The message from Top CEO 2016: Diversification is key

“The name of the game is diversification,” said Abdulrazak Al Faris, the Deputy Secretary General for Economic Affairs, Dubai Economic Council (DEC), in his opening speech at the Top CEO  Conference and Awards 2016, setting the tone for the day.

Organized by Mediaquest, the parent company of TRENDS, the prestigious event, now in its second year, is not only the definitive platform for the recognition of exceptional business leadership of CEOs in the GCC, but also serves as a knowledge-sharing platform with the inclusion of the Top CEO Conference from this year.

The reaction from the attendees was overwhelming. Speaking to TRENDS before the beginning of the conference, Khalid Abdullah Janahi, chairman, Naseej Co. and Solidarity Group Holding, said this is something that the region needs: an engaging and stimulating exchange of ideas.

Others, like Amr Khashoggi, vice-president HR & Group Affairs, Zahid Group of Companies, and Khaled Almaeena, managing partner, Quartz, lauding the initiative, told TRENDS they were excited to be part of the event and contribute in knowledge-sharing.

Coming as it does at a time when the recent oil drop has left the world, especially oil-exporting countries, grappling to adapt with a new economic reality, the various sessions will tackle a wide range of pressing business topics.

“Oil still contributes around 60 to 80 percent to budgets in the GCC. In the UAE, that’s around 65 to 70 per cent, so this has to be addressed… We need to think how to diversify the economic base away from oil,” Al Faris added in his opening speech, cautioning that the crisis is here to stay for a while “because we lack economic instruments to come out of it.”

However, the Deputy Secretary General admitted that he is not pessimistic as GCC countries are not taking things lying down, which can been seen from the diversification moves that he finds “encouraging.”

Mediaquest Co-CEO Julien Hawari, too, said in his welcome note that he sees “hope” as the big motivator.

Among others, an issue that will be extensively discussed at the Top CEO Conference is the introduction of VAT and other forms of corporate taxation, which are expected to be rolled out across the GCC in the coming few years.

“I don’t think we should be weary or afraid of talking about tax. If we have the choice between a single fiscal instrument like a tax to replace hundreds of fees and charges, I think one single thing is better than fees and charges creeping up on us every day and night,” Al Faris said.

Besides economic diversification and the repercussions of introducing taxation regimes, discussions at the Top CEO Conference will cover several other relevant areas of conversation, such as the disruption caused by technology in business, women business leaders, cybersecurity, emerging markets, education and talent, and anti-corruption and transparency.

Lewis Pugh, United Nations Patron of the Oceans and one of the world’s leading inspirational speakers, put things in perspective when he started his speech saying, “Follow your own dreams; not others’.” And then he ended his talk by showing the way: “The only thing stopping us from achieving our dreams is fear.”