Alshaya places jobs high on Middle East agenda at Sharm El Sheikh

Published May 21st, 2008 - 12:49 GMT

Alshaya places jobs high on Middle East agenda at Sharm El Sheikh

- Private enterprise must help create 90 million jobs in the next 20 years
-  Calls for region’s business leaders to expand from Middle East “comfort zone”

On its opening day, The World Economic Forum in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, heard Mr. Mohammed Alshaya focusing attention on the role of private enterprise in the Middle East’s future, and encouraging Middle East business to seek global ambition and break out from the comfort zone of the Middle East.  A Co-Chair of the WEF meeting, the Executive Chairman of M. H. Alshaya Co. spoke during the opening press conference and at an earlier session ‘The Making of a Middle Eastern Multinational’.

At the press conference Mr. Alshaya noted, “One of the biggest challenges for the future is ensuring that 90 million jobs are created within the Middle East in the next 20 years.” He called for the responsibility to be shared appropriately, saying “It is time for the emphasis to shift from government to the private sector. Time for both parties to agree their agenda and act together”. He added “employment needs to become a priority – it doesn’t get the focus it deserves”.

At the earlier panel session Mr. Alshaya drew on his own experience leading the expansion of M.H. Alshaya Co. from a local, to a regional and finally an international business operating in 16 markets, with 1,400 stores and 14,000 employees in a little over two decades. He was joined in the discussion by Tarek Sultan Al Essa (Agility), Naguib Sawaris (Orascom), and Arif Naqvi (Abraaj).

Mr. Alshaya said the time is right for companies to broaden their vision,
“While there continues to be plenty of potential for growth in the Middle East there is a plenty of opportunity outside for our region’s businesses,” he said.

He also focused on what he saw as the key attributes needed for a company that is willing to take up the challenge.

“You have to have credibility - to really know what you’re doing, and the ability to go to market with speed,” said Mr. Alshaya. “Quick decision making is also important. Being entrepreneurial means taking risks and being constantly on the lookout for new opportunities. This particularly is a quality that needs to be rediscovered in the Middle East, and is the key to creating new jobs in the region. Having the right talent in your organization is critical, and our educational systems have to rise to the challenge of preparing the region’s talent properly for the roles they need to step into. Widening your geographical focus also takes commitment - this is not something that you can be successful at if your approach is half-hearted”.
Mr. Alshaya went on to explain the benefit and challenge posed by the dominance of family run businesses in the Middle East

“One of our region’s greatest assets is also a huge challenge; the fact that over 75% of our businesses are family run,” he added. “Family values are at the heart of our businesses but holding onto tradition too tightly can be damaging – one result is a vast majority of our companies are confined by their traditional geographies of business when they could be nurturing multinational ambitions. 

“Another potential issue is the relinquishing of control.  From our experience, there needs to be a balance between close family involvement so as to maintain the company’s culture and values, and engaging external senior management expertise.  For M.H. Alshaya being successful in this has encouraged autonomous decision making, a strong entrepreneurial approach and helped our global expansion plans.”

Mr Alshaya is playing a key role at this year’s Middle East World Economic Forum meeting in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt till 20th May, as the first Kuwaiti national to hold the prestigious role of Co-Chair at the leading global event. His fellow Co-Chairs are H.R.H. the Duke of York (UK Special Representative for International Trade and Investment), Yuriko Koike (Member of House of Representatives, National Diet of Japan), Paul Rice (President and CEO, TransFair USA), Jimmy Wales (Founder and Chair Emeritus, Wikia, USA) and Khalid Abdallah-Janahi (Chairman, Ithmaar Bank of Bahrain).   

In addition to his duties as Co-Chair, Mr. Alshaya’s will be participating as a panelist in a discussion on corporate global citizenship entitled “Does Arab Business Care?” which also participation by Ahmed Mahmoud Nazif, Prime Minister of Egypt; E. Neville Isdell, Chairman, The Coca-Cola Company; Fadi Ghandour, Founder and CEO, Aramex and Jozette Sheeran Executive Director, World Food Programme, UN.

M.H. Alshaya Co. was established in 1983 with a Mothercare franchise operation in Kuwait.  It has since expanded to operate in 16 markets, with a portfolio of 40 international brands including Starbucks, H&M, The Bodyshop, Topshop and others.  The company has operations in the Middle East, North Africa, Turkey, Cyprus, Russia, Poland, Egypt and Central and Eastern European countries of Slovakia, Czech Republic and Hungary.

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