Q&A: John Robinson: “Omani and Kuwaiti employers will bend over backwards to retain good executives”

Author: Kirsty Tuxford | Date: 31 Aug 2016

Intersearch Middle East’s chairman on why executive search services are still in high demand, despite the slowing economy

John Robinson - IntersearchThe oil price is an important factor for all GCC economies, and the current low has meant organisations have been forced to take action in response to increasing budget deficits. People Management spoke to John Robinson, chairman of Intersearch Middle East, to find out about the effects of the oil price on executive search in different employment sectors in Oman and Kuwait.

Since the economic slowdown, how has the job market, and executive search in particular, been affected in Oman and Kuwait?

Upstream [exploration and production] oil and gas projects have suffered most, and many national and international oil companies are re-evaluating the economics around planned projects to see if certain projects should continue in the current circumstances. Clearly, some projects need to be delayed and so there is a slowdown on uncommitted capital expenditure at the moment.

But this is not so further downstream [areas such as refining, processing, marketing and distribution]. Both Oman and Kuwait have a long-term policy of adding value to their oil and gas production. Rather than ship their production overseas, the intention is to refine the crude and convert it to fuel, downstream products and even into speciality chemicals. This will create jobs for nationals as well as increase budget revenues. So there is a strong demand for international EPC (engineering, procurement and construction) organisations to construct the plants, as well as for international executives to manage the new local refiners and petrochemical producers.

Is there still a demand for executives in other sectors in Oman and Kuwait?

Executive search is buoyant in Oman and Kuwait, and overall, the jobs market for experienced executives is much healthier in this region than in the rest of the world.

Banking and finance is leading the way, due to the spread of Islamic Finance, and also because government and semi-government entities are now borrowing from banks rather than being funded solely by the government. The construction and development sector however, is lagging behind; it’s much easier to halt progress on a housing project when cuts need to be made.

Reports from analysts in March said that Omani organisations were asking expat execs to resign to help cut costs. Did you also witness this? And if so, has that trend reversed?

That is not our experience. There is, of course, normal turnover of executives in this region for the same reasons that apply in the rest of the world. But Omani and Kuwaiti employers take their responsibilities to their employees very seriously, especially to their expatriate employees. Most employers in Oman and Kuwait will bend over backwards to retain their good expatriate executives, because they appreciate the commitment the employee has made in terms of his or her career, moving abroad, placing their children at a new school and also the employees’ planned career progression.