Sunaina Rana/ Emirates Business
With a record number of CEOs and VPs from across the Arabian Gulf region in attendance, the recently-concluded Top CEO Conference brought many global issues into a regional context in Dubai. The aim behind this innovative conference was to help the executives and leaders to look at the possible impact of these burning issues, which are constantly surfacing in the region. the attendees also considered the best ways to take their organisations forward, while taking the advantage of the technological transformations.
The conference mainly focussed upon economic diversification and technology that were considered the two most disruptive forces in the GCC region last year. The conference also contemplate upon the issue of how low oil prices are adversely affecting the government budgets in the Arabian Gulf countries, and the roles of cyber-security and digitalisation in the GCC economies.
Emirates Business talks to Julien Hawari, Co-Chief Executive Officer of Mediaquest Corp. Hawari was one of the key speakers during this high-profile conference.
In recent times, what are the technical problems faced in various industries?
Business is changing in the region and many factors are coming into play. The factors that the Top CEO Conference is putting forward include technology disrupting the way business is done. This is already visible in the transport and retail, with new players facing emergences that did not exist in the region four years ago. The B2B and B2C digital spheres are growing, albeit at a slower pace. Some businesses have integrated cloud computing into their business structures, but a lot needs to be done in the sphere of data management.Also, there is a huge gap between the right sets of job skills in the technological field and the market demand.
The other factors that are impacting businesses — positively and negatively — are the drive toward economic diversification and the upcoming introduction of VAT. Also, an important trend is corporate governance and anti-corruption. Many businesses in the region are putting forward more and more transparent approaches for their businesses.
What are the transformations made by the CEOs in the region to benefit the business?
When we conceptualised the Top CEO Conference, the whole idea behind the exercise was to celebrate and recognise the business leadership of this region. The chief executive officers are the drivers of economic and social growth in the region. With their able leadership, the CEOs, through their companies, have been able to create jobs, boost corporate governance and transparency, and contribute to the healthy economies of the Arabian Gulf countries.
However, I am sure that in the coming years we will see more women CEOs and business leaders in the region. We are also making sure that this topic is one of the issues we cover at the Top CEO Conference and Awards.
How is the diversification in the economy affecting the GCC?
Diversification is good for all economies. The debate in this region on moving away from oil has been going on for some time. When the oil prices were hovering around $100 per barrel, there was not much incentive for regional economies to look for revenues from other sources.
With continuous low oil prices, there is a dire need in the region to cut back the contribution of oil revenues to the GDPs of GCC countries.
The diversification drive is led by Saudi Arabia with several privatisation initiatives, the introduction of VAT and cutting back of oil subsidies. One of the panel sessions at the Top CEO Conference will be on VAT and its impact in the region. The policymakers have taken all the right steps toward diversification and, hopefully, we’ll start seeing the results of such efforts from Q1 2017 onwards.
What are the various challenges that have been faced by the business leaders of the region in recent times?
In preparation for the Top CEO Conference, we engaged with and surveyed several regional chief executives. What came out of those surveys is that regional business leaders are facing a complex situation.
We are entering the era of a new norm, where business models are shifting significantly. Technology is disrupting the way things used to be done and taxes are coming. Oil prices are down and the government is disengaging from the economy to leave more room for the private sector.
On the other hand, geopolitical challenges are putting old alliances at risk and, on top of all this; the region is gearing up to face a scenario where there is less dependency on oil. All of these make the equation very complex for CEOs. This is one of the reasons why we put together the Top CEO Conference and Awards.
The idea is to explore how we can open the discussion and help leaders see alternatives, learn from each other and from academicians, researchers and other industry experts.
What are the steps that need to be taken to contribute to the growth of the region
This question is important because it is at the heart of the creation of the Top CEO Conference and Awards. Corporate governance, transparency and competition seem to be the factors that will help fuel the growth of the region. That’s why, when creating the Top CEO Conference and Awards, we embedded those points in the criteria that are being used to evaluate the performances of the chief executives and their companies. The C-suite management of listed companies faces an enormous task of creating value for shareholders due to the shedding of the stock market in the GCC.
What advice would you give the CEOs to deal with these hurdles?
The knowledge discussions will be an enriching experience for all. I think we are collectively one group that needs to learn from those men and women, who are transforming the region by creating jobs, achieving growth and creating value.