Kearney leaders on the firm’s growth and ambitions in Saudi Arabia

29 January 2023 9 min. read

The increasing emphasis on diversifying the economy in Saudi Arabia is seeing a high demand for strategic consultancy. Leaders from Kearney in the Middle East and Africa – Bob Willen, Abdulaziz Thahen and Abdulrahman Justaniah – spoke to ConsultancyME about how the top tier firm is helping its clients in the Kingdom adapt to a period of major transformation.

Founded in 1926, Kearney is a global management consultancy, serving clients from offices in more than 40 countries. Within the Middle East & Africa region, the firm has built a longstanding track record with clients in both the public and private sectors.

As Kearney continues to grow across the region, Bob Willen, Managing Director of Kearney Middle East & Africa, believes that Riyadh office will become a key component of the firm’s future success.

Bob Willen, Abdulaziz Thahen and Abdulrahman Justaniah - Kearney

“We already have a strong presence across the region with consultants in each market working hand-in-hand with our clients. We’re always looking to grow our team in line with the requirements of the local markets in which we operate”, says Willen.

“With Saudi Arabia being a core market, we have a long-term growth strategy in place that matches the ambitions of the Kingdom. Demand for consulting across industries will grow exponentially, and increasing the number of boots on the ground will allow us to be closer to our clients and enable us to continue delivering the uncompromised quality of service they have come to expect from the firm.”

As part of its growth plans, Kearney aims to support the Kingdom with its goal to become a resource hub and an employment center that attracts international talent.

“Human capital is at the core of Vision 2030. Many government programs prioritize the development of Saudi talent which is a notion that we are completely committed to. There are also efforts to attract top international talent into the country. As a talent business, we are completely aligned with that,” Willen states.

Abdulaziz Thahen, Partner and Saudi Arabia Country Lead at Kearney, adds: “The Kingdom is passing through a key period in its history, and in the context of the Saudi Vision 2030, we’re still very much in the building phase. Working here allows one to see history in the making, and to actively participate in the development of several, fundamental national sectoral strategies at such a crucial time in the country’s development is an honor.”

Commenting on Kearney’s plans in the Kingdom, Abdulrahman Justaniah, a Partner based in the Riyadh office says: “Saudi Arabia is a key market for Kearney regionally. With the growth of the business, the positive impact we are creating with our partners amid efforts to meet the country’s Vision 2030’s drive for modernization, and the momentum we have in the region, we look forward to Kearney being the leading consulting firm in the country.”

As a partner with the firm for just under a year, Justaniah joined Kearney with the aim to contribute to the changes currently sweeping the Kingdom. Over the past decade, Saudi Arabia has made large strides in transitioning from an oil-reliant economy to other non-oil income streams, under the Vision 2030 plans pushed forward by Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

The campaign to modernize the Kingdom’s economy has seen consultants tasked with finding ways to strengthen every element of the country’s private sector – from building shopping malls, to driving and transport, to the re-opening of cinemas – so Justaniah was aware that life in the industry would help him contribute.

He continues, “I am passionate about the change that’s happening in Saudi Arabia, and I want to contribute as much as possible and positively impact the country. Kearney supports transformations, through developing strategies, operating models, and implementing game-changing initiatives and I am proud to be part of an organization that supports and drives this kind of top-level change.”

“Saudi Arabia is a key market for Kearney regionally, and even globally. We’re fully aligned to Vision 2030.”

Unique culture

Thahen understands this draw. In fact, he finds Kearney so enticing, he joined the firm twice. Initially, he became a part of Kearney at the end of 2013, as an Associate in its Dubai office. The following five years delivered many opportunities for him to move into different industries, as clients identified big strategy firms as “a good school for professionals.”

Thahen subsequently received an offer that he could not refuse, and on sharing this with the senior leadership team, he did not get the response that is perhaps typical of other employers losing a member of staff. Thahen recalls, “When I told the regional managing director about the opportunity and my interest in the transfer, he and the partner I worked with at the time were extremely supportive.”

The open-mindedness of Kearney’s leadership turned out to be a key component in bringing Thahen back. His mentors understood what was happening and informed him that he will always have a place at the firm. He had no doubt that he would return one day.

When an opportunity arose at the Riyadh office, Thahen was ready for the return. And since arriving, he has noticed that the hub has key differentiators that he believes will help it meet its ambitious goals in the coming years.

Willen, originally from the United States, joined Kearney straight out of school, 27 years ago – initially arriving in its Washington office. Part of the attraction for him was the opportunity the firm afforded him to travel – something that eventually led him to become Managing Director of the Middle East & Africa Region five years ago. 

“A big part of the attraction was the adventure of living in different places around the world,” Willen recounts. “It has been a great experience and my time here has flown by. Despite some of the challenges we have had along the way, this is a special place and there are a fair number of people who have been here a long time and feel very connected to the firm. It is a very approachable place and it’s easy to feel at home here.”

“We’re contributing to truly groundbreaking work. It is a wonderful time to be in Saudi Arabia, both professionally and personally.”

Vision 2030

Looking ahead, the remaining seven years to realize Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plans will be pivotal. And the three experts believe that Kearney’s Riyadh office is perfectly positioned to support the Kingdom’s tremendous growth potential in the coming period.

Willen remarks, “We enable the many positive changes happening resulting from Saudi Vision 2030 and are extremely privileged to have a position helping some of the most important programs in this country. For our people to be a part of that change is incredibly motivating, empowering, and impactful. People feel like it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be engaged in something so important.”

Justaniah is also keen to emphasize Kearney’s status as a trusted partner to Vision 2030. The firm already finds itself “in almost every single entity leading this transformation”, something that not only is good for business at Kearney, but is also proving stimulating, and ultimately rewarding, for its consultants who are hungry for new challenges.

Asked about the type of strategic work the firm is supporting, Thahen says: “We are currently involved in deciding how education, healthcare, finance, and industry will be built out in the future. It is truly groundbreaking work and is a wonderful time to be in Saudi Arabia, both professionally and personally.”

Thahen points to the all-encompassing nature of the coming changes. With so much still needing to be built, he asserts that with Kearney “staying true to the cause,” the impact of this on its own business will follow naturally.

“Saudi Vision 2030 will take everyone and everything to deliver on it. We bought into it, and we want to see it through along with our clients and partners, with colleagues in our industry, with the Saudi community, through the private and the public sectors. Our target is to help our clients while caring for our people. When we deliver excellence we help more clients with more people, and growth is inevitable,” he concludes.