AUB HR Conference Embraces Human Capital
|PM Fouad Siniora inaugurates the conference
Investing in human capital is the most important thing companies can do, even during an economic crisis, said participants at the “Second Middle East Human Resources Conference” in West Hall May 12 and 13. Sponsored by the Suliman S. Olayan School of Business (OSB), the conference attracted a large audience of academics, businessmen, and officials.
During the opening ceremony and gala dinner held on May 11 at the Phoenicia Intercontinental Hotel, Prime Minister Fuad Siniora argued that it is human capital that made Lebanon resilient during the most difficult periods of its turbulent 65-year history since independence.
Though lacking in natural resources and wealth, Lebanon, said Siniora, depending on the skills and talents of its citizens, created a success story throughout the 1960s and ’70s. Pointing out that this human capital gave investors confidence in the economy of Lebanon, he said this confidence now has to be reinforced “through transparent fiscal, monetary, and economic policies as well as through a transparent public administration… and an independent judiciary … in order to build the rule of law.”
Blaming Lebanon’s stunted economic growth on wars and political instability, Siniora said opportunities of the “past three decades… were great,” but wasted. “We should all share the responsibility for that,” he said.
Siniora projected a change in the dynamics of the world’s economy, as indicated by the rise of two new economic powers—India and China. Both these countries, the former finance minister noted, with a developed manufacturing sector, will no longer rely on imports of cheap products. On the other hand, countries with raw material, such as many African countries, will find new markets for their goods in China and India, changing the dynamics of the world economy. Emerging nations, such as Lebanon, will have to adapt. ”Lebanon will have to develop its technology sector, and manufacture value-added goods… otherwise it will increasingly find itself as merely an importing country,” said Siniora.
For the time being, what has compensated for Lebanon’s lack of initiative in developing its pool of talented workers and value-added sector were expatriate remittances which have kept the economy from stagnating, added Siniora. “Why can Lebanese succeed as individuals or companies, but not as a nation?” asked Siniora.
In response, he suggested implementing his vision for a comprehensive national development plan that involves a partnership between the private and public sectors. Moreover, acknowledging that flaws in the current political system are what is handicapping the establishment of the rule of law and, subsequently, economic development, Siniora argued that the only way to end this vicious circle is by promoting “national belonging.”
This year’s conference theme was “Talent Management in Time of Crisis.” It addressed a number of topics, including the impact of the crisis on Lebanese labor markets, effective leadership styles that work in a Middle Eastern culture, managing talent, and crisis management.
After a welcome word by Dean George Najjar thanking the conference’s corporate sponsor, the National Bank of Kuwait, former Finance Minister Jihad Azour delivered the keynote address during the first session, warning of the changes and challenges the economic crisis will bring. While it is natural for managers to think of cutting training and development budgets, Azour urged them all to think differently. “Countries that will succeed are those that will invest more in their own pool of talented individuals,” he said. “[But] it’s not enough to give them incentives and salaries, but also importance, leadership, and the ability to participate in part of the decision-making.”
Nassib Ghobril, the chief economist and head of economic research and analysis at Byblos Bank, also warned Lebanese against complacency and thinking they are immune to the economic crisis. “All those who say we are immune, are not being honest,” he said. “The only country in the world that might be spared is probably North Korea,” he added, prompting laughter.
Ghobril argued that because Lebanon’s economy relies heavily on expatriate remittances, the national economy will certainly be affected. Lebanese expatriates, he emphasized, work in countries that have been affected by the crisis, including Gulf Cooperation Council countries and the United States; as a result, tourism and the real-estate sector will see reduced activity. Lebanon is the largest recipient per capita of remittances, if the micro-economies of French Polynesia and New Caledonia are excluded, noted Ghobril.
Unfortunately, about 70 percent of leaders in the Middle East, use a leadership style that stifles innovation, motivation, and initiative, according to a Hay Group study. This style—the coercive leadership style—is characterized by managers who command their workers what to do, closely monitor their work, and control their tasks. “If you use the coercive style as your only dominant style,” said Williams, “you’ve got a 3.5 percent chance of creating a high-performance climate, which, to me, is a guarantee of failure.”
Other speakers also included Middle East Airlines’ Mohammed El-Hout, NBK’s Khalil Kotran, George Saab from the Dubai Telecom and Media Free Zone Authority (TECOM), Rana Ghandour Salhab from Deloitte ME, Jacqueline Moukheiber from Audi Bank, Majda Labadi from Hikma Pharmaceuticals, and James Radulski, AUB’s vice-president for Human Resources.