Right after the kings opening speech we had a great panel with a few regional as well as global leaders, (including WPP’s chief Sir Martin Sorrell & YGL Linda Rottenberg, who runs Endeavor Global - great organization growing entrepreneurs). Two of the most impressive leaders
On the panel were Khaldoon Al Mubarak – CEO of Mubadala (the development company of the UAE – United Arab Emirate), and Saeed Al Muntafiq – Chairman of Tatweer (a member of Dubai Holding) who is managing 10 different companies across every sector of the economy.
It is obvious that they understand this could be the last ever major oil boom. Al Mubaraq stated early on that they must invest in R&D in particular in renewable energy and build an IP portfolio around clean energy. UAE is not just talking big, they are putting their money where their mouth is – in creating a strategic clean energy fund together with CSFB of $250M. They will use the fund to buy up IP and technologies in the US (working closely with MIT) and bringing companies into Abu Dabi and Dubai. These guys put more into the fund than some large oil companies put into R&D.
Al Mutafiq shared similar observation as I have earlier in the day regarding the need to grow a generation of entrepreneurs in the region – in particular allowing the young generation to fail without the stigma of being a failure. I must say that Israel has really benefited from the old established corporate structure (jobs for life) into the young, aggressive entrepreneurship model of failing forward. There is no doubt in Israel today that the economy was propped up by this social shift towards willingness to take greater risks.
It seems as though all members agreed on the need to grow a mid-market in companies that are privately/publicly funded and growing with a new generation of young owners. A move like that would break the social order to heritage, and move towards a meritocracy. The transition of knowledge between the previous generation and new companies was highlighter by Fadi Ghandour who shared his observation of the pollination of talent coming from the global companies. The second influencing element is the privatization of the educational system – for example 35% of the schools in Abu Dabi had been privatized, demonstrating great improvement in curriculum in 2006. BTW, I was coincidently sitting next to the MD of one such private school Ms. Tamara Malhas, who echoed that point of view from the daily reality she drives on the ground in Jordan.
An interesting point of view came from R. Seshasayee – the MD of Ashok Leyland, India’s largest commercial vehicle manufacturer. The guy is a class act, we shared a few other sessions and he has an incredible perspective of the invisible link between the Middle East and the Far East, in particular India. His view was that India should cooperate with the MENA region in developing water desalination and purification technologies though the focusing of talent across the country and potentially the region. In his view that is probably the largest most valuable national project that can be driven right now.
Finally, Sorrell brought into the conversation aspects of social responsibilityin brand management in particular around carbon neutrality, and the great power the consumers hold today on corporations that need to respond to the shifting need for better education, and better behavior. Similar ideas echoed in the need for transparency and better governance in the region and the industries influencing the region.
All in all – an eye-opening discussion. The region is getting ready for the “end of oil” – some countries more aggressively, others more conservative in their actions. But the wake up call has been heard. India is staring west to see whether the region is a supplier of oil and jobs or maybe a potential partner to solve big problems together, and the opportunity to re-invent through education and social reform is the biggest leveerage point we have for change in the region.