FII2018: Company chiefs urged to embrace technological revolution

Top CEOs at the opening ceremony of the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh. (AFP)
Updated 24 October 2018
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FII2018: Company chiefs urged to embrace technological revolution

  • If companies do not transform with clear strategies, they will be left behind, just like many companies that have failed

RIYADH: Company chief executives must embrace the technological revolution, delegates to the Future Investment Initiative conference were told.

Leaders need to come out of their traditional offices and engage with the community, said Yousef Al-Benyan, vice chairman and chief executive of Saudi Basic Industries Corp. (SABIC), the Saudi petrochemicals giant.

“I don’t look at it wholly from a regional point of view, but I look at it globally,” he said. “Transformation and the technology evolution are going to be very crucial. At the same time, it is going to create challenges for business.”

Companies should keep in mind that if they do not transform themselves with different platforms and clear strategies, they will be left behind, like many companies that had failed, Al-Benyan said.

“I’m not looking at incremental transformation but it has to be a complete transformation otherwise the companies will not be able to truly satisfy their shareholders.”

Al-Benayan also discussed the digital transformation that is changing the petrochemical industry, and how it will drive future growth.

The petrochemical industry is important for the growth of prosperity, Al-Benayan said. “The petrochemical industry is now everywhere in every individual’s life,” he said. 

SABIC is competitive, he said. “We have more than 21 centers globally, supported by more than 2,000 scientists and researchers to make sure that we have up-to- speed positions in our competitive environment.”  

Al-Benayan expressed concern about the future of job creation. The speed of technological innovation was greater than the speed of the transformation of Saudi Arabia’s education system, he said, which would create challenges for Saudi youth.


No need for more talks over draft budget: Lebanon finance minister

Updated 21 May 2019
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No need for more talks over draft budget: Lebanon finance minister

  • Lebanon’s proposed austerity budget may please international lenders but it could enrage sectors of society
  • Lebanon has one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens at 150 percent of GDP

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s finance minister said on Tuesday there was no need for more talks over the 2019 draft budget, seen as a vital test of the government’s will to reform, although the foreign minister signalled the debate may go on.
The cabinet says the budget will reduce the deficit to 7.6% of gross domestic product (GDP) from last year’s 11.2%. Lebanon has one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens at 150% of GDP.
“There is no longer need for too much talking or anything that calls for delay. I have presented all the numbers in their final form,” Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said.
But Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil suggested the debate may go on, telling reporters: “The budget is done when it’s done.”
While Lebanon has dragged its feet on reforms for years, its sectarian leaders appear more serious this time, warning of a catastrophe if there is no serious action. Their plans have triggered protests and strikes by state workers and army retirees worried about their pensions.
President Michel Aoun on Tuesday repeated his call for Lebanese to sacrifice “a little“: “(If) we want to hold onto all privileges without sacrifice, we will lose them all.”
“We import from abroad, we don’t produce anything ... So what we did was necessary and the citizens won’t realize its importance until after they feel its positive results soon,” Aoun said, noting Lebanon’s $80 billion debt mountain.
A draft of the budget seen by Reuters included a three-year freeze on all forms of hiring and a cap on bonus and overtime benefits.
It also includes a 2% levy on imports including refined oil products and excluding medicine and primary inputs for agriculture and industry, said Youssef Finianos, minister of public works and transport.
“DEVIL IN THE DETAIL“
Marwan Mikhael, head of research at Blominvest Bank, said investors would welcome the additional efforts in the latest draft to cut the deficit.
“There will be some who claim it is not good because they were hit by the decline in spending or increased taxes, but it should be well viewed by the international community,” he said.
Jason Tuvey, senior emerging markets economist at Capital Economics, said: “The numbers will be of some comfort to investors, but the devil will be in the detail.”
“Even if the authorities do manage to rein in the deficit, it probably won’t be enough to stabilize the debt ratio and some form of restructuring looks increasingly likely over the next couple of years,” Tuvey said.
The government said in January it was committed to paying all maturing debt and interest payments on the predetermined dates.
Lebanon’s main expenses are a bloated public sector, interest payments on public debt and transfers to the loss-making power generator, for which a reform plan was approved in April. The state is riddled with corruption and waste.
Serious reforms should help Lebanon tap into some $11 billion of project financing pledged at a Paris donors’ conference last year.
Once approved by cabinet, the draft budget must be debated and passed by parliament. While no specific timetable is in place for those steps, Aoun has previously said he wants the budget approved by parliament by the end of May.
On Monday, veterans fearing cuts to their pensions and benefits burned tires outside the parliament building where the cabinet met. Police used water cannon to drive them back.