Saudi Arabia

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DOING BUSINESS IN SAUDI ARABIA

Saudi Arabia has often attracted widespread controversy regarding the way its society operates, especially in the Western world – sometimes fuelled by spectators who do not know much about the country itself. Dig a little deeper and one will find that doing business in Saudi Arabia can be, for those that do their research into the country’s customs, a worthwhile pursuit.

As the revered birthplace of Islam and home to the religion’s holiest shrines, Saudi Arabia is the de facto leader of the Sunni branch of Islam. One of the world’s largest producers of oil (exports of the commodity account for 85% of the government’s revenues), the Kingdom’s influence on the Gulf cannot be underestimated. The country’s status as the largest exporter of petroleum has secured its position as a leader of OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries). In short, the nation is an economically and religiously powerful one.

Being one of the most conservative countries in the world may make Saudi Arabia a novel place to do business in and entering the Saudi market is not without its challenges. Corruption is still rife; the government is not very transparent about state budgets and political and financial practices and the administration’s willingness to embrace foreign investment is deemed below average. As a result, doing business in Saudi Arabia secures a low score on The World Bank’s system for measuring business ease and is classed as “mostly unfree” on the Index of Economic Freedom. On the flip side, business regulations are moderately streamlined and the time required for business incorporation has been reduced. Reasonable social and economic liberalism has also been outlined in the nation’s “Vision 2030” plan.

The key to doing business in Saudi Arabia successfully is to understand that the Islamic religion is closely intertwined with all areas of life and therefore intrinsically integrated with business life. Religion’s prominence has led to business structures being hierarchical and extremely male-dominated with nepotism commonplace and relationship building paramount.

Customs and the way business meetings are held vary dramatically to the style of other countries. You will find a wealth of insight and actionable advice on the World Business Culture website to assist you in successfully doing business in Saudi Arabia – an often-misunderstood nation.

 

OVERVIEW

Saudi Arabia is a globally important country from a number of perspectives. As one of the world’s largest producers of oil, it has a strategic impact on the world’s economy (and only a handful of countries can say that). In addition, as the de facto leader of the Sunni branch of Islam, Saudi has a crucial influence on the rest of the Gulf and beyond into the wider Muslim world.

Saudi Arabia cannot be ignored – it really is that simple. Agree or disagree with the ways things are done in Saudi (any many vehemently disagree without really knowing much about the country) the Kingdom is just too globally significant to be ignored.

Is doing business in Saudi Arabia a good idea for you and your business? If you strip away all of the ‘noise’ which surrounds the country and analyse the fundamentals around demographics, size of the economy, personal wealth and attitude to consumerism, then Saudi starts to look like a great place to do business in. Saudi has a large, increasingly prosperous population which is predominantly youthful and aspirational. They want to buy what you have to sell.

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia is a notoriously complicated place to do business in and if you are planning on doing business in Saudi Arabia it is absolutely essential that you study the Saudi cultural approach to business before you arrive in-country. You need to understand the role played by religion and kinship in all business dealings within the Kingdom and you need to be able to show respect for these twin pillars of commerce. Do your homework in advance – not when you have already made the mistakes.

This country profile provides an overview of some of the key aspects of Saudi Arabian business culture in a concise, easy to follow-format. The document includes information on:

  • Background to business
  • Business Structures
  • Management style
  • Meetings
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Women in business
  • Entertaining
  • Top tips