Last year, the first Top CEO Awards celebrated the success of the GCC’s business leaders. This year, Mediaquest decided to add more value and, to further enhance the role of business leadership, included a day-long conference.
In consultation with regional business leaders, some of the major issues affecting the GCC region’s businesses were identified and, accordingly, sessions that tackled a wide range of subjects – from economic diversification to value-added tax to aspirations of the region’s youth and cybersecurity – were included. The idea behind the conference was not just to discuss pertinent concerns in the GCC region and analyze the risks, but also to find solutions to the complex problems faced by the businesses.
The Top CEO Conference 2016 opened in Dubai on April 5 with a hugely engaging session on “When tech kills your business” that had Samer Bohsali, Partner, Digital Business and Technology, Strategy& Middle East; Marwan Iskandar, Managing Director M. I. Associates; Elie Khouri, CEO, OMG; and Mudassir Sheikha, Co-founder, Careem, tackling the subject head-on. The session was moderated by Prof. Peter B Zemsky, Deputy Dean, Dean of Strategic Initiatives and Innovation, The Eli Lilly Chaired Professor of Strategy and Innovation, INSEAD, who also gave the keynote speech.
The session not only discussed how the digital revolution was affecting all countries and demographics around the world, including the GCC, but also how the automation of knowledge work will impact economies in the future. “The rate of change is disorienting people,” noted Khouri, “but the challenge is to learn to manage millennials and build purpose into an organization.” On the other hand, Bohsali claimed, “The disruption story is not a tech story; it is a business story.”
This was followed by another riveting session on “Adapting to the end of the American umbrella”. Moderated by Faisal J Abbas, Editor-in-Chief, Al Arabiya News (English), it had panelists Hussein Ibish, Senior Resident Scholar, Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington (AGSIW); Khalid Abdulla Janahi, Chairman, Naseej Co. & Solidarity Group Holding; Ali Z Khedery, CEO, Dragoman Ventures; and Alex Vatanka, Senior Fellow, Middle East Institute, The Jamestown Foundation, discussing the issue threadbare. The panelists not only spoke about how the US is losing its grip in the region, but also the emergence of Iran and its ramifications. They went further by looking at the impact of the Iranian nuclear deal and how the thawing of ice between the US and Iran is affecting other GCC countries.
“The GCC states are happy that Iran has been stopped from pursuing its nuclear ambitions but they were not happy over the process of achieving the deal because it happened over their heads,” said Vatanka. “Moreover, I don’t see any moderation in the Iranian behavior in the Middle East after the nuclear deal. So much will be depending on Tehran’s behavior in the region.”
Janahi added: “There is no point in bashing the US or Iran for the problems of the Middle East. Why should someone in the Middle East rely on the US to talk to Iranians when all his life he has lived next door/facing Iran? Our concern all these years was about the security of the regimes in the region, but not the development of the region. We have to allow people to have dignity. Security comes before stability.”
Next up was the session on “Economic Diversification”. Moderated by Frank Kane, Commentator and Columnist, The National newspaper, it saw a lively session with panelists Fahd Al–Rasheed, Group CEO & Managing Director, King Abdullah Economic City; Shady Shaher Rafik Elborno, Head, Macro Strategy, Emirates NBD; Issam Kazim, CEO, Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing; and Dr Nasser Saidi, President and Founder, Nasser Saidi & Associates, speaking their mind.
While they admitted that economies of GCC countries are indeed moving away from oil, they emphasized that there is still a lot that needs to be done on the road to diversification, which is an urgent economic and social need.
“The oil-price rout could be a blessing in disguise, as governments in the region woke up to the need of economic diversification,” said Al Saidi. “Building cities and free zones is not the answer to economic diversification, because there arises the question of who will come to occupy them. That model has worked sometimes, but China’s experience was otherwise when it built skyscrapers that remained empty for years. Reduce the size of government by scrapping some of the departments and giving it to the private sector. Economic integration between GCC states is really important. We need to open our borders and become one market with one currency.”
“In my view, the reason for the success of Dubai is not tourism alone, but also the wonderful relationship between the public and private sector. We encourage investment in tourism and hotels by attracting a large number of visitors to Dubai,” said Kazim.
“I am very optimistic about the Saudi economy,” added Al-Rasheed. “King Abdullah Economic City will change the overall picture in the country.”
The panelists lauded the fact that the GCC region’s governments are moving toward privatization and disengagement, adding that regional businesses need to be more prepared to react to the new economic activism led by governments.
Following this engaging discussion, there were breakout sessions that were mostly off-record:
* Women in boardrooms – moderator: Christina Ioannidis, CEO, Chief Engagement Officer, Aquitude; panelists: Dr Ashraf Gamal El Din, CEO, Hawkamah, Institute for Corporate Governance; Elham Mahfouz, CEO, Commercial Bank of Kuwait; Lubna Qassim, Executive VP, Group General Counsel, Company Secretary, Emirates NBD; and Saadia Zahidi, Head, Employment, Education and Gender Initiatives, Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum.
* Cybersecurity – moderator: Anand Vengurlekar, Chief Communication Officer, INSEAD; panelists: Asim Azmi, director of sales in MEA for Kaspersky DDos Protection; Corbett Hoxland, Mobility Business Development Manager, HP; Uwe Kissman, Managing Director, Cybersecurity Services, Europe, Africa & Latin America, Accenture; Cyrus Salesse, CEO, KRYPTON Security.
* VAT and its impact – moderator: Hassan M Fattah, Partner, Brunswick Group; panelists: Ian Anderson, Senior Consultant, Pinsent Masons LLP; Shady Shaher Rafik Elborno, Head, Macro Strategy, Emirates NBD; Dr Nasser Saidi, President and Founder, Nasser Saidi & Associates; and Justin Whitehouse, Partner, Deloitte.
* Education and talent – Moderator: Syed Atique Hussain Naqvi, Group Editor – Business, Mediaquest; panelists: Prof. Miguel Lobo, Associate Professor of Decision Sciences, Director of the INSEAD Abu Dhabi Campus, INSEAD; Elham Mahfouz: CEO, Commercial Bank of Kuwait; Mina Morris, Associate Partner, Aon Hewitt Middle East; Dino Varkey, Group Executive Director and Board Member,
GEMS Education; and Saadia Zahidi, Head, Employment, Education and Gender
Initiatives, Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum.
In addition, there were two on-record sessions:
* Emerging markets – speaker: Nenad Pacek, Founder & President, Global Success Advisors GmbH.
* Anti-corruption and transparency – moderator: Julien Hawari, Co-CEO, Mediaquest; panelists: Jermyn Brooks, Chair, Business Advisory Board, Transparency International; and Nick Robinson, Regional Forensic Services Leader, PwC Middle East. They spoke about how businesses across the Gulf region are increasingly adopting more rigorous corporate governance and accountability practices and becoming more transparent in their communications. Asked how he would define corruption, Brooks explained that it was the “abuse of entrusted power for personal reasons.”
Running simultaneously were the following two TV sessions:
* The aspirations of youth – moderator: Khaled Almaeena, Managing Partner, Quartz; panelists: Amr Khashoggi, Vice-President HR & Group Affairs,
Zahid Group of Companies; Mina Morris, Associate Partner, Aon Hewitt Middle East; and Fahd Al–Rasheed, Group CEO and Managing Director, King
Abdullah Economic City. They discussed how Arab youth are ready to bring about a positive change in the region and help transform the Middle East and what is required to equip them.
* Cracking the women bias code – moderator: Nina Maghrebi, Marketing Manager and Presenter, Sky News Arabia; panelists: Fatema Abdulwahed M Al Ahmed, Assistant Undersecretary for Human Resources and Services, Ministry of Health, Kingdom of Bahrain; Maryam Yousuf Ahli, Head of Corporate Communications,
Al Hilal Bank; Malak Ali Hassan, CEO, 3Dimension Engineering Services; and Khalid Abdulla Janahi, Chairman, Naseej Co. and Solidarity Group Holding. They discussed how the role of women is essential to economic development.
The conference ended with two sessions: one dealt with “Enterprise mobility”, addressed by Corbett Hoxland, Mobility Business Development Manager, HP Mobility. Hoxland explained how mobility is key to success in today’s businesses. The second session was on “Strategy and innovation”, addressed by Anand Vengurlekar, Chief Communication Officer, INSEAD. Vengurlekar spoke of the need for innovation and how CEOs can drive innovation.