Saudi American Bank, currently referred to as Samba Financial Group, is a leading financial institution in Saudi Arabia. Started in February 12, 1980, this bank has grown and currently has branches in United Kingdom, Pakistan, Dubai, and many other regions in Asia. In Saudi Arabia alone, the bank has sixty-six operational branches (Mohamed, 2010). This bank was a Citibank branch in Jeddah and Riyadh regions. Before 1980, foreign investors owned most of the financial institutions in this country. Citibank, a financial institution owned by ContiGroup, had until then been the leading financial firm in Saudi Arabia. It was attracted to this region because of the rich oil reserves that made the two main cities of Saudi Arabia busy commercial centers. It was keen to tap from the business that was thriving in Saudi Arabia (Nonneman, 2006).
Another financial institution that was in Saudi Arabia was the HSBC, a British financial company. Other foreign financial institutions dominated the Saudi financial market. Local financial firms could not easily develop because the competition was so stiff. Keen to ensure that the local financial institutions and investors were protected from external aggression, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz issued a royal decree in 1980, demanding all foreign owned financial institutions to restructure their ownership to include at least 60 percent of the locals. This saw the birth of Saudi American Bank on February 1980. Citibank still had the highest share of the bank at 40 percent. National institutions in Saudi Arabia took a portion of the other 50 percent, while individual Saudi nationals took other portions (North, & Harvey, 2009).
This company has experienced a growth. As Panagariya (2008) reports, Samba Financial Group is one of the most prestigious financial institutions within Saudi Arabia and other neighboring countries. It is one of the largest employer and many graduates dream of working there. It was rated the best employer in terms of pay and responsiveness to the needs of its employees (Vincent, 2008). As shown in the report by Wilson and Graham (1994), this institution is the most preferred bank in Saudi Arabia. However, as Rodney (2004) notes, its internal structure shows some shortfalls in the management of its female employees and customers. Although it looks glamorous to an outsider who has never had the opportunity to work there, many who have worked in this bank, specifically women will tell a different story.
At first, it appeared as a normal way that the management had decided to run the institution, especially because of the Islamic culture in the country. However, Shalaby (2004) reports that a close observation of the male and female section within the banking institution reveals something beyond mere religion or ease of operation. As this scholar observes, when this institution developed its first female branch, many thought that it was a strategy to ensure it improves its efficiency and speed of serving customers. However, this is not the case. This report shows that the decision was reached due to pressure to kick out female employees in the main banking hall. Because the largest customer base and the shareholders are men, who are strongly opposed to the idea of sharing the same banking institution with women, the institution had to open another branch that would serve its existing female customers (Abu, & Faruq, 2010). Al-Mulhim (2009) agrees with this statement, though in part. According to him, this institution acted out of greed in developing the female branch. Shoult (2006) has a discerning opinion. According to him, the action of the management to open a different female branch was to increase efficiency of the bank in serving its customers.
It is because of the contradicting theories that the researcher developed an interest to find out the main reason why the bank has two units in its various branches in Jeddah. To come to an effective and detailed analysis of the research problem, the researcher embarked on an analysis of the two units of the bank. This was done to come up with a comparative analysis of the male and female branches of the Saudi American Bank, specifically in Jeddah. Through this, the researcher hopes to reveal the activities that always take place in this institution that could be hidden to others.
Importance of Banking and Finance in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia is the largest country in Western Asia by land and the second largest Arab country after Algeria. Saudi Arabia, also known as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is the largest producer of oil, which earns it about 80% of its total income. Report by Cordesman (2003) indicates that the country is the leading exporter of oil in the world. Its oil accounts for about 25% of the total oil supplied by Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Because of this, many people have found it necessary to open bank accounts with this bank as a way of conducting business easily. The oil industry entirely depends on the financial institutions in order to operate successfully. The transactions are always in terms of millions of dollars, and the only way the payments could be made is through checks (Mohamed, 2010).
The country is also one of the major tourist destination centers in this region, as large number of Muslims pay regular visit to its city of Mecca, considered the holiest city in the entire Arab world. Barbara (2005) observes that there is always a large population of Muslims and other non-Muslims paying visits yearly to the various cities of this country. These people come as tourists and they have to spend their cash in the local economy. Because it is illegal in many countries to walk with cash, the banks offer these travelers with an opportunity to withdraw the amount they need at any time (Barry, 2005).
The country is also a business hub for many other products. Its agricultural sector is well developed and it exports some of the produce to other foreign nations (Clement, & Rodney, 2004). The country imports machines, vehicles and other technological products from foreign nations. These transactions require a proper banking system to be successful. Long (1997) observe that majority of the Saudi nationals are in formal employment. To be paid, they need bank accounts with local banking institutions. The government also needs this sector in order to manage its various activities in the nation. Long (1997) observe that most of the financial transactions of the government are always conducted through bank accounts.
This therefore demands a proper banking system in this country to accommodate the expected financial transactions. There are a number of banks that have developed in this country, making its financial sector one of the best in the region (Pfiester, 2010). However, social discrimination against women seems to be a major impediment in ensuring proper development of this sector is achieved. Ekaterina (2009) says that many human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have reported serious violation of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. This problem has a serious effect on various economic sectors, especially the financial sector. Saudi American Bank is a victim of this. This has also necessitated research by many scholars. There has been need among scholars to determine reasons for, and the result of this social discrimination within the financial sector.
The Government of Saudi Arabia
According to a report by the US Central Intelligence Agency, Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries in the world that still practice pure monarchial system of governance (Clement, & Springborg, 2010). The country was founded in 1932 by Abd-al-Aziz bin Abd al-Rahman ibn Saud who became the king. The kingship is hereditary and the current king of this country, King Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz, is a descendant of the founder of this country (Harvey, & North, 2003). The report indicates that the government has absolute control in most of the activities that take place within its borders. For a long time, the royal family has considered the country to be a family property.
The government has a great control over the economic system of the country (Lacey, 1982). It has a very strong influence in the financial sector. This was witnessed in 1980 when there was a royal decree that demanded all banks within the country to restructure their ownership status to include the Saudi nationals. The government wanted to control the sector that had been run by foreign investors for a long time. Until then, the major financial institutions had been foreign-based banks, especially from the United States of America and Britain (Mamarinta, 2002). Citibank, a US firm owned by the Citigroup, was the leading financial institution in Saudi Arabia. This decree by the government resulted to a drastic change that saw Citibank change its name to Saudi American Bank in February 12, 1980, with majority of shareholders being the Saudi nationals (Manaschi, 1998).
There have been reports that the government of Saudi Arabia has failed to budget for its increasing population. Niblock and Malik, M (2007), report that the population of Saudi Arabia has grown greatly over the past twenty years. Although the country is the leading exporter of oil in the world, the rate of unemployment has been on the rise consistently. Job opportunities are getting scarcer. These scholars note that many graduates find themselves in a flooded job market. This situation is made worse by the fact that there are foreigners who have come to look for employment in this country. Most of them have advanced levels of education and are willing to work at minimal wage rates. This leaves the nationals with no options but to accept the little wage rate adjusted by the private firms (Vassiliev, 2002).
According to Winberg and Winberg (2005), the attempt by the government to privatize a number of business units is yet to bear fruits. These firms were run as properties of the royal family. The management and other employees of the firms were recruited based on their closeness to the royal family rather than their academic and other qualifications. The government financed them and they would record negative returns almost on a yearly basis. Yavas (1997) attributes this to lack of competence by both the management and employees. When they were privatized, the new management had a great challenge of ensuring that the human resource is relevant to the job market.
Wellington (2001), notes that the government still holds a large stake on various firms in this country. In the financial sector, the presence of the government is heavily felt. The Saudi Industrial Development Fund, Public Investment Fund, The Real Estate Development Fund, and Saudi Arabia Agricultural Bank are some of the key financial institutions owned by the government. Although the royal family has tried to ensure that these institutions are run as independently as possible with minimal government influence, the appointments to senior managerial positions are still influenced by the royal family. Winberg and Winberg (2005), report that the government has failed to detach itself from various business institutions within the country, with very negative results. These scholars further report that this trend has seen the management of such institutions fail to implement current technological changes that are relevant in the current world, making them unable to compete favorably in the market. The financial sector in this country is very sensitive.
According to Yavas (1997), there are various institutions, which depend on this sector for prosperity, top of which is the oil industry. The country is the top producer of oil in the world. The oil industry entirely depends on the financial sector for its operations. The transactions in this sector always involve large sums of money that may not be conducted using cash. It entirely depends on the financial sector for successful transactions. A failure in this sector would have a direct effect on the oil industry. This negative effect would be reflected in the entire economy of the nation as this sector accounts for over 80% of the total foreign income (Madawi, 2006).
This government has also failed to contain discrimination against women. According to Mai (2005), there has been open discrimination in the appointment of cabinet ministers. Men dominate the cabinet of Saudi Arabia. After years of international pressure from such organizations as Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW) and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the government curved in and appointed the first female minister, Noura al-Faiz. This can be considered a mockery as men still hold over 95% of the cabinet positions. Mamarinta (2002) says that her position in the cabinet is meant to give a good public image to the world. Mohamed (2010) reports that Noura is not able to express herself freely, despite the position she holds. The scholar recounts the statement of this minister, where she said that she might not be in a position to address the press without permission from the concerned authorities. According to this scholar, this was a clear admission that she was not free to make decisions on her own as a minister. Her position in the ministry was to please the international society. According to Ekaterina (2009), the leadership of this country seems to be more comfortable with the current situation because it would not want to be seen as a liberal in a country that is so conservative. This could be seen in its reluctance in implementing various recommendations by human rights bodies that would see a society that is fair to all (Pfiester, 2010). The scholar further emphasizes that women who have the right qualification fail to secure descent jobs because of their gender. Because of this, men have continued dominating senior positions in the corporate world.
The international bodies have also petitioned this country to consider some sections of shariah law that are archaic in the current societal set up. Lacey (1982) notes that rules that demand women to seek permission from men when they want to travel abroad are not only archaic but also baseless and punitive. After a long struggle with the international bodies, the government gave in by allowing those women above forty years to leave without seeking permission from their mahrams. However, Lippman (2004) says that this is still a mockery. A woman who is thirty years and gainfully employed may not leave the country for job or any other reason unless the husband or any other male relative grants permission. This means that if the permission were denied, it would be impossible for such an individual to advance her career (Hirschey, Kose, & Makhija, 2004).
As Nino (2005) says, it may be true that these strict archaic laws were put in place by the religion which most of the Saudi Arabians still cherish to date. However, it is the role of the government to ensure that the society is responsive to the current world forces, especially those seeking to ensure that there is equality for both men and women. Rodney (2004) explains that giving women equal rights as men does not mean that they replace men in their duties. On the contrary, this will enable them help their male counterparts in ensuring that their families are well taken care of. It is therefore unfortunate to realize that the government, which would have acted as a shield to women of this country, is so reluctant in implementing policies that would help generate a society that is fair to all (Schmitt, & Lane, 2009).
Diversity and Social Stratification
According to Shachaf (2008), Saudi Arabia is an Islamic country. Over 98% of the natives are Muslims, with the Jews, Christians and other religions hardly making one percent of the population. Sunni Muslims make the majority of the population, accounting for over 85% of the nationals. Women in this society are still viewed as subordinate to men. They are not supposed to perform certain duties without permission from their husbands. This is a major hindrance to their development, especially as professionals (Shalaby, 2004). The citizens of this country live above the poverty line. However, this scholar notes that there are those who are super rich and a number who are living below the poverty line. The aliens make a good percentage of those living in Saudi Arabia. There are those who are in this country for job purposes, which increases the number of Christians.
Sherifa (2005) observes that the country is governed based on the Islamic laws. Because of this, the scholar says that other religious groups find it increasingly difficult to cope as the law of the land binds them in their social structure. Because of the presence of oil in this country, many individuals from various countries have been attracted to trade. Consequently, such individuals have acquired Saudi identities. They need financial institutions that can facilitate their businesses. Saudi American Bank comes in as the preferred bank for these individuals for it has branches in several other countries outside Saudi Arabia (Niblock, & Malik, 2007).
Saudi and the Arab world
Muslims from across the world view Saudi Arabia as their cradle land. They highly cherish its two cities of Mecca and Medina (Vassilie, 2002). As the above scholar states, the country is the central nervous system of the Arab world. Although Sohrab and Farhad (2006) are of the view that the Arab world was controlled from Egypt before Hosni Mubarak was forced out of office, Saudi Arabia has been seen to be very important to the Arab society, both socially and economically. In its quest for expansion, Saudi American Bank has been able to grow relatively fast in these Islamic countries because of the general acceptance received from these societies.
The Growth of Saudi Arabia: Women’s Education and it Background
According to Lippman (2012), Saudi Arabia has experienced a massive growth in its educational sector. This report shows that this country has improved its education system. Institutions of higher learning have more than doubled over the past three decades and the admissions to such institutions have improved. The scholar attributes this to the effort made by the government of King Abdullah. He notes that more children currently enroll in junior schools because of their expansions. This trend is maintained all through to the higher institutions. This sentiment is shared with Mohamed (2010). He says that the country has embraced education as one of the key pillars to the growth of this nations. Parents have come to appreciate the benefit that comes with education and are currently more enthusiastic about it.
According to Moran (2011), the group that has benefited the most from the recent rush to school is the female students. Unlike before, parents are now determined to take their children to school irrespective of their gender. Although a good number still hold to the old archaic traditions, this scholar notes that the number of female students has been on the rise for the past one decade. As Vincent (2008) observes, the girl child is slowly gaining acceptance in the society, specifically is schools. Teachers currently appreciate the fact that girl child also needs as much attention as boy child. this scholar notes that it may take time for the system to fully accept the female students. However, as things stand now, there is a marked improvement and if this trend continues, the scholar notes that many avenues for success will be open for the women of this society.
Saudi Economic System
Saudi Arabia is one of the major tourist destinations in this region. A report by Lippman (2012) indicates that United Arabs Emirates and Saudi Arabia are the leading tourist destinations in this region. Saudi Arabia is a destination to a large number of Muslims who come to visit the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina. The two cities define the position of Saudi Arabia among the Arab world. Wilson and Graham (1994), say that Muslims across the world have an obligation to visit the city of Mecca at least once in their lifetime. Although some scholars have developed contradicting views to this, the two cities have the greatest economic impact in Saudi Arabia, after oil and oil products. As Vincent (2008) observes, hundreds of thousands of Muslims around the world visit the two cities every year. When they come to the country, this scholar notes that they come as tourists. They have to spend in the hotels within the cities or their environs. This has seen the hospitality industry grow at a relatively high speed.
Although there are a number of foreign owned international hotels such as the Sheraton and Hilton in this country, there are several other local owned hotels and restaurants where these visitors can spend a night or two. These religious tourists come with the intention of meeting the obligation to visit the holy city of Mecca. However, from economic perspective, they are just tourists like any other. In fact, they make better tourists because they have no other choice but to visit the two cities (Panagariya, 2008). This scholar further notes that when these tourists come, they will need to spend their cash within the country for transportation and upkeep. Some of them come with large families and therefore, they would need a considerably large sum of money to guarantee their upkeep while on this holy tour. Several countries do not allow travelers to carry large sums of money in cash as it is considered money laundering. Rodney says that this would require travelers to open bank accounts with local banks that would enable them access this cash when they are within the country. Saudi American Bank stands a better chance of being the preferred bank as it is largely viewed as an Islamic bank with strict Islamic principles. As the tourists who visit the cities are strict Muslims who are keen on ensuring that the Sharia laws are keenly observed, they would easily be attracted to this bank (Bowe, Briguglio, & Dean, 1998). However, this scholar notes that there is a hindrance to expected growth of this bank.
The entire world is currently subject to current changes brought about by technology. As Hirschey, Kose and Makhija (2004) note, the current Arabic world is curving in to the western influence, though at a cautious pace. It is currently common to see a Muslim youth keenly engrossed on an American movie, something that was not there before. Because of this, they have adopted some western cultures that make them a little different from the traditional Muslims. The coming generation of Muslims is more tolerant and a little less fixed minded as compared to the past and the aging generation. This means that Saudi American Bank may soon find itself irrelevant in this market because of its discriminatory policies within Saudi Arabia. As at now, things seem to be okay. However, as the world keeps changing, the institution may find itself in a very awkward position (Manaschi, 1998).
Lall and Narula (2004), assert that it may be easy to create an image of a company as a firm enters the market. However, it may not be easy to erase the imprinted image on them, especially if the image is negative. The scholars note that it is not always easy to convince the public about a fact they have internalized. As such, it is very important to maintain a positive image in all their transactions. Any issue that may be used later against the firm should be avoided (Kurtz, & Boone, 2010). As the two scholars note, it is important that a firm maintain fair practice in all its operation. Lall and Narula (2004), agree with this augment, though in part. The two scholars say that in the world of business, there come desperate times that may call for a desperate measure. They argue that although every business needs to maintain an image that is acceptable to the global community, at times the immediate environment is very important. Lacity, Willcocks, and Feeny (2004) share their view. These scholars note that the pressure from the international society is justified. However, the local community within which a business unit operates defines a business. This is because the locals make the major part of that market. Moreover, such a firm would need the goodwill of this society in order to be in a position to operate harmoniously. However, the scholars argues that desperate measures taken to counter desperate times should not be an avenue towards another desperate times ahead.
French, McNayr, and Escher (2010) slightly differ with the above scholars. They argue that Saudi Arabia is a country that is open to the world. Many people come to visit this country as tourists or traders. This market segment cannot be ignored. The scholars therefore maintain that the practices of any firm in this country should be acceptable to the international society. Moran (2011) has a similar opinion. She notes that some of the visitors to the cities of Mecca and Medina are not adherents of all sections of shariah law. A good number have accepted the need for adjusting their perception about women. Some of the visitors are women. Subjecting them to discriminatory policies would not only make them detest the bank but also make them negative evangelists of the bank. They are likely to discourage others from investing using the bank.
According to Hakim (2000), the agricultural sector of Saudi Arabia is relatively advanced as compared to its neighboring countries. It produces enough agricultural products to feed the local population and export a small portion to other countries. This report shows that Saudi Arabia is one of the countries in this region that is very keen to its agricultural sector. The country has an agricultural board through which the country’s agricultural products are showcased to the outside world. Through the support of ministry of agriculture, the country’s agricultural sector has turned out to be one of the major economic pillars of Saudi Arabia. As notes Moran (2011), the agricultural sector of Saudi Arabia is strong enough to feed the citizens hence eliminating the need to import the same from other countries.
This sector needs proper banking system in order to operate successfully (Long, 1997). Those exporting their agricultural products would need banks with branches within Saudi Arabia and the country of destination of their products. The sector also needs to import fertilizers and other inputs from other countries during plantation period. The import and export process requires these firms to open accounts with banks that have international outlook. As Clinton (2011) notes, this would make it easier for such a firm to conduct business easily. Saudi American bank comes in as the best bank for this task. As observes Abu & Faruq, 2010, Saudi American Bank is one of the major banks in this region with branches in Saudi Arabia and several countries outside Saudi Arabia. The bank has enabled traders of agricultural products to conduct business in countries like United Arab Emirates and Palestine, which are the main destination countries for its agricultural products.
Social Discrimination against Women in Saudi Arabia
Discrimination against female populace of this country starts at home that is, in a family set up with male and female children. Abdurrahman (2010) asserts that from this early age, girls are made to understand that they are inferior creatures to their brothers, or any other person of the opposite gender. This notion is instilled to the girl child using any available means. This may include brutality in some cases. This makes the girl child grow up knowing that they are second-class members of society. Indeed, as the report by Al-Mulhim (2009) affirms, this makes them develop inferiority complex always believing that nothing good can come out of them. They become more reserved, less aggressive, and always willing to follow any instruction that may be given to them by their male counterparts.
Cordesman (2003), notes that when children reach school going age, the boy child will always be given priority. They get attention from both parents. In case the girl child is to be taken to school, which at times may not be so, then she will be given second priority after the boy child. This has seen many of the girls fail to attend classes because of lack of commitment from their parents. In his report, Barbara (2005) notes with a lot of concern that some parents do not think it wise to take their daughters to school. They prefer to have a close watch over them and then marry them off at very tender age. To them, a girl child would grow up and be married off and therefore will not have any consequence to parents.
The education system of Saudi Arabia is a clear reflection of this discrimination. Harvey and North (2003), report that students in most schools are treated differently, depending on their gender. Most of these schools have different sections for male and female students. Male students have access to best facilities in school. They have the best libraries and laboratories, they are given some of the most qualified teachers, and they have a lot of freedom as students. The female students on the other hand have very limited resources. As these scholars note, female students would be allowed to access male libraries for a very limited time in the day. Clement and Springborg (2010), note that teachers are openly discriminative towards female students and they do not take their careers with seriousness with which they take that of the male students. This obviously results to poor performance for female students as compared to that of their male counterparts. This would mean that more male students would be in a position to advance their education beyond high school level
As they advance their studies, things do not get any better. According to Barbara (2005), female students are restricted on the type of courses they take when they get to college. Female students are not advised to take technical courses like engineering, medicine, architecture, or law, as those are a preserve for men. They are encouraged to take courses considered inferior, such as education and anthropology. A report by Abdurrahman (2010) indicates that some colleges are so discriminative that they demand female students strictly to take specific courses, regardless of the grades or interest. In such colleges, interest of female students is considered inferior to the demands of the society. In the few liberal colleges, those female students who decide to take technical courses face a lot of discrimination from both fellow students and the teaching staff. They are always viewed as rebels and receive mistreatment. They do not have the freedom within the college. In most instances, they are forced to withdraw from the rest of society. This may be worse if such a person finds herself in a class where she is the only female student (Barry, 2005). In such cases, she will be forced to do most of her studies alone, with no one to share information with.
As Clement and Rodney (2004) observe, when these female students graduate, they have to face the discriminatory society. They are introduced to the corporate world that is tolerant to selective employment policies, depending on one’s gender. Most of employers are men who view women as people who have their place at home that is, to take care of children. They fail to get the reason as to why these female graduates need to be employed, especially in their firms. This makes life very frustrating as these female graduates try to advance their careers. Although Saudi Arabians see this as normal, Clinton reports that this has been the major impediment to the development of socio-economic structures of the nation (2011).
Saudi American Bank
As stated above, this financial institution was started in February 12, 1982. Abu and Faruq (2010) report that its growth has been positive over the past decade and it is currently rated asthe best financial institution in the region. After its merger with United Saudi Bank, this institution has restructured its operational system to give it a new reflection of a global firm. This has been necessitated by the fact that it currently operates in many countries in Asia and Europe. The management of this firm is very keen to ensure that it gets into the markets beyond its current operational areas. Al-Mulhim (2009) observes that the strongest achievement of this company has been its management. The management of Saudi American Bank has ensured that they are always relevant in the society within which they operate. The locals head all its branches abroad. This has been in effort to ensure that there is a deep understanding of the working environment.
Abdurrahman (2010) reports that the chief executive officer, Mr. Sajjad Razvi once said that the easiest way to win a battle in a foreign land is to use the locals as the guide. The bank operates very differently from one region to another. As noted by this scholar, Saudi American Bank branches in the United Kingdom have been praised as having the best working environment for all its employees, regardless of race, religion, country of origin, or sex. The report released by The World Bank (2009) indicates that this institution was ranked as one of the least racial bank in the United Kingdom. The employees are put in an environment that allows competition based on merit. The management of this bank in United Kingdom has both male and female employees at senior levels. The employees see each other as partners, and there exist a mutual respect between both genders. As note Niblock and Malik (2007), the employees of this firm in United Kingdom have embraced fairness in their operations. This has seen the bank prosper in this foreign land.
In Dubai, Pakistan and Qatar, the bank has maintained a positive growth in market share (Safizadeh, Field, & Ritzman, 2003). It has managed to ensure that they have the best for their customers. This scholar notes that just like in other branches of the bank, the locals also head these regions. Majority of the employees are taken from within the countries of operation. The bank has its headquarters at Riyadh. Manaschi (1998) notes that the bank has had a positive growth rate in Saudi Arabia and currently, it is the leading banking institution in the country. It has a team of dedicated managers who are keen to ensure that the institution is turned into a global financial institution.
The bank seems to be running very normally, especially to visitors who may not have time to have a detailed analysis of the bank’s system of operation at Riyadh (Moran, 2011). The male and female banking units in various branches may appear natural because they are within the same branch and they share most of the facilities, as this scholar notes. The adoption of male and female banking halls were developed when the management decided to build its first female banking hall at Riyadh. It was after a long deliberation that the management reached this decision. Pfiester (2010) says that the management found itself between the rock and a hard place. The society within which this company operates is Islamic. This scholar notes that Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries in the world that still follows the shariah laws to the letter. She notes that the society is keen to uphold the teachings of holy Quran, regardless of how retrogressive some of the beliefs may seem to be in the current society.
Being a bank with a global image, Barry (2005) notes that it has ensured that it remain relevant both locally and in the international forum. As this scholar observes, the bank has been keen to ensure that it is seen as a bank that has a fair practice in all its operations, as is demanded by various human rights organizations. This would help it avoid criticism in other countries it plans to expand its branches. It has achieved this in other branches, especially in the United Kingdom. However, the environment at home is very different. The Saudi society is very strict when it comes to the way men and women should mingle in public places. The society does not approve of the idea of men and women being in body contact if they are not close relatives. According to Long (1997), this may not be avoided if the bank is to have a similar banking hall for both men and women.
Kent and Thompson (2005) reports that some of the banks trusted customers had started seeking other alternative means of banking from this institution, as they could not withstand the idea of sharing the same bank with women. Concerned of the increasing loss of customers to other local competitors, the bank decided to consider this plan. The bank had two evils to face (Pfiester, 2010). This scholar explains that the first evil was the local discriminatory policies that would not tolerate women as equal members of the society. Given the vision that had been instilled by the parent bank, the Citibank, before its departure, the bank wanted to maintain a global image of fairness. But this would be at a very expensive price. It would mean that the bank looses its local customers. The local market formed part of the strongest pillars of this bank. Assuming this market segment would be suicidal.
As Andrzej and Buchaman notes, the bank had no option but to consider the best means of retaining the local market segment. However, this would come at a cost too. The two scholars say that the decision to curve in to the local pressure would mean violation of human rights as championed by the human rights bodies. The global society is against any form of discrimination against any gender. Any slight action that would point out towards the same is always met with strong opposition. Despite this fact, the bank had to act in a way that would protect its market share. It decided to separate the male and female banking units in its branches at Riyadh. Clement and Springborg (2010), note that this was a noble idea by the management because of the environment within which the bank operates. According to this scholar, the decision to separate the banking halls was not only timely, but also convenient for both employees and customers alike. Some male customers detest the idea of being served by a woman when they visit the institution. Before this separation, they had to withstand this. Some of those who could not withstand this had to seek for alternative banking institutions. The female customers were also uncomfortable when served by men. The scholar notes that such women felt intimidated before male employees, especially if they had to respond to some of the questions, which were necessary in some of the occasions. Creating a banking unit exclusively for women would provide them with opportunity to have freedom when they conduct their banking activities. The decision was not only of benefit to male customers, but also to the female customers.
Kurtz and Boone (2010), reports that this decision seemed noble when it was incepted. There was a good reason to open different banking halls for women in this city, given the kind of environment within which the firm was operating. However, the two scholars think that there was more than just meeting the requirements of the society. Although the pressure from the society could have been part of the reason for this decision, the bank was led by greed and discriminatory ideas from the top management. The scholar supports this with the fact that the management has given more emphasis to the male banking units at the expense of the female’s. This idea is shared with Merdah and Sadi (2011). The scholars assert that there is no justification to the fact that men are provided with better services as opposed to the female customers. The scholars notes that the banking facilities found in male units are more advanced and that the number of staff is comparatively more at the male branches. This could not be blamed on the pressure from the society. The issue at societal level is to have separate banking units for male and female customers.
Internal bias brings the blame to the management of the institution, not the society (Bowe, Briguglio, & Dean 1998). Mai (2005) agrees with the above scholars. According to him, the management has no intent of ensuring that there is fairness in its internal operations. He observes that women are not always provided with the right facilities in their banking units that would enable them succeed in their operations. Although the management would always encourage the female customers to visit the male units if need be, those who visit this unit get unfair treatment.
According to a report by Merdah and Sadi (2011), this institution is one of the best financial firms in Saudi Arabia in terms of the service delivery to customers. Their responsiveness to the market demands is so positive, and it has diversified its products. It has banking services for children, a market segment that for a long time had been neglected. Despite this, the scholars note that the bank has an obligation to ensure that it handles its customers equally, regardless of age. Though not very evident, especially to unsuspecting visitor of this bank, there is some degree of contempt towards women customers. This is specifically so when the female customer happen to be served by a male employee of this bank. This sentiment is shared with French, McNayr and Escher (2010) who note that this has been a major blow to the development of the female section of the bank. When treated poorly, such customer would consider other alternative banking institution that would show fairness in their operation without any prejudice. This is a major blow to such an institution, especially in the current competitive market.
As Ruddar and Sundharam (2009) stated, a satisfied customer will tell one other customer of their good experience at a given firm. However, a dissatisfied customer will be a negative evangelist to several other viable customers who would have become customer of the bank. When they leave the bank with such bitterness, they are most likely to share their negative experience with others, making them shy away from the bank. On the other hand, men who visit this institution get the best services, hence leave satisfied. This would not only make them increase their transactions with the bank, but also make them evangelists of the bank. They are more likely to bring in their friends to the firm. This creates a large customer base for the male unit of the bank. This makes it difficult for the female unit to compete fairly with the male unit of the bank. The male unit will always be one-step ahead in this competition.
Schmitt and Lane (2000) note that the female banking unit has majority of the employees as women. These women have to withstand the pressure from the school right from junior to the senior levels of education. They were never provided with the necessary facilities that would enable them come out of the institutions of higher learning with the best knowledge needed in this field. Flocking them into one unit of the bank causes lack of variation in the way the unit is operated. Daryl (2003) affirms this fact when he says that it is not advisable to put one gender in one unit, especially if the gender is female. This is because women will never be taken seriously in most of the avenues they would need to represent their unit. In such forums, men would always dominate the discussions; and an opinion coming from a woman would be treated casually. This may be a blow to such department as there is need to have a forum where all the departments are given equal opportunity to report on their departments and give their opinion regarding the department and the general well being of the entire bank
According to Lippman (2012), men dominate the top management of this bank. He notes that the board of directors is purely men, from the chairperson to the other directors. The management board is almost the same thing. This is the case in other senior units of the bank. This alone is a sign of how the bank views women. They are treated as subordinates to men. “They are not in a position to think on their own as they need permission of their mahrans,” Schmitt and Lane (2009) quoted the board chairperson, Mr. Eisa Al-Eisa saying. According to this report, the entire board is composed of individuals who are keen on maintaining the traditional laws that was practiced before. They have deliberately suppressed the attempts of competent women to climb the ladder towards senior managerial position of the bank. This means that women are not represented in the top management planning. This top decision making organ does not know the conditions under which female employees work. They will therefore fail to integrate the opinions of the female department.
French, McNayr and Escher (2010) report that the presence of the shariah board as an advisory board to the bank is a sign that this institution is not ready to let go of the traditional Islamic practices, most of which are unfavorable to women. They note that this board- as would be expected- has no female representative. The board is there to ensure that policies that are used to run the daily activities of this bank are in line with the shariah law. Through this board, policies that are considered too radical have always been struck off. The board has been keen to ensure that the bank observes all the policies that are compliant to the Islamic law. This has been another impediment to the development of the female section of this bank. Schmitt and Lane (2009) notes that this board is very reluctant to allow female employees attend top management meetings. They are to be represented by men, and be informed accordingly of the decisions of the board. This is a major challenge, as the two scholars note because the representatives do not understand the conditions under which female employees work. Because of this, they are not in a position to give a true reflection of the working conditions of the female banking unit. Such high profile meetings always fail to address the real concerns of female employees of the bank (Falah, 2005)
According to Kline (2010), the male branch of this bank has a massive customer base. The treatment that male customers receive is always of high quality, a fact that has made them more attracted to the bank. This has seen men increase their savings with the bank. Saudi Arabia as a country still has men dominating major businesses and high profile jobs. As this scholar notes, this group makes the most attractive market segment to any banking institution. They have large transactions carried out very frequently and this earns the bank a substantially large amount of money. French, McNayr and Escher (2010) assert that a large customer base of the male branch has been the main strength of this bank. As opposed to the customers at its female branch, the customers of the male branch are always satisfied with the service they receive, making them attract more customers through positive evangelism.
Raja, Sani, Rajaa, and Marilyn (2008) says that since its inception, the female branch has struggled to maintain its rate of growth with much difficulties. Although the management of the bank has done a lot to ensure that this branch is as successful as the male branch, a lot more still needs to be done. As French, McNayr and Escher (2010) observe, the number of customers at the female branch is much less compared to that of the male branch. The transaction volume per day is also higher at the male branch. This leaves the female branch lagging behind the male branch in performance.
Saudi American Bank, currently known as Samba Financial Group, is the leading bank in Saudi Arabia. Upon its merger with United Saudi Bank, this institution became the largest financial institution in the region, opening branches in other regional countries like United Arabs Emirates and Pakistan. The bank opened another branch in the United Kingdom. This bank was originally a branch of Citibank, a large American financial institution owned by the Citigroup. Upon the royal decree by King Abdullah, that required foreign owned financial firms to restructure ownership of their firms to incorporate the Saudi Arabians, the firm changed its name from Citibank to Saudi American bank, with the Saudi nationals taking 60% of the total shares of the bank. In 2003, Citibank sold off all its shares in the bank, necessitating a change of name of the bank. It changed its name from Saudi American Bank to Samba Financial Group.
The firm has experienced a massive growth over the last decade. With the country as the top exporter of oil in the world, the bank has found itself at the center of the focus. Many exporters would need to have a better way through which they can transact with various agencies that export oil. They would consider having Saudi Arabian Bank as their financial institution for this trade. Saudi American Bank comes in as the preferred bank because it has branches in several other countries outside Saudi Arabia. The bank has also adopted the current technological system that enables its customers to have access to their bank accounts electronically. This makes transaction much easier for such traders. The tourism industry of this country is also very developed. A large number of Muslims pay visit to its two cities of Mecca and Medina. They come as tourist and therefore would need a bank that would allow them have access to their money while in this country
However, amidst all this positivity, there is a grey spot in the way this bank is run. The bank adopted male and female banking halls as one of its strategic plans to advance in this country and acquire more customers. This has attracted attention of many scholars who have developed interest in knowing why this bank is operating as such. There are contradicting opinions as to why the bank has adopted this system of banking. There are those who believe that this is necessary because of the environment within which this firm operates. This decision was justifiable because of the prevailing social structure of Saudi Arabia. Some scholars say that many financial institutions in this country are faced with dilemma of morals and profits.
The society is highly patriarchal and women are not expected to frequent such places that are visited by men, like banking halls. Men would detest banking halls where they have to queue alongside women. This is the major market segment because they hold majority of the accounts with the bank. Because of this, the bank has an obligation to ensure that they are comfortable when they are in the banking halls. This can only happen if women are eliminated from the halls.
On the other hand, this is obviously the highest order of discrimination in the current society. Eliminating women from the banking halls simply means that they are not supposed to bank with such institution, putting them, especially those in businesses or employed in the formal sectors at very awkward position. They are forced to look for other alternatives. Because of this dilemma, some scholars say that the bank did the wisest thing of separating women halls from those of men. This was to ensure that both men and women had access to the services of the bank. However, this opinion is not shared by another group of scholars who say that this was an act of greed on the side of the bank. Filled with chauvinistic ideas and contempt towards women, the management decided to find alternative way of pleasing men, while retaining its female customers. The scholars support this by citing the poor services offered at the women banking halls. Many other scholars have reported on this issue with contradicting view. However, their findings point at the following:
The existence of male and female bank branches came into existence majorly due to pressure from the society. The Saudi society is very conservative on issues regarding women and their position in this society. They do not tolerate the idea of women sharing queues with men, as this would force the two sexes to have bodily contact. There is a section of shariah law, which firmly prohibits this. Having same banking hall would force all the customers to be sharing such lines hence having bodily contact. To ensure that the bank operations are within the acceptable society standards, the bank decided to separate male and female customers. This saw the inception of the two banking halls at each branch.
The management of Saudi American Bank is still largely patriarchal. The top management is full of men who are keen to ensure that women to not climb to positions of influence within the institution. This has been witnessed in its operations in the branches at Riyadh and Jeddah. Men have taken all top leadership positions and they have suppressed efforts of the women in climbing the corporate ladder. Female employees are treated with some degree of contempt, and their decisions are always subject to further scrutiny, however innovative they may be. Moreover, their opinions are rarely taken with the seriousness with which they deserve. Because of this, men have been seen to perform better than the female employees of this bank do. Although the bank has some of the most qualified female employees, the female branch has lagged behind. Lack of goodwill from the management is the main reason for this. Women are not provided with a fair working environment that would make them compete with their male counterparts. They not only have unfavorable working environment within their working institution but also in other places within the corporate world where they have to visit because of their corporate position.
Research Gaps and Research Problem
The world is fast changing, and with it are several changes in the general structure of our societies. The position of women in the society has changed. Gone are the days when women were expected to be caretakers of children. Women are currently engaged in formal employment just like men (Vincent, 2008). It is therefore worrying that the Saudi society still discriminates against women, making it increasingly difficult for this group to prosper in their various professions (Falah, 2005). According to Abdurrahman (2010) the current society should not be discriminative of any gender. The Saudi society should therefore realize the importance of having a society that allows both genders equal opportunity to prosper.
Many scholars have done research and reported on the same. However, there seems to be a gap in these literatures. Ruddar and Sundharam (2009) observes that although they have comprehensively looked at discrimination of women at workplace in general, the scholars have not narrowed down to a specific financial institution to analyze the effect of this discrimination to its normal operation. This view is shared by Ekaterina (2009) who says that the available literatures have not given a comprehensive outlook on how women undergo discrimination in their places of work. Clement and Rodney (2004) admits that their scope is limited global politics of development in Middle East.
It is upon this that the researcher decided to conduct this research in order to fill the gaps that other literatures had left. There was need to respond to some pertinent questions raised by these scholars when summarizing their works. Falah (2005) asks, “Is Saudi society too Islamic to tolerate equality in its current setting?” Another scholar Al-Mulhim (2009) poses, “In a society that is as patriarchal as Saudi Arabia, can women compete favorably against men in the corporate world?”
The researcher wanted to respond to these questions. To help guide the research, the researcher developed the following general research question:
What effect does considerable gap between the position of men and women in the Saudi society have on their performance?
Also of interest to the researcher was the following specific question about Saudi American Bank:
What experience do female customers of Saudi American Bank undergo by virtue of their gender and how does this affect the general prosperity of this bank in the current competitive market?
To help guide this research to respond to the above questions, the researcher developed null and alternative hypothesis as shown below.
Moran (2011) explains that the society of Saudi Arabia has opened the space for the female students. They can now get the best from learning institutions. This makes them equal to their male counterparts at work places. Based on this, the researcher developed the following null hypothesis:
H1o. There is no difference in the economic performance between the male and female branches of SAMBA located in the Riyadh region.
According to Abdurrahman (2010), men dominate the management of this bank. This scholar explains that this management has neglected, to an extent, the female branch of this bank. Based on this, the researcher came up with the following alternative hypothesis:
H1a. There is a difference in the economic performance between the male and female branches of SAMBA located in the Riyadh region.
As Clement and Springborg (2010) explain, the management has made an effort to ensure equality among the employees. Fir this reason, the researcher developed the hypothesis below:
H2o. There is no difference in the level of employee satisfaction between the male and female branches of SAMBA located in the Riyadh region.
However, the works of Kline (2010) opposes this notion. This scholar notes that management favors male employees, creating more satisfaction on the male branch. This has lead to the development of the hypothesis below.
H2a. There is a difference in the level of employee satisfaction between the male and female branches of SAMBA located in the Riyadh region.
French, McNayr, and Escher (2010) are of the view that both male and female customers are treasured by this bank. The scholars note that the management has ensured that both branches have received the required attention from the management. Based on this, the scholar developed the hypothesis below:
H3o. There is no difference in the level of customer satisfaction between the male and female branches of SAMBA located in the Riyadh region.
Schmitt and Lane (2009) have a different observation. They say that the bank has been keen on attracting male customers because they make the largest part of the target market. Based on this, the researcher developed the following hypothesis.
H3a. There is a difference in the level of customer satisfaction between the male and female branches of SAMBA located in the Riyadh region.
Raja, Sani, Rajaa, and Marilyn (2008) observe that the management of this bank has done a lot to ensure that both branches of the bank experience growth. Management of both male and female branches has been given equal attention. Based on this, the hypothesis below was developed.
H4o. There is no difference in the quality of management practices between the male and female branches of SAMBA located in the Riyadh region.
However, Rodney (2004) opposes this idea. He says that female branches lack proper banking facilities, lowering their performance quality. The hypothesis below is based on this.
H4a. There is a difference in the quality of management practices between the male and female branches of SAMBA located in the Riyadh region.
According to Abu and Faruq (2010), the male and female branches of this bank are operated almost as different entities. Based on this, the hypothesis below was developed.
H5o. There is no relationship between the performance of male and female branches of SAMBA in the Riyadh Region.
Al-Mulhim (2009) argues against this. This scholar says that the branches of the bank are under the control of the central management system. Based on this, the researcher developed the hypothesis below:
H5a. There is a relationship between the performance of male and female branches of SAMBA in the Riyadh Region.
To respond to the above raised questions, and confirm some of the hypotheses stated above, the researcher had to go beyond the literatures that are available in this field. The researcher therefore decided to conduct a research in order to come up with desired responses to the raised questions. The chapter below is the methodology used by the researcher in collection, analysis, and presentation of the data. Every research project applies a certain research method to achieve its objectives depending on its goals (Abdurrahman, 2010). The methods used to conduct research in this project compared closely with the methods proposed in the research proposal. To validate the findings of this study, a pilot study was conducted to establish facts. The researcher also maintained ethics in this research by avoiding any form of bias in data collection, analysis and presentation of the findings.
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