Expanding the boundaries of the role of C&B


  • How much of an impact does the company culture and its environment have on job content ?
  • In this week’s episode, I explain one of the unique roles I had as VP, Global Head of Performance & Reward at Majid Al Futtaim (MAF).
  • Why did I become fully immersed in executive recruitment, and what was the value of letting me speak to candidates early in the day ?
  • Find out more in this story, and be prepared for the unique tasks that each company may require, above and beyond “standard” C&B job content.


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When your manager says “I don’t know what you do”



Hello, and welcome to this episode of Compensation Insider. Today, I’d like to talk about dealing with executives, and the role that Compensation and Benefits can play in recruitment.

The talent landscape

Many years ago when I first moved to the UAE, I was working for Majid Al Futtaim, which is a conglomerate. Its many industries included retail, including the Carrefour brand across the region, real estate (building malls, mixed use development areas), financial services, B2B services and so on – a typical GCC conglomerate.

MAF was and still is renowned for its governance. Board meetings were always done properly, the board members were independent Non Executive Directors, mixed with people who were recommended by the family, all with a high level of professionalization.

When I first joined the organization, way back in 2007, the UAE was booming in a huge expansion phase. At the time, 20% of the world’s cranes were located in Dubai such was the physical expansion of the city itself. I was coming from the old continent where when we have 2.5 or 3% GDP growth in a year everybody is like : “Super !”. When I arrived in the UAE with an explosive 10 or 12% annual growth, there was intense war for talent especially in the construction and real estate industry, and MAF was expanding, going into new countries, opening new malls and mixed-use developments.

So, we were recruiting a lot of very senior executives, either at the corporate level or within the operating companies. In the beginning, the senior leadership understood that if I needed to prepare a proposal for a package for a candidate, I needed to know how much money they were making. Given that most of those candidates that we were recruiting from all over the world were already executives in their old organizations, they were on executive packages with stock options, deferred pay, clawback clauses….

The Group CEO understood that I needed to speak to the candidates to really understand their current package so that I could prepare a package that would be competitive to make them hopefully agree to join us. So he started to ask me to just join, sit for 15 minutes with the candidates, and ask them for their package information.

I was asking questions to check if the package they were claiming made sense or not. Then I would prepare the proposed package and the employment contract for those people. This was not something that I could delegate to anybody on my team. It had to be done by me because they wanted those very senior people to be talking to another executive. I was one myself, although as vice-president, on the most junior executive level.

How my role started to evolve : going beyond simply talking about package

Over a period of time, by talking to those candidates, I was able to identify a few issues that I could anticipate, and so I was able to help the organization. I remember a French candidate and I told the EVP HR  : “You know what, I think this gentleman is not going to accept the offer. The way that he’s talking, he’s not sure that he wants to relocate to Dubai”. (He was located somewhere in the US, maybe LA). Eventually that gentleman actually turned down the offer, for the reasons I told my manager about.

This happened two or three times. For example, there was this Swedish lady who was absolutely fantastic, we wanted her to become one of our CEOs for one of the operating companies.

During the recruitment phase, there are a number of questions that we can ask in the UAE that might not necessarily be always well accepted in other parts of the world, but we need to know from a visa and a sponsoring point of view. This lady was a single mother and her daughter was 12 years old, and when I found out that she was a single mother, I had to ask more questions about her personal status.

So I said, to her : “I’m sorry, may I ask, are you divorced or widowed ?” She responded : “No, I’m just a single mother”. And I said : “I’m sorry I still need to ask, because it has implications in terms of visa application. Has the father recognized your child?” She said: “No, I’ve had the child by myself so there’s no father name on her birth certificate”.

At that point, I needed to do a quick check with my team. In the GCC, a PRO (Public Relations Officer) is somebody whose role is to be the liaison to the government to get the visas and all the paperwork processed for our future and current employees. I talked to my PRO and asked : “What happens if a lady has a child who doesn’t have the father name on their birth certificate, can she sponsor her child to come live with her in the UAE?” And it turns out, I don’t know if it’s still the case, but at the time in 2007, it was not possible.

It would have been possible for her to bring her daughter if she had been divorced or a widower, but by the fact that the child didn’t have a father name, she was technically considered as an illegal child in the region, even though that was perfectly legal in Sweden. As such, the lady would not be able to sponsor her child to come live with her.

So I came back to my boss and I told him about that : “We have to be careful because I think that this lady might not be able to sponsor her daughter to come, and that would probably be a no-go for her”. It turns out that I was right. She eventually said, no, she wouldn’t leave her 12-year old daughter in a boarding school back in Sweden while she’d be working in Dubai. She’d love to take the job but had to pass the opportunity.

Becoming a fully involved actor in the recruitment of senior-most executives

After identifying a few situations like that, I became fully involved in the recruitment process, to the point where I would actually interview the candidates, not just talk to them about package, but as a part of the full recruitment cycle, giving feedback on the candidates.

Eventually the company tried to put me among the first people to interview the candidate, so that if they decided that they wanted to make an offer, I would have enough time to put together the package.

You have to realize that in those days, we would fly an executive candidate out from Europe or the US to Dubai. They would spend a day in interviews, meeting with the Group CEO, the CFO, the EVP of HR, myself, and other senior executives depending on which part of the organization they would be.

Then they would be in a meeting room waiting while the management would make a decision whether they would like to make an offer for that candidate or not. And I would have to prepare the package, present it to top management, and if they approved it, before that candidate left the building on that same day, I would personally give them the offer letter printed out and signed by the EVP HR or by the Group CEO depending on the position. I would tell them “I know the Group CEO/EVP HR just told you that we want to offer you the role. We’re so happy, blah, blah, blah. Here’s your contract. Look at it on the flight back home and let us know. The offer is valid for X weeks, blah, blah”.

I needed time to build those packages because they were quite complex. Everybody was at different stages of their executive stock options plans. I had to try and figure conversion rates, income taxes and cost-of-living differentials. I had to make sure that our long term incentive plan was explained in a way that the candidates would understand and value, because it was a very generous plan.

So, Top Management understood that I needed to be one of the first people who would meet the candidate, because no matter what, I was starting to build a package as soon as I had spoken to that candidate, so that in case they decided to recruit him or her, I would be ready before the end of the day, before the person left.

Despite many common activities, each C&B role may become unique in some ways

This story is just to show that even in Comp & Ben you can be involved in recruitment in a very practical manner for Top Management roles, and you can have those interactions and negotiate complex packages and so on, rather than having it done by somebody in the recruitment team. Most of the time the only two HR people who would meet those candidates were the the EVP of HR and myself. It was very stressful but at the same time exhilarating.

Depending on the company, depending on the circumstances, depending on the culture of your organization and the needs of the organization, you might get involved as a Comp & Ben person into things that you might not do in any other company. I’ve never done that anywhere else, not in that way at least. MAF was the only place where I did that, but that was a big, big part of my job at the time, because there was so much pressure for talent and that was really going to impact the future of the organization. That’s how Executive recruitment became part of my job as VP of Performance & Reward.

We might have standard job descriptions and things that we’re supposed to do, but you will always end up doing something which you had never anticipated to do, which will be unique to that company and which will give you the kind of perspective that you would not have gotten if you had worked somewhere else.

It’s also one of the things that are nice, but you need to be prepared for it because sometimes the questions that will come to you might be very surprising ! That’s the beauty of being in Comp & Ben 🙂

I hope you liked the story, and I will see you next week in the next episode of Compensation Insider. Thank you very much.

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