UAE has the some of the most experienced - and youngest - CEOs

14 March 2024 2 min. read

CEOs in the Middle East are some of the most experienced globally, with around 90% having prior C-suite experience. In the UAE, chief executives are among the youngest, according to a study from human capital consultancy Heidrick & Struggles.

In the United Arab Emirates, companies feature the youngest professionals in the top job. The current average age of 52.7 for CEOs in the UAE is the world’s lowest. In comparison, CEOs in the US are on average over 60 years old, while those in Saudi Arabia are just under 57.

Across the Middle East, CEOs are not much older, the regional average age is 55. Notably, CEOs in the UAE are also the youngest when they are appointed to the role.

UAE has the some of the most experienced - and youngest - CEOs

Source: Heidrick & Struggles

Despite UAE business leaders being so young, they are also among the most experienced around the world. Besides the fact that nearly all surveyed CEOs in the Middle East had previous C-suite experience, half also had cross-border experience.

There is also a demand for top leaders to be a sort of ‘Jack of all trades’. In the UAE, 26% of CEOs in 2023 reported having cross-sector experience. That is a significant increase from 2021, when it was only 12%.

“The continued trend of hiring more CEOs with cross-border and sector backgrounds is heartening as it reflects that organizations are increasingly seeing the value of diversity, especially in meeting longer-term strategic goals for their businesses,” said Maliha Jilani, partner at Heidrick & Struggles in its Dubai office.

UAE has the some of the most experienced - and youngest - CEOs

Source: Heidrick & Struggles

“On the other hand, there are certain talent strategies that companies should start emphasizing, such as increasing gender diversity in leadership positions.”

Indeed, the Middle East overall had an average of only 3% female CEOs, lower than other regions. Despite that, countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE are making strides in social issues as a part of their moves to reinvent their societies in line with ESG concerns. Female leaders in the UAE were especially eager to make a difference in their positions, according to a previous study.

The report by Heidrick & Struggles analyzed over 1,200 CEO placements at the largest publicly listed companies globally. The dataset included 68 appointments in the Middle East region.

“The data highlights the strong demand Middle East companies have for experienced and ambitious leaders who can accelerate growth sustainably,” said Richard Guest, who leads Heidrick & Struggles in the Middle East and North Africa. “Companies must analyze how they might evolve in the competitive landscape and what type of leader can best steer them through their next phase.”