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Saudi Arabia: Foreign executives chalk up million-dollar salaries at Neom, report says

Senior figures from Amazon and Cisco have flocked to Neom where they can reap higher pay packages
Artist view of the "Mirror Line", a 120-kilometre horizontal skyscraper, announced as a landmark in Neom, north of Saudi Arabia (Reuters)

Senior executives working at Saudi Arabia’s $500bn Neom development project are being paid roughly $1.1m each, annually, as part of the oil-rich kingdom’s push to attract foreign talent.

The $1.1m average salary of Neom’s top executives was detailed in an internal Neom list of compensation for different positions, revealed by the Wall Street Journal.

The compensation, which doesn’t include bonuses, is well above the average salary of $830,000 in 2021 for chief executives of the 3,000 largest listed US companies. Chief financial officers at US firms make an average of $417,857, while the pay for a chief operating officer comes in at about $468,092.

Western executives

Neom’s six-person board has two western executives: Peter Terium, the former chief executive of German energy company RWE AG, who heads mega-projects in energy, water and food sectors; and chief financial officer Dirk Van Schependom, a former managing director at KPMG UK.

The entire Neom leadership team listed on the company’s website is composed of non-Saudis. Other senior figures worked at prominent western companies. Tim Shorrocks, the chief marketing officer, was previously the director at Amazon Web while Joseph Bradley, who heads up technology and digital at Neom, is a former Cisco Systems Inc. executive.

Executive directors at Neom, a level below the senior executives, are paid an average salary of $660,000, according to the list of positions viewed by the WSJ. Directors are paid $270,000 a year, the list shows. Senior managers receive $193,000 and managers $130,000, according to the list, dated last year.

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Neom is central to 37-year-old Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman’s efforts to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy away from petrodollars and transition from the oil-rich kingdom’s conservative social codes - in a bid to attract tourists and foreign workers. A Red Sea resort - part of the wider project - is slated to become the first spot in Saudi Arabia to serve alcohol.

Despite the high pay packages, Neom has struggled to retain staff. There has been little progress on some of the more lavish initiatives like flying cars. Meanwhile, employees have complained of a toxic work culture.

Neom CEO Nadhmi al-Nasr once threatened to “pull out a gun and start shooting if he wasn’t told who was to blame” for two e-sports companies cancelling a partnership with Neom over human rights concerns.

“I drive everybody like a slave…When they drop down dead, I celebrate. That’s how I do my projects,” Nasr was recorded saying in another meeting.

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