To make sense of how businesses in the region have responded to COVID-19 as well as to understand how leaders are planning their recovery strategy for 2021, the Michael Page Middle East team hosted a virtual executive panel on 17 November 2020. The panel featured speakers from FMCG, Pharmaceutical, Retail and Banking and Financial Services. The panel was moderated by Trevor McFarlane who is the Founder of Emerging Markets Intelligence and Research (EMIR). 

You can watch the webinar on demand below or read through the insights below from each of the speakers. 

Watch on demand 

Economic implications of COVID will likely be felt through 2021

Insights by Tim Fox | Executive-level Economic Advisor & Financial Analyst

Even though the UAE did a better job than many other countries across other regions in handling the pandemic, the country is still reliant on how the rest of the world responds economically in 2021. Coming out of an already challenging 2019, the economic impacts of 2020 have been felt through the loss of jobs and the outward movement of the expat population from the region, and these impacts will likely be felt in 2021 as well. The region saw activity picking up in Q3 after contractions in Q1 and Q2, with further pick up being witnessed in Q4. With encouraging announcements of successful vaccine trials, there is a bit of optimism emerging on the horizon. The question is if the bounce-back will fully make up for the loss of output in 2020.    

The Pharmaceutical Sector Is Rethinking Its Business Models

Insights by Ashraf Allam | Regional VP, Middle East, Africa & Turkey – Mundipharma

The pandemic affected all stakeholders connected to the healthcare industry – hospitals, doctors, the government, pharma companies, insurance companies, clinics, etc. Despite facing new cost constraints, due to the COVID-19 lockdown, pharmaceutical companies in the region were given the opportunity to lower their operational expenses and focus on resource optimisation. With supply chains particularly tested this year, the pandemic has forced pharma companies to rethink their current business models. Moreover, with reduced face-to-face interactions and the emergence of hybrid work models as the new reality, the industry is having to undergo an organizational redesign. On the positive side, the pharma sector has become essential to a country's national security planning and governments are now closely involving key industry players in dialogues. 

The food industry needs to develop new partnerships to localise supply chains 

Insights by Melda Yasar Cebe | MD / GM, MEA - The Kraft Heinz Company

While out-of-home food consumption took a massive hit since the outbreak of COVID-19, food consumption at home increased and overall, the food and beverage industry witnessed a positive net impact. The challenge was not demand but supply-related where companies like Kraft Heinz, have to had to make sure that products land in supermarkets at the right time. The challenge has been due to many reasons, one being on the production side. Ensuring employee health and safety has mandated reduced manpower on the production floors. There have also been logistical and customs-related issues. Companies like Kraft Heinz have been looking at increasing their supply footprint in the region as well as optimizing some of their portfolio focusing on essential products. Going into 2021, localizing production and identifying new partnerships to create smooth supply chains will be high on priority for the industry.   

Those retailers that embraced 'digital' and invested in omni-channel have been successful 

Insights by Hosein Moghaddas | Board Advisor (several companies) & Former CEO Middle East - The Net-A-Porter Group

Moving away from the franchise broker distribution model, innovative partnerships (e.g. DAMAC and Roberto Cavalli Group) have resulted in driving revenues from outside of the traditional channels – we can expect to see new partnerships in not only the UAE but also Saudi Arabia. While many retail players in the UAE have done a good job of embracing omnichannel, those in countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar are still lagging on this implementation. Given the current environment, to capture share of market, retailers should work towards blurring the lines between shopping in-store and online. Give your consumers exactly what they want when they want it, stressed Hosein. Whether fashion or cars, it is time that retailers must build their e-commerce capabilities. For instance, luxury brands for far too long have had websites that are more beautiful but less transactional. Even luxury brands must consider putting a shopping cart on their website, given the in-home, online shopping experience many consumers are availing given the COVID-19 environment. 

Transparent leadership and flexible work will outlast the pandemic

Melda shared that the move towards flexible work has been accelerated in the region by 5-10 years. According to her, work from home works, and the model is here to stay with many benefits and its evident cost and efficiency impacts. She also mentioned during the lockdown and the continuing remote working model, leaders have had to be transparent in their communication with employees – consistent, transparent communication from the leadership helps put anxious and insecure employees at ease especially with many companies undergoing some level of restructuring. Transparency and empathy from the leadership is something Melda considers important going forward. What Melda highlights as a challenge is the blurred lines due to the work from home scenario. It will be important to balance work and personal life. On addressing how to define boundaries, Hosein suggested limiting virtual meetings to specified time limits enabling participants to communicate their points succinctly and effectively.

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