The Saudi economy: ‘With great challenges come great opportunities’

Julien Hawari
Julien Hawari

Julien Hawari, co-CEO of Mediaquest Corp.

Few would dispute that Saudi Arabia’s economy has witnessed some tough times.

But as this week’s Top CEO Conference will hear, there are some golden opportunities amid the gloom that followed the oil-price crash.

Some of the burning issues facing corporations today will be discussed at the conference, which is being held for the first time in Saudi Arabia after previous editions in Dubai.

Held under the theme “Adapting to Disruption: New Roles, New Realities,” the event is organized by Dubai-based Trends magazine, an international publication on Arab affairs, in association with Insead business school.

Julien Hawari, co-CEO of Mediaquest Corp, the publisher of Trends, said that it is significant that this is the first time the event will be held in the Kingdom.

The country, grappling with significant economic challenges, last year laid out the ambitious Vision 2030 reform plan, which aims to wean it off its addiction to oil.

“With great challenges come great opportunities,” Hawari told Arab News.

“Hosting the Top CEO Conference and Awards in Saudi Arabia made sense, as Saudi (Arabia) is the giant economy of the region and it is fully taking on its role (as the) engine of growth for the region.

“Saudi Arabia is preparing itself (for) a transformation that will benefit society and create more jobs for our children. The issues are complex and the Top CEO Conference addresses many of those.”

The diversification of the economy is the underlying theme of Saudi Arabia’s reform plan — something that is common to strategies pursued by some other regional countries.

“Moving away from an oil economy has become a necessity for the entire GCC,” Hawari said.

“We believe that the Arab world has a lot to offer… (Members of) our new generation are bringing with them expertise and experience from the outside and a deep knowledge on how to take forward our societies.”

Key factors in this regional change include corporate governance and transparency, ensuring fair competition, and creating jobs — all issues that are set to be addressed at the Top CEO event.

The roller coaster ride in oil prices is not the only factor impacting the Arabian Gulf. New technology is also turning old business models upside down.

“One of the key issues Top CEO is focusing on this year is disruption,” said Hawari. “The full impact of the technology revolution is hitting the region. This makes the life of business leaders extremely challenging, as they need to have their eyes on 10 different things to take forward their organizations.

“A new norm is shaping and changing many status quos in regional business.”

The Top CEO event is set to be held on April 10-11 at King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) near Jeddah.

In its third edition in 2017, the accompanying awards will honor the top 100 chief executive officers after evaluating their companies’ listings on the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) stock exchanges.


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