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Martin Sabbagh: “French-Saudi relations rely on entrepreneurs”

As chief executive of JCDecaux in the Middle East, Martin Sabbagh knows the business ground in Saudi Arabia. Kawa News met this thirty-eight-year-old entrepreneur who’s thrilled to take part in the huge projects announced in the Kingdom.

Under his navy waistcoat, bright shirt and tight Windsor tie, Martin Sabbagh has a true businessman posture. As a matter of fact, he is the chief executive of the French urban advertising group, JCDecaux, in Middle East. And that makes him one of the numerous entrepreneurs that have already settled in the country. With the opening of the Kingdom, Sabbagh was keen to share some advices about doing business in Saudi Arabia.

What is your opinion about the end of the mandatory Saudi shareholding in foreign companies that are settling in the Kingdom?

The legal structure of foreign companies is irrelevant. Our company has been working in Saudi Arabia for 10 years. And we did it very well as many other French companies.

Is doing business in Saudi Arabia so different from doing it in the rest of the world?

The Saudi market is similar to the rest of the Middle East. What is important in this region is to maintain a friendly relationship with your constituents or customers. You have to make them want to work with you. You must not only think that they will buy your product because it’s the best one. Human relationships are crucial in this part of the world.

Do you think French-Saudi trade relations will benefit from the opening of the country?

I think that French-Saudi relations, from a business point of view, rely on entrepreneurs. It is up to them to invest, recruit, take risks in Saudi Arabia and offer innovative solutions. This is truely the key to success for French companies.

Does the Neom project constitute an opportunity for your business?

We haven’t thought about Neom yet, but we will be delighted to work with the Saudi authorities to bring the best practices in terms of urban planning and services that are financed by advertisement… It’s important to always suggest a new business model. Successful innovative companies are those who have created a good business model. It’s not just a matter of product.