Why 2019 is the year to speak up and take a stand

Busi­ness lead­ers in the re­gion must be aware of de­vel­op­ments in a wide ar­ray of in­dus­tries

Arabian Business English - - 2019 PREDICTIONS MEDIA - FOUNDER AND PRES­I­DENT MID­DLE EAST, ASDA’A BCW By Su­nil John,

THE FU­TURE IN­VEST­MENT Ini­tia­tive (FII), pop­u­larly known as the Davos in the Desert, held from Oc­to­ber 23 – 25, last year at the in­fa­mous Ritz-Carl­ton in Riyadh, was prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant event on the re­gional busi­ness cal­en­dar.

The air was charged with a grow­ing boy­cott of the con­fer­ence – and even do­ing busi­ness with the king­dom – by ma­jor global cor­po­ra­tions and mul­ti­lat­eral in­sti­tu­tions. Charges were be­ing made on the links be­tween the Saudi estab­lish­ment and the mur­der of Saudi jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi in­side the king­dom’s con­sulate in Istanbul ear­lier that month.

Most CEOs of global busi­nesses ei­ther chose to make very care­ful state­ments about back­ing out of the con­fer­ence or just main­tained a stoic diplo­matic si­lence. Many lo­cal and re­gional busi­ness lead­ers chose not to speak at all.

But one CEO stood out, mak­ing a live state­ment to CNN. It was Amin Nasser, CEO of Saudi Aramco, who ex­pressed his re­gret on the killing and then went on to say that the king­dom recog­nised the is­sue and was look­ing into the case. He moved on to say that most of his com­pany’s in­ter­na­tional part­ners were at­tend­ing the con­fer­ence and came across as a busi­ness leader who was not afraid of stat­ing his point of view. It was a quan­tum leap from the low pro­file Saudi Aramco in the past, with spokes­peo­ple who rarely com­mented on any­thing un­re­lated to the com­pany’s busi­ness.

That in­ter­view in many ways shat­tered what most CEOs in the re­gion suf­fer from – Tall Poppy Syn­drome – an age-old prac­tice of the pri­vate sec­tor stay­ing be­low the radar and avoid­ing com­ment­ing on is­sues that did not con­cern their busi­ness.

To a great ex­tent, the rea­son for the syn­drome grow­ing and fes­ter­ing in the re­gion is the ad­vice that most PR con­sul­tants give to their clients – don’t stray away from your struc­tured mes­sag­ing and com­ment only on the busi­ness that you are in­volved in. Po­lit­i­cal and pol­icy mat­ters are to be avoided at all costs. It seemed like the right thing to do, but the world has changed sig­nif­i­cantly.

To­day CEOs are in­creas­ingly be­ing asked to speak about what they think and feel about is­sues con­cern­ing racism, gen­der gaps, the #MeToo move­ment, in­come dis­par­i­ties, ed­u­ca­tion, and health­care, as well as gov­ern­ment poli­cies con­cern­ing im­mi­gra­tion, pro­tec­tion­ism, trade tar­iffs, for­eign af­fairs and hu­man rights. Ear­lier it was enough for the CEO to com­mu­ni­cate to em­ploy­ees, cus­tomers, in­vestors, an­a­lysts and reg­u­la­tors about their com­pany’s per­for­mance, out­look and pos­si­bly some ad­di­tional fluffy stuff on cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity.

To­day it’s a whole new ball game. It’s about con­nect­ing with the com­mu­nity and ar­tic­u­lat­ing your cor­po­rate pur­pose. It’s about hu­man­is­ing the CEO and mak­ing him or her ac­ces­si­ble and re­lat­able to a larger group of stake­hold­ers.

While these are real de­mands on the CEO of


to­day, it does not mean that you throw all cau­tion to the wind and speak your mind on all kinds of is­sues that are unim­por­tant and pos­si­bly un­re­lated to the busi­ness. To­day, the risk of a back­lash is per­haps even greater – the in­ter­net and 24-hour news cy­cles of­fer us melt­downs in real-time, with up­dates by the minute.

There isn’t a Tesla share­holder alive who doesn’t wish Elon Musk would delete his Twit­ter ac­count. Twit­ter in­vestors them­selves can be for­given for wish­ing the plat­form’s founder and CEO, Jack Dorsey, had stayed silent af­ter his re­cent 10-day ‘silent’ re­treat in Myan­mar.

But, times are chang­ing. 2018 was also the year that Nike took a stand (or rather took a knee) to sup­port Colin Kaeper­nick, with a cam­paign that urged us to “Believe in some­thing. Even if it costs you ev­ery­thing.”

Tak­ing a po­si­tion paid off for the brand – with sales ris­ing 31 per­cent in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math and, in the medium term, in­comes up 10 per­cent at the end of the sec­ond fi­nan­cial quar­ter. Build­ing brand loy­alty is not for the faint hearted.

In to­day’s ul­tra-po­lit­i­cal, hy­per-po­larised world, cor­po­ra­tions aren’t ex­pected to just sit on the side­lines. They have to be in­volved. They have to have an opin­ion. To­day’s CEO isn’t just an or­gan­i­sa­tion’s main de­ci­sion-maker, they’re the pub­lic face rep­re­sent­ing a com­pany po­si­tion on ev­ery­thing from so­cial is­sues to pub­lic pol­icy.

So in 2019, I pre­dict the emer­gence of the so­cially con­scious CEO. To­day’s CEOs are ex­pected to em­body the val­ues of the companies they helm. Ob­vi­ously, that means not be­ing afraid to stand up for the val­ues your com­pany does rep­re­sent, even when you’re not specif­i­cally asked to. In other words, it’s time to stand for some­thing. Au­then­tic­ity will also be the new mea­sure of suc­cess­ful com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Now is the time to em­pha­sise the truth, broad­cast the facts and present an im­age of ‘unim­peach­able’ hon­esty. That will make the CEO more hu­man and au­then­tic – the new mea­sure of ef­fec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

More­over, most CEOs will de­pend less on tra­di­tional me­dia chan­nels and find ways to reach out to their au­di­ences through their own chan­nels, us­ing so­cial me­dia plat­forms as well as their own blogs and pod­casts.

In 2019, it’s time to use the C-suite’s power to com­mu­ni­cate con­struc­tively and take a po­si­tion on some­thing be­yond the bot­tom line.

As the world gets nois­ier, con­sumers, po­ten­tial em­ploy­ees, and busi­ness part­ners are in­creas­ingly look­ing to align with companies that re­flect their val­ues. The age of fence-sit­ting is well and truly over. It’s time to speak up.

Ex­pec­ta­tions Con­sumers are look­ing for firms with their val­ues

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