CEOs in the Middle East most forward-looking as they face a new age of long-term disruptions

Businesses in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates remain optimistic about the prospects for their company (80%) and the overall economy (85%) as they continue to navigate the challenges ahead, working closely with their respective governments. This is according to findings from global consulting firm AlixPartners’ Disruption Index (ADI), an annual survey that canvasses more than 3,000 CEOs and executives from around the world to uncover the latest global business concerns.

Regional CEOs are confident in embracing and responding to disruption with nearly all (90%) believing that their natural leadership style thrives in a disrupted environment, far higher than 75% globally. Top defensive actions they have taken to navigate disruption include developing action plans and scenario planning/analyses (80%) with 7 in 10 currently prioritizing revenue growth over profitability and building core business over valuable new businesses.

Executives in the region were second-highest disrupted, after China, with 68% saying they were highly disrupted in the past year. Regional CEOs, like many of their peers in other regions,

worry that their company is not adapting fast enough to the pace of change (67%), with over 60% actively changing their business models, either currently or within the next year, an indication that a significant number of regional companies are embracing transformation.

Business leaders in the two countries are also investing more in digital tools and technologies than they were in the prior year, more than 5 points higher than the global average. Workforce challenges are still significant, with 85% saying that the pace of change is making their employees’ skills obsolete (compared to a global average of 58%), and 80% saying that their employees were not open to change (compared to 55% globally). However, they also noted that visa reforms have made hiring and retaining qualified workers easier now than it was two years ago.

“It is difficult to imagine a region of the world where both the threats and opportunities of our disruptive age are more on display than the Middle East,” said Gabriel Chahine, Middle East Leader at AlixPartners. “While there are climate pressures across the region, and global geopolitical tensions, governments and businesses in the region are among the most forward-looking in the world—accelerating investments into education, infrastructure, the green transition, and digital technologies.”

Digital Adoption a Priority

AI and automation were the primary disruptive forces as per this year’s results at 87% (v/s 46% globally), with 64% planning to invest the most in digital transformation to ensure growth for their business over the next 3-5 years. 50% of CEOs are also prioritizing process automation as the key technique they need to address in the coming year (twice as high as the global average), in line with the region’s focus on leveraging technology for transformation.

9 out 10 executives reported that their company has the resources needed to invest in new technology and digital solutions and nearly half reported that their company is investing more in digital tools and technology than they were the prior year. For executives in the region, return on investment is the top consideration when making decisions around technology investments (55%) followed by the ability to integrate within existing systems and processes (41%).

“The rise of generative AI is both exciting and daunting for many leaders in the world, but from what we’re observing here in the region, companies are embracing this adoption as priority, following in the footsteps of the governments visions,” noted Chahine. “The prospects for business making this adoption are significant and often result in massive productivity gains, as well as new vectors for revenue growth, value protection, and job opportunities, and those organizations who embrace it will be the ultimate winners.”