MENA Executive Sentiment - Businesses boost headcount to manage an increasingly complex region in 2024

Key insights and suggested actions from FrontierView’s Dubai Executive Event on September 14

The MENA region—driven by the UAE and Saudi Arabia—remains under pressure to deliver strong commercial performance in 2024 to support MNCs’ international portfolios. While top markets such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE will continue to perform well next year, capturing opportunities remains complex, from price pressures and talent retention challenges, to localization pressures and unpredictable regulations. Meanwhile, the rest of the MENA portfolio provides an even more challenging set of markets for senior executives to navigate. 

To support MNCs’ 2024 planning, FrontierView held an executive event with over 70 companies in attendance, focusing on the MENA region’s 2024 outlook but also discussing talent management strategies and top actions to win in Saudi Arabia across two panels and live polling sessions. Our panels saw representation from Organon, GE Healthcare, HP, NielsenIQ, and Mackenzie Jones—with amazing insights!

Portfolio Considerations

  • Iraq is increasing in popularity among MENA executives who are looking for markets to support their portfolio and reduce their overreliance on Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
  • Egypt is a major headache for executives; however, instead of disinvesting, MNCs are reducing additional exposure, trying to ride out the macro challenges for 2024 and are watching closely to evaluate whether the market will recover and return in 2025.

2024 Commercial Performance Expectations

  • Businesses are maintaining strong growth expectations for 2024.
  • However, executives are increasingly more hesitant and concerned with price increases, leading them to plan lower price hikes for next year—if any. This is resulting in more depressed profitability expectations for next year.

Investment Plans for MENA

  • Businesses are refraining from major localization investments, even remaining hesitant with local sourcing or warehousing investments.
  • Most resources are being allocated to increased headcount for the region.
  • More specifically for Saudi Arabia, MNCs are planning to increase headcount, as part of the Regional HQ regulation as well as outside of that. Companies are increasing their local service centers and support functions for the kingdom.

Managing Talent across the MENA Region

Retention as well as recruitment remains a challenge for MNCs across markets. Solutions discussed include: 

  • Evaluating expat employment in Saudi Arabia, not just by moving talent from the UAE to Saudi Arabia, but from Egypt, Jordan, Turkiye, and other markets into the kingdom
  • Focusing on female employment and partnerships with universities in Saudi Arabia
  • Evaluating talent with different professional backgrounds and focusing more on skill sets 
  • Alongside financial compensation, creating a more flexible work environment seems to be rising in importance for employees
  • Generating a work environment that is attractive to the new generation; extracurricular activities, travel and training opportunities, a lively work environment, open communication with managers, and opportunities for the younger generation to mentor seniors or contribute to projects and decision making

Key Actions to Consider Right Now for Saudi Arabia to Capture Long-term Opportunities

Saudi Arabia emerges as the top opportunity in the MENA region, but capturing the opportunities remains complex; from an uncertain regulatory environment to managing talent. Some actions discussed were: 

  • Extensive focus on government engagement and partnerships 
  • Importance of general marketing of localization efforts (across all industries)
  • Bringing in skills on project financing, regulatory and sectoral expertise, public-private-partnership management, and advanced technologies
  • Aligning with corporate on the realistic opportunity size and timeline of ROI
  • Investing in talent and setting realistic targets on turnover 
  • Adapting the product portfolio to local needs and preferences

To access our full event deck with live polling results, please click here.

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