Syrian Civil War: Wait-and-See Approach Will Hurt MNCs in the Middle East

Syria

(This post is adapted from FSG’s report on how the Syrian Civil War impacts the MENA business climate. The report is part of FSG’s monthly series on managing volatility in the MENA region and is available for FSG clients here.)

Seasoned Middle East executives are confident in steady sales growth rates regardless of sensational news headlines from the region. Companies that overreact to the region’s latest developments risk falling behind aggressive competition, especially from the Gulf and Turkey. However, Western multinational companies should avoid following the lead of their governments that are taking a wait-and-see approach on Syria.

Companies must adjust business plans for the Levant region and surrounding markets as the Syrian Civil War will not end anytime soon. Fighting has already led to more than 70,000 deaths, one million refugees, and two million internally displaced in Syria. The conflict will increasingly spill over Syria’s borders and hurt economic and political stability in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, and Turkey.

Planning ahead allows companies to weather short-term instability, while still positioning for long-term growth in the Middle East. FSG suggests that businesses consider taking actions across core functions:

  • Human Resources: Mitigate risk for staff and local partners located in areas that are most vulnerable to spillover from Syrian fighting: Anbar province, Iraq; Jordanian-Syrian border areas; Tripoli, Lebanon; Bekaa Valley, Lebanon; southern Lebanon; northern Israel; and southeastern Turkey. Designate alternative locations for offices, outline emergency plans regarding whether employees should come to the office, and set up IT capabilities to allow people to work remotely.
  • Logistics: Reorient shipping routes through Lebanon’s Port of Beirut and Jordan’s Port of Aqaba until at least 2015. Syrian ports are not viable supply chain options for transiting goods to other parts of the Levant, Eastern Mediterranean, Iraq, and Europe. Regionally, prepare for increased insurance rates and longer transportation times for the duration of the Syrian Civil War, which could last years without any major change in the environment, such as an international intervention.
  • Sales: Reassess sales targets for your businesses in Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon. The Syrian Civil War represents an immediate threat to economic stability in Jordan and Lebanon and political stability in Iraq. Emphasize a market share-driven strategy to position for long-term growth after political turbulence associated with the Syrian Civil War subsides. Your business can focus on a profitability-driven strategy in relatively stable and economically vibrant markets in the Gulf Cooperation Council like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE.
  • Marketing: Utilize social media tools to establish customer loyalty, recruit local talent, and reach new customer segments in the region. Even if the corporate office wants expansion plans to be put on hold, this is an effective way to maintain and create new relationships without the cost of a strong physical presence on the ground.
  • Partners: Establish relationships with Syrian-run businesses that moved operations to nearby countries. These businesses will be positioned to reenter the market after the cessation of fighting. Egypt is an attractive destination for Syrian businesses looking to take advantage of low labor costs, reasonable cost of living, and the local textile industry infrastructure. Jordan is a natural destination for Syrian-run tourism companies that focus on the broader MENA region. Lebanon’s multi-communal society is attractive to Christian businessmen who fled Syrian cities like Aleppo, Damascus, and Homs.

 

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