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
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: