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CEOs turn to efficiency and upskilling to counter economic and geopolitical fears

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Despite the economic and geopolitical uncertainties in the Middle East, Chief Executive Officers remain confident in their growth prospects and are focused on driving efficiencies, upskilling their people and seeking new markets for opportunities.

According to consultancy firm PwC’s 23rd Annual CEO Survey, nine out of ten CEOs are worried about geopolitical uncertainty this year.

66% of regional CEOs are confident about their company’s revenue growth in the next year, with 74% more confident about the next three years.

The report said that 77% of Middle East CEOs plan to make operational efficiencies over the next 12 months to improve performance. Despite the uncertainty, 47% expect their companies to enter new markets in 2020 with CEOs particularly excited about both Saudi Arabia and Egypt, followed by the US and China.

 “CEOs in the Middle East are surrounded by uncertainty. Whether it’s geopolitical, economic or technological; business leaders are navigating this instability and overcoming obstacles through efficiency, talent and technology, making way for new opportunities for growth,” Hani Ashkar, PwC Middle East Territory Senior Partner, said.

Technologies that leverage big data - including artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and the internet of things (IoT) - are forcing companies to balance the need for privacy and security along with the promise that these technologies provide.

Therefore, the proportion of Middle East CEOs who identify rising tensions as a key factor in shaping their cybersecurity strategy is almost double the global survey average.

When it comes to the most pressing topics confronting CEOs in the region, he said that one thing is clear - collaboration is key.

He urged the business community to come together and make a commitment on how best to take each of these forward, finding culturally relevant solutions to problems pressing business leaders everywhere.

However, he said that uncertainty can be a segue for reduced headcount, decreased investment and overall timidness when it comes to growth opportunities.

But CEOs in the Middle East do not shy away; he said and added that they are looking instead to adapt to create sustainability and growth for the future.

Focuses on operational efficiencies

80% of the respondents this year said a shortage of skills in the workforce was a potential threat to their organisation’s growth prospects, up from 70% last year.

CEOs increasingly recognise that they must maximise the potential of their existing staff through upskilling programmes (70%).

Companies throughout the region are steadily adapting to the realities of a lower rate of economic growth.

Ashkar said that corporate sustainability in the region is focused on building leaner, more efficient and nimble businesses to withstand a downturn and be ready to exploit any opportunities on the horizon.

Stephen Anderson, Middle East Strategy and Markets Leader at PwC, said that CEOs in the region continue to make the transition to a lower growth environment, in increasingly uncertain market conditions.

“They are consequently focused on operational efficiencies to enable long-term, profitable sustainable growth. CEOs’ justified anxiety about the immediate term is balanced by a more positive outlook when they look further towards the future. It is pleasing to note that there is a region-wide focus on upskilling to drive digital transformation, which in turn will enable better products and services and improve job prospects for the local workforce, including young people and women.”