Transformative Moments: Takeaways from Saudi Arabia

Alain Bejjani — CEO, Majid Al Futtaim — Holding
Ahmed Galal Ismail — CEO, Majid Al Futtaim — Properties
Hani Weiss — CEO, Majid Al Futtaim — Retail
Ignace Lahoud — CEO, Majid Al Futtaim — Leisure, Entertainment & Cinemas

For the last 20 years, prioritising Saudi Arabia has been a no-brainer for Majid Al Futtaim: The Middle East’s largest economy and the world’s top oil exporter has strong market fundamentals. Today, five years into the Vision 2030 economic transformation that could reshape the MENA region for decades to come, the Kingdom is even more compelling.

Transformation is unfolding at immense speed: Saudi Arabia has changed more in the last 18 months than in the five years prior. We left the Kingdom with new perspectives, clearer vision, stronger partnerships and greater desire to grow our presence there than ever before.

1. The region wins: Just as China’s transformation drove Southeast Asia’s growth to new heights, Saudi Arabia can be the engine that accelerates the entire region’s growth, prosperity and sustainability. Its Vision 2030 is good for the Kingdom and great for the region. The hundreds of millions of dollars being spent to reform and modernise the nation and diversify its economy can be both template and stimulus across the MENA.

As former Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chairman Majid Saif Al Ghurair said recently, we will all benefit from the changes in Saudi Arabia. Increasing competition between the existing and upcoming regional economic hubs will encourage innovation, efficiency and FDI. In the same way that Dubai showed life beyond oil is possible, Saudi Arabia’s vision will unfold on an exponentially larger scale with impact to match. Complementarity, between the UAE and Saudi Arabia in tourism for example and with other nations and in other sectors, will follow.

2. PPPs are fundamental: As the Kingdom moves to a more market-based economic model, it needs the right private sector partners at every stage, especially in high-growth sectors. What we saw first-hand was unprecedented levels of engagement and partnership between the government and private sector, staggering opportunities and a great willingness to bring the Saudi 2030 vision to life.

Strong private-public partnerships are a critical component in the markets and communities we invest in. We are committed to being a true private sector partner and one that strives to accelerate Saudi Arabia’s growth across key industries. A journey that started decades ago for us in the Kingdom has already gained greater impetus with our SAR 16bn Mall of Saudi and Riyadh North development.

There is clear opportunity to multiply our business 10 times over and to grow new businesses there. We will extend our expertise and investment, sharing best practices from across our 17 markets, pursuing collaborations in areas where we lead including retail, communities, cinemas, leisure, entertainment and hospitality, and contribute in additional Vision 2030 areas.

3. Talent is key: Greater workforce participation by Saudi men and women is essential, and socioeconomic reforms are already bearing fruit, including higher numbers of Saudi women in the workforce. The private sector must pursue these goals equally. With talent being one of our core pillars at Majid Al Futtaim and our proven effectiveness at upskilling and reskilling our people, this is a real and meaningful opportunity for us to double down on our investment in talent by engaging and growing the Kingdom’s future leaders.

With more than 7,500 MAFers already in country including our new Saudi female colleagues leading in our fully automated and robotised fulfilment center in Jeddah, and great Saudisation rates of 40 per cent and 71 per cent respectively in our Retail and Leisure and Entertainment operations, we are on our way.

4. Culture and creativity matters: A multi-faceted society needs multi-faceted partners and world-class offerings that promote a fulfilling lifestyle and opportunities for all. Saudi Arabia’s homegrown cinema scene is an example: Considerable talent exists, as does a rich body of work that has made headlines. Our VOX Cinemas not only inspire with international content, but act as a catalyst to encourage homegrown talent. We look forward to supporting government initiatives like film festivals to help Saudi culture and local talent become more visible.

5. Prepare for tomorrow today: Competing in a world increasingly dominated by new technologies such as AI, facial recognition, robotics and digital requires integrating that tech now. To match its hyper-growth mode, Saudi Arabia requires partners who are well versed in both online and offline business and emerging tech. Leapfrogging from current practices — growing in the present while simultaneously adapting for the future — is a big but achievable ask.

6. Experience, experience, experience. One of the highlights of our visit was seeing our focus on experiencism at Majid Al Futtaim mirrored in multiple areas. From the support extended to us by government and business leadership, the urban and digital infrastructure in Riyadh to AlUla’s abundant heritage, the striking beauty of NEOM’s present and future, our investor experience (IX) was exceptional. Experience — whether IX or CX — is key to building long-term growth, singularity and brand advocacy.

It is evident that Saudi Arabia’s move to a diversified, globally competitive economic powerhouse can be transformative for the nation and the broader region. As we saw last week, the work to deliver on this vision has already made tremendous strides in policy and on-ground results, with more slated for the coming months. As committed partners, we look forward to translating the abundant opportunities there into reality that touches people’s lives and creates great moments.

Our thanks once again to all who facilitated and enriched our visit, and not least to our MAFers in Saudi Arabia and across our operations who continue to deliver on our promise.

We look forward to the journey ahead.

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