Background To Business in Saudi Arabia

Western business culture makes a strong separation between work and religious belief. Even very devout Christians would be loath to invoke divine scriptures or mention the will of God in a typical business encounter.

However, when doing business in Saudi Arabia (and elsewhere in the Gulf), it is important to bear in mind the all-pervasive nature of the influence of Islam.

Life – and business as an important aspect of life – are governed by the prescriptive tenets of a religion which forms the backdrop to society. Nothing happens which has not been willed by God. If a deal comes off it is due to the will of God, if it fails it was not meant to be. Thus, a sense of fatalism and a resulting lack of urgency are often quoted by business people from non-Islamic cultures as being the over-riding impressions of a trip to Saudi. The oft-quoted Arabic phrase, ‘In Sha Allah’ (if God wills it) represents a deeply rooted belief in the unending activity of a Supreme Being, rather than an excuse for inactivity or lack of motivation.

The observance of religious ritual takes precedence over all other aspects of life and prayer punctuates the business day. Meetings’ discourse contains numerous references to God and His Prophet Mohammed and offices display numerous Koranic texts.

Do not underestimate the deep conviction of your Saudi contacts and do not imagine that reference to religion is in any way a ploy or insincere.

A brief overview of some key concepts to consider when doing business in Saudi Arabia

Written and Produced by Keith Warburton

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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