Saudi Arabia lures executives to Neom with million-dollar salaries, zero taxes

Saudi Arabia’s growth giant Neom pays senior executives about $1.1 million a year, according to an internal Neom document, showing how the kingdom is using big pay packages to attract global talent to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s national transformation plan.

Neom is the most ambitious project in Saudi Arabia and one of dozens of real estate developments and new companies set up to drive Prince Mohammed’s social and economic reforms. The kingdom is recruiting foreign executives to lead new industries—tourism, technology and entertainment—that until recently were largely absent from the kingdom.

The push for international talent is meant to kick-start Prince Mohammed’s plan to diversify the economy of the world’s biggest oil exporter. As part of this transformation, the 37-year-old king has eased restrictions on women and made it easier to travel around the kingdom. In the meantime, he has suppressed dissent and jailed those who oppose his agenda.

The $1.1 million median salary of Neom’s c-suite executives is detailed in an internal salary list for different positions. That compares with an average salary of $830,000 in 2021 for CEOs of the 3,000 largest publicly traded U.S. companies, according to data from MyLogIQ LLC, which tracks public filings. It’s also more than double what U.S. c-suite executives typically make, the data show, with CFOs making $486,000 and chief marketing officers $416,000, on average.

Total compensation for American c-suite level executives can also reach millions of dollars after bonuses and other incentives. The average figure of $1.1 million at Neom is base pay, and people also receive a bonus, people familiar with the project said.

Neom is the most ambitious project in Saudi Arabia and one of dozens of real estate developments and new companies.


Planet Labs PBC/Associated Press

Neom’s senior leadership team consists of about 20 Saudis and foreigners, with expertise in financial services, energy and marketing and media, according to a Neom marketing report seen by the Wall Street Journal and people familiar with its internal arrangements. project.

Among them is Peter Terium, former CEO of German energy company RWE AG

and now head of Neom’s energy, water and food sectors. Vishal Wanchoo, former president and CEO of South Asia at General Electric; Co.

, now runs the manufacturing department at Neom. and Tim Shorrocks, chief marketing officer, previously director of Amazon Web Services. Formerly Cisco Systems Inc.

Executive Joseph Bradley is head of technology and digital at Neom.

One of Saudi Arabia’s biggest attractions for expat workers, recruiters say, is the prospect of taking home your entire salary: there are zero income taxes in the kingdom. Many workers are attracted to the idea of ​​creating entirely new companies and industries in a once closed country, now opening up socially and economically.

“It goes without saying that building a 100 percent renewable energy system from the ground up and the world’s largest green hydrogen plant is more of an incentive than the actual salary being paid,” Mr. Terium told the Journal.

Peter Terium, the former CEO of RWE, now heads Neom’s energy, water and food sectors.


Simon Dawson/Bloomberg News

Neom and the other executives named in this story did not respond to requests for comment. On its website, the project says it’s “all about connecting the world’s brightest minds to achieve the dream of building a better future.”

Saudi Arabia’s push for international expatriate workers coincides with a global labor market that remains tight despite slowing economic growth, with unemployment at multi-year lows. The kingdom has launched dozens of development projects and new companies, and while Neom is the largest and most high-profile, each is struggling to hire from abroad.

Saudi Arabia also competes with neighboring United Arab Emirates for international workers, which itself has siphoned talent from more established hubs such as Hong Kong and Singapore after the pandemic.

Executive directors at Neom, one level below senior management, are paid an average salary of $660,000, according to a list of positions seen by the Wall Street Journal. The directors, who include dozens of people at Neom, are paid $270,000 a year, the listing shows. Senior executives receive $193,000 and directors $130,000, according to the list, dated last year. Managers and senior executives have experience ranging from two to more than eight years, according to Neom’s career website.

Prince Mohammed, who rules on behalf of his father, first announced Neom in 2017. The project is backed by billion-dollar commitments from the country’s sovereign wealth fund. In a sign of the impact the crown prince wants the project to have on the kingdom, Neom is planning a champagne and wine bar at a luxury island resort, a first for the kingdom, where alcohol is banned.

So far, however, Neom has struggled to retain employees, many of whom have grown disillusioned with slow progress and a combative work culture, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“I drive everyone like slaves…When they fall dead, I celebrate. That’s how I do my projects,” Neom’s CEO Nadhmi al-Nasr said in a meeting, according to a recording heard by the Journal. Mr Nasr is a former executive at oil giant Saudi Aramco.

Neom did not respond to requests for comment on Mr Nasr’s comments.

Neom’s CEO Nadhmi al-Nasr at a conference in Riyadh last year.


Tasneem Alsultan/Bloomberg News

Rayan Fayez, a former chief executive at one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest banks, is Mr Nasr’s deputy at Neom. The newspaper could not determine how much the two leaders were compensated.

The entry-level salary for a Neom worker is about $54,000, indicating that the project is more willing to pay for employees with years of industry experience than those who do the grunt work.

By comparison, pay on Wall Street and at blue-chip consulting firms has risen in recent years for new graduates, some of whom are entering jobs paying $100,000 in the US.

Neom currently advertises 79 jobs on its website, from telecom engineer to fashion investment manager to bank chief.

People familiar with Neom’s hiring process said the project now offers a salary based on a candidate’s salary at their previous employer, meaning staff in similar roles can have big pay differences depending on which countries they’re from. are hired.

The project’s location in Saudi Arabia’s remote northwest, where workers live in temporary camps, has other economic benefits, people familiar with the project say. Accommodation is covered as workers live in trailer-style cabins and food is provided in a canteen, meaning staff spend some of their wages.

Saudi Arabia plans to build Neom, a futuristic megacity in the middle of the desert. But residents resisting evictions and the historic collapse in oil prices have raised new questions about the project. (Originally published May 4, 2020)

Write to Rory Jones at [email protected]

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