The big one was my PhD. In the British educational system you either pass or fail your viva (PhD final verbal exam), whereas in the Saudi system you go in to the viva and already know more or less that you have passed. The British way is very tough and you can actually fail the viva.  My topic was on anxiety so it was very awkward!  After I passed my viva, I went home walking full of joy that this major journey in my life ended and a new one will start. That day was very memorable for me.  It was the start of a new career after all these years of studying.

MM: How did you find the Kingdom when you came back?

TAS: When I came back to Saudi, change was happening so rapidly. I am really happy to see that we are constantly improving for the better.  When living abroad, I always get asked: Saudi isn’t keeping up with the rest of the world. I always say: come on, we’re a very young country.  In my book, The Anxious Language Learner: A Saudi Woman’s story, I mention that Lloyds Bank is older than the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia!  We’re taking it slow, but nonetheless, we are changing for the better each day. 

MM: Your life as an entrepreneur – to what extent has your own support network made it possible, including your family?

TAS: Networking is very important.  Everywhere you go, networking is your easy marketing tool. You must talk to others and that’s how things get started.

My family is supportive. I am fortunate because I have a wonderful husband who listens and says: here’s my two cents, take it or leave it, it’s up to you.  Also, my mum and sister have always been there as a support too – with recommendations.  In a way, my family acts as my confidante. I trust them completely. They help me to see different angles and perspectives of issues that I might have overlooked. Sometimes you need someone to open your eyes to see an issue from a different angle especially when you are in the middle of things.  I take all what they say on board and go somewhere quiet to think things through and come to a decision.

MM: What advice do you think your husband would give to other Saudi men on helping their wives?

TAS: I am sure he would tell them: don’t tell women what to do!  He knows my personality and if I am forced to do something and don’t have the buy-in it is going to be very hard to do. He tells me to think about it and see it through.  If you always had somebody to tell you what to do, you’re not creative in your solutions because you are just following orders.

MM: What are your thoughts on how to keep men engaged and supportive of women as they go through their particular changes?

TAS: In the Kingdom it is not about how to get the men engaged, it is how to get women engaged.  The men are holding the positions and the women are just creeping up the ladder.  Getting the woman engaged so she can come out of the house, get a job and feel she is contributing to the country’s growth, is what this country needs.

MM: Part of Vision 2030 is to increase women in the workforce.  As a coach, what do you work on to help women reach their goals?

TAS: It is confidence. We need to work on women’s confidence because so often I hear women saying things like ‘What value do I bring?’ or ‘I’m not worthy’. That kills me because everybody adds value to everything.  When I read “Lean In” it was strange to see that the Western culture was the same.  I think we should call the book “Squeeze In” because we’ve really got to work on getting women voices heard and not sitting on the sidelines. 

When I am coaching someone, I start with where the lack of confidence has come from and how it is affecting them. If someone feels they don’t have enough knowledge, then maybe they need to go on a course or do more reading so they feel they know enough about the subject to talk confidently.  It could be someone doesn’t like speaking up in meetings, in which case we look at their personality traits and confidence as to why they do what they are doing.

There is always a way to build confidence.  I want women to understand that your voice matters, your opinions count and we would love to hear them. 

MM: If you are addressing women in a speech, what do you want them to take away?

TAS: Never give up!  You never know what will happen if you don’t try. Sometimes you need to take risks.  Fight for what you believe in.  We need women in leadership roles and this means stepping out of our comfort zones. This is the same for women in the West as much as in Saudi.

If at work you need to change something, make a case for it. Don’t just be emotional and say ‘we need to do this or that’, but build a proper case with research, facts and figures. Then present it in a logical way. It is very persuasive and has helped me achieve several changes at work.

I learned from changing from academia to business many things, and that by itself is a big change.  You should have an open mind and keep learning at every stage of your life.  You can learn from anybody, anywhere and on any day. We should never sit back and think you know it all – there is always more to learn.

MM: What is next for you?

TAS: I have been back in Saudi a year and three months.  So far I am producing online courses to help our youth to get jobs and then keep those jobs.  This initiative is funded by the government. We have online courses that address for example time management, leadership skills, team working, management skills – the things that you don’t get taught at school or college but are essential to getting a job.

Helping tackle youth unemployment in Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest challenges for our country and I feel very blessed to play a small part of it in any way I can!

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.

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. 

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.

Read more

To read more of Metin Mitchell’s insights on leadership, leave your email here:

Categories

Elsewhere online

Popular Posts

Recent Posts

Tweets