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PARADIGM SHIFT

Commenting on the conference theme “Paradigm Shift”, Julien Hawari, Co-CEO of Media quest Dubai, the company behind the conference, said a new ecosystem was needed to support the profound transformation taking place in the region. “This paradigm shift is paving the way for new cooperation and geopolitical equations” he said. “There’s a need for Gulf countries to expand international trade relations to create more opportunities for industry, and at the same time, bring tangible benefits for society as well.”

Conference sessions

A session titled “lean & mean” considered the importance of restructuring businesses in the Middle East in order to adapt to the end of the era of abundance. A recent survey from Deloitte revealed that 57% of organisations prefer the restructuring path, while IBM research shows that 27% of companies are outsourcing in order to cut costs and 36% in order to innovate. IyadMalas, a partner at the Gateway Fund said adapting to a changing economic and political environment was a normal process for any business. Many companies had to deal with low oil prices, financial crises and political upheavals in the past. Companies with strong risk management systems and dynamic management teams in place had been able to adapt and had come out stronger. While in the past it was difficult to restructure companies, many businesses had learned from their predecessors and had become more open to the idea of corporate transformations.

Another session titled “the execution challenge” addressed the fact that a majority of C-suite executives considered poor execution the single biggest hindrance to the growth of their companies. In a recent survey by PwC, 95% of respondents said their projects were running behind schedule, with 45% delayed by over six months and 71% over-budgeted. The session discussed project delivery challenges and how they differed across various industries. Emphasizing the need for robust planning for successful execution of projects, Ghada Elkeissi, a director at Software Engineering & Analytics GE Digital, Middle East & Africa said a key element for successful execution was to select the best industrial and technological solutions. Agile delivery and appropriate governance were critical success factors. Khaled Al Maeena, managing partner at Quartz-Communication Company, said the fundamental change should be one of mindset, with a new focus on productivity and delivery. “Mega projects need careful monitoring and craftsmanship” he said“They also require a professional approach, but unfortunately bureaucracy is the enemy of progress”With centralized governments, red tape and bureaucracy holding the public sector back from realizing its full potential in the Arab world, a session titled “moving away from bureaucracy” considered how hurdles could be removed at an administrative level to allow the public sector to come into its own and infuse new life into sagging economies.

Women power

Running alongside the “Top CEO Conference and Awards” for the first time was the “Arab Women Forum”Women currently comprise around 45 percent of the total population in the GCC, yet they represent only 25 percent of the labor force. An elite gathering of top female executives, decision makers, professionals and experts gathered to discuss top- ics such as the benefits of including more women in the workforce in Arab countries, entrepreneurship and the possibility of “fast-tracking” businesses run by women, and how technology and the “sharing,community- based economy” could pave the way for Arab women to become more active members of society. Dr. Maliha Hashmi, executive director of strategic partnerships for the Neom project at the Public Investment Fund in Riyadh said there had never been a more exciting time for women in the region. “There have been landmark announcements over the last few months in KSA, including lifting the ban on women driving, removing the requirement for women to have a male guardian to register a business, and encouraging more women to join the workforce.”

Awards

The conference drew to a close with the Top CEO Awards ceremony honouring the 100 best-performing companies and CEOs. Only firms listed on the stock exchanges of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman were eligible for the ranking which was based on their performance during the past fiscal year. Evaluation parameters included revenues, earnings per share, profits, growth and corporate governance Deloitte, one of the top four auditing firms in the world, contributed its expertise to ensure the entire ranking process was transparent and credible.