All aspects of life in Saudi are governed by an absolute belief in the teachings of Islam and an adherence to its tenets. No business deal will ever be discussed without reference to the Almighty and His Prophet Mohammed.
It goes without saying that the utmost respect must be given to such devoutly held religious beliefs and accommodations made to allow people to observe religious rituals of prayer and fasting.
As all things emanate from the will of Allah, a degree of fatalism and acceptance are inherent in the Saudi character. Things will or will not happen according to the will of God and not because of the actions of man. The meeting will take place tomorrow at nine o’clock – God willing.
Business is usually family-based with all senior positions filled by family members. Nepotism is the natural order of things and not something that needs to be explained to visitors.
This family-orientation leads naturally to the development of strong hierarchies with the oldest male relatives being at the head of the organisation.
Age is worthy of respect and honourable visitors will display respect to older people – therefore it is good to have some older heads amongst any delegation going to Saudi.
Try to find out the relationship tree of any company you wish to do business with. Power may not reside with a functional head if that head is not a family member or has poor relationships at the top.
Managers tend to lead through instruction and subordinates are not expected to show initiative. If is not requested, it may not get done.
Meetings can involve sitting in rooms with unknown people who are simultaneously meeting your contact. In effect, several meetings may take place at the same time.
Initial meetings can be very time-consuming and appear to deliver very little in terms of tangible returns.
Time is very flexible and meetings may start very late (if at all) and last for many hours. It is difficult to schedule a series of meetings on the same day.
Teams work well if birth or kinship associates everybody in the team. Teams of strangers rarely gel effectively.
It is important to offer lavish compliments to your host and that you are prepared to receive them in return.
Saudis do not like to say no or deliver negative news. It can be very difficult to fully understand exactly how interested people are in your propositions. Only perseverance and patience will reveal the true picture.
Loud and aggressive discourse denotes engagement and interest – not anger or hostility. Do not be frightened or worried if the noise levels in meetings start to grow.
Levels of eye contact are very strong and strong eye contact denotes sincerity and trustworthiness.
Avoid touching anybody with your left hand or pointing feet at people as both of these are seen as extremely rude behaviour.
Do not comment on the political situation in the Middle East or make any adverse comments about the influence of Islam.
Women play little or no active role in business life and it can be very difficult for women to even get a visa to enter the country on business.
Dress conservatively, but very smartly. You will be judged partly on your appearance.
Written and Produced by Keith Warburton
This country profile has been produced to give a short overview of some of the key concepts to bear in mind when doing business with contacts in Saudi Arabia. It is intended to be an aid to business people who have commercial dealings with counterparties in the country but should not be seen as an exhaustive guide to this topic or as a substitute for more substantial research should there be a need.
With this in mind, we have covered the areas which are key to a better understanding of the cultural mindset underpinning business dealings in Saudi Arabia and which are, quite often, extremely different from the approach and thought processes associated with business in other parts of the world.
Therefore this briefing note is broken into short, bite-sized sections on the following topics: