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04 October 2023

Which nationality CEOs are the most sought after in UAE?

By Shuchita Kapur

Do companies in the UAE truly reflect its multicultural set up? Are there some nationals who are more preferred and move up the ranks quicker than others to become CEOs?

Those in the recruitment industry believe it’s difficult to pin-point one or two nationalities that occupy the highest tier. It could be more sector-oriented or based on the need to push home talent further or just follow simple logic, they say.

The DNA of an institution is one of the most important factors that determine who leads it. “It depends on which company you are looking at,” Shane Phillips, Mena Regional Practice Leader, Financial & Professional Services at Stanton Chase told 'Emirates24|7'.

“[About] 67 per cent of white collar workforce in the UAE is South Asian. Of course, some of the biggest expat CEOs in the region such as Rick Pudner, CEO Emirates NBD and Simon Cooper Deputy Chairman and CEO of HSBC Mena are British as is Michael Tomalin CEO of NBAD (the most profitable bank in the UAE for 2010). There are also very good Arab CEOs such as Andre Sayegh, CEO of FGB and Mohamed Berro, CEO of Al Hilal Bank. So, it really depends on the core DNA of the bank and what it is trying to achieve in the UAE. For example, Bank of Baroda will ever only have an Indian GM for the UAE, because it is a state-run bank from India. Our remit when conducting an executive search really depends on clients’ needs. Of course, top brands such as HSBC, Standard Chartered Bank, Barclays and Citi are known for the great training and development they offer their staff and thus you can see many of the top CEOs being graduates from these global high street banks,” he added. 

According to Peter Greaves, Executive Vice-President at DHR International: “[This is] a very broad question; depends on sector. Bu my view would [be that] it's split. The UAE is one of the most multicultural countries. There’s a push to hire UAE nationals for local markets, particularly in Abu Dhabi government sector. On the other hand, where global technical skills are required such as in ports, shipping, logistics, aviation, renewable energy, healthcare, etc, there is a need to bring valuable skills on-shore. Nationality depends on sector so you’ll have French in Abu Dhabi for energy, military. etc. Often, those in shipping/logistics come from the Nordic countries, [whereas] Europeans and Australians [go] in banking and real estate. I have seen more Dutch and Germans arriving who are perceived as strong on compliance, a focus since the crash.”

“I wouldn’t say that there is any particular slant towards nationalities when recruiting at a senior level; searches at this level tend to be very objective, but it is fair to say that certain sectors are more reliant on one nationality over another. For example, advertising has a heavy contingent of Lebanese expertise, just as search and selection is a particularly British dominated industry. There is a real interest in Saudi nationals for senior level roles in general as firms in the UAE look to open up the GCC’s biggest market place,” added Toby Simpson, Managing Director, The Gulf Recruitment Group.

Some in the industry believe that nationality is not a very important factor when it comes to the selection process.

“Generally speaking, when it comes to CEOs, nationality is rarely a deciding factor. Although in 2012, we have seen investment firms seeking to identify CEO calibre candidates for senior roles including CEOs. Other than that, the demand spread for other nationalities is pretty even, and track record focused,” said Hasnain Qazi, Middle East Business Manager at Huxley Associates.

“In general, companies that are looking to appoint CEOs based on various criteria that are all the more important than the nationality of the candidate per se. Some of the common traits that companies look for in potential CEOs and successful leaders are honesty and integrity, optimism and enthusiasm, high levels of emotional intelligence, a clear vision, commitment to growth, a high sense of responsibility, self-confidence, an excellent expertise in their field, the ability to engage and motivate others, willingness to work hard and take risks, etc. [Our] latest job index shows that sixper cent of UAE companies will be now looking to hire CEOs. The same survey revealed that highly appreciated skills in the UAE are good communication in both Arabic and French (55 per cent), followed by the ability to be a good team player, cooperative, helpful and flexible (47 per cent), the ability to work under pressure (44 per cent) and good leadership skills (42 per cent),” Amer Zureikat, VP Sales, BAYT.com told this website.