Aligning Talent Strategies and Business Continuity
Interview with Fawaz Al-Otaibi, KSA
Fawaz Al-Otaibi, CEO of Awab Holdings, maintains a clear vision of the goals he wants to achieve for his family’s businesses and their stakeholders. With subsidiaries across healthcare, real estate, education technology, automotive and IT, protecting wealth is, as always, a key objective. However, Fawaz Al-Otaibi also recognises the importance of intangible assets – value that can’t be measured in dollars and cents. A long-time champion of governance, he feels that family businesses in particular benefit from robust governing structures that take into account the unique dynamics that exist between relatives who work together.
With his family now approaching its third-generation of involvement in the business, Fawaz Al-Otaibi leverages his governance strategy to ensure smooth transitions, and ultimately, a family legacy full of growth and prosperity. A significant part of that strategy involves securing the best talent for his firm’s future. It’s also a strategy he sees as being crucial for businesses navigating the uncertainty of the COVID–19 pandemic.
Q: How can organisations mitigate the effects of the COVID–19 crisis?
As with any challenge, there is the potential for both negative and positive.
It becomes less a matter of how much money a business has on hand or how sales will be affected, and more about discovering how to address those challenges in a way that’s beneficial.
And just because something is beneficial doesn’t mean it has to be profitable – sometimes a tangible benefit is merely taking action as opposed to inaction. We must address the fact that we are living in a time of change. Some see change as negative and will likely extend that negativity in some manner throughout their organisation. Others, myself included, look at the big picture. We try to realise the positive outcomes. Sometimes, finding that positivity means making hard decisions like trimming staff, cutting salaries and dealing with any slack in the system.
I feel those decisions should come early, and they should also be applied to owners first. But again, it’s not always about money. There are often people or systems in an organisation that don’t offer a good return on investment, and the pandemic provides the right lens to see that. Everyone in our company knows that we are doing what needs to be done to move through this period and come away from it better.
Q: How do you keep people motivated and positive in the face of such uncertainty?
I believe you have to lay the groundwork before a crisis hits. The leader of a company should always try to be a model for their organisation.
Stay close to your employees and build good relationships with them. Not only will it be advantageous through normal periods, but it will make getting through times such as these smoother too.
For example, we subscribe to a platform that gives our employees access to a wide catalogue of helpful topics, many of which are geared toward dealing with the pandemic. Initiatives like these show you care, which will pay dividends in the long run.
Q: Are you still thinking about growth, succession and generational legacy even under such stress?
It may seem counterintuitive at a time when cost-cutting measures need to be deployed, but now is also the perfect time to hire talent.
This emergency has highlighted the kind of people that you need around you, and because the pandemic is a global phenomenon, everyone else is also reevaluating their workforce.
As such, talent is available and in transition at different levels. Keep an open mind so that opportunities aren’t missed. Hiring the best people now will position you well for when the pandemic recedes.
Q: What are some of your key takeaways from the past few months?
Because we are a family business, it was always harder for us to attract the right talent. We were always competing with the non-family business world, and very often, they seemed to have an edge. Today, we find ourselves on a much more even playing field, and family businesses must take advantage of that fact. The past several months have also shown that you can’t take anything for granted, because entire landscapes can shift on you in what seems like a second.
I’ve also become aware of how important it is to address problems as they arise. It may be easy to avoid them during periods of relative normalcy, but stress exacerbates weaknesses. Potential holes need to be repaired before the storm hits. Cost-cutting and rebalancing labour based on performance are aspects that should regularly be addressed at all times.
The last takeaway is investing in technology. We strengthened our IT very early on, and when working from home became the norm, everything ran smoothly for us, while our competition struggled. We were even able to help some of our clients embrace these new technologies. I believe that the state of an organisation before the pandemic combined with the steps they take during the pandemic will significantly impact how their future looks. For family businesses in particular, now is the time when legacies are secured.
Fawaz Al-Otaibi is the CEO, Awab Holdings Company. Awab Holdings holds a well-diversified investment portfolio, which spans over many industries such as Healthcare, Real Estate, Education Technology, Automotive, and IT.
Al-Otaibi is a generalist with multiple experiences in different industries, disciplines, and roles. He has been in leadership roles for most of his career, leading to exposure to an array of business challenges where efficient and effective decision-making was required.
Al-Otaibi is a strong believer in governance, procedure, and policy. He successfully restructured his family business, by creating a holdings company; on the equity side (drafting shareholder agreements, negotiating and managing the change) on the liability side (negotiating better terms with banks, opening new channels of financing) and on the investment side (de-risking the portfolio by diversifying geographically and by asset class). And finally, reaching a true holdings model, where the holding company treats its subsidiaries as investments.