The world seems to have a split between existing corporate societies, where the corporatised private sector has been a dominant part of life for multiple generations, and first- generation corporate societies in other parts of the world, like the Middle East.
The primary difference between existing corporate societies and first-generation corporate societies is that the former emerged during the era of industrialisation while the latter have remained agricultural, government-employment, and cottage- industry societies until very recently, at which time they began to experience massive development, bypassing the Industrial Revolution route.
While the Middle East boasts a few mature family businesses, some of which go back generations, most in the current workforce are among the first members from their family to work in a corporate environment. They have historically worked in the public sector or small dukkan-style businesses (those similar to cottage industries). Only recently have they started to populate the corporate sector.
The consequence has been that only now are social and family support systems being built for a corporate environment. On the other hand, Western societies have been involved in the corporate culture since the early 1900s, when they experienced the same migration out of agricultural, government-employment, and cottage industry societies that we in the Middle East are experiencing now.
It was back in 1952 when Ray Kroc began applying the thinking behind the Industrial Revolution to the process of business development and created
the franchise engine, thus bringing the McDonald’s fast-food chain and franchising to the world. Yet in the 1950s, many of our countries in the Middle East were still under foreign sovereignty, serving as little more than outposts and colonies for the conquering empires.
It could be argued that a “corporate” era has come into its own with the arrival of McDonald’s, the symbol of structured operations meeting with everyday life, in the Middle East. McDonald’s perfected and expanded the idea of the assembly line for food production, delivery, and the franchise.
If the fast-food chain ushered in the corporate era, this means the Middle East began corporatising as recently as 1993.
In the Middle East, the route to the corporate society is coming via service and knowledge economies, unlike in the West, which made its transition from an agrarian society into the private sector through industry. Here the Middle East is leaping over their counterpart’s journey to corporatising and creating the appearance of similarity, yet decades of corporate practices have not been built into the rhythms and psyche of Middle Eastern society..
This is precisely why corporate leaders working in the Middle East should familiarise themselves at least with the region’s recent history of rapid growth. The important thing is that leaders open their eyes to the specific demands and expectations of employees, most of whom are from a first-generation corporate society.
This transition in the phase of the business market life cycle is not a new concept. The United States experienced creation of the corporate society beginning in the early twentieth century during the era of America’s original industrial families—the Rockefellers, Fords, Guggenheims, Vanderbilts, Flaglers, and others.
Exploring that period for insights on leading in the Middle East is far more valuable than looking at General Electric’s current business model or that of other modern publicly traded entities.
Leaders need to take serious account of the mix of employees—those who are “corporate citizens” in the generational sense that I have been talking about, and those who are only first-generation corporate citizens. This is a vital tip for anyone who is leading in the Middle East.