Meshaal Bin Omairh

Abdullah Al Othaim Investment Company

Sheikh Mohammed Alajlan

Ajlan & Bros Holding Company

Robert Wilt


Tony Cripps

Saudi Awwal Bank

Mussad Al Muhaidib

Al Muhaidib Group

Fares Bugshan

Bugshan Investments

Arnaud Martinez

The Helicopter Company

Ibrahim Koshy

Saudi Arabian Airlines

Curro Nicolau

Go Energy Group

Ayman Tamer

Tamer Group

Omar Al Jasser

Arabian Oud

Abdulmajeed Alsukhan


Lateefa Al Walan

Endeavor Saudi

Meshaal Bin Omairh

Group CEO of Abdullah Al Othaim Investment Company

AO plans to go public

Meshaal Bin Omairh, Group CEO, Abdullah Al Othaim Investment Company, praises Saudi Arabia’s recent shift towards private sector participation and foreign direct investment while detailing the company’s plans to participate in the transformation of the country’s urban centers with its flagship mini-cities projects.

"The business environment in Saudi Arabia is positive. There are ample opportunities for foreign companies and investors to establish themselves in the country and contribute to its economic growth."

Meshaal Bin Omairh

    • How has the Vision 2030 initiative changed the business environment in Saudi Arabia?

      Under Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia's government has taken significant steps to support the private sector. By providing access to new tools and resources, the government has enabled businesses to thrive in ways that were not possible before. One tangible example of this is the newfound access to international resources.

      Thanks to this support from the government, the private sector is now attracting global investors who are eager to live and work in Saudi Arabia. This is a major shift from the past when Saudi Arabia's private sector struggled to attract foreign investment.

      By opening to international investors, Saudi Arabia is creating new opportunities for growth and development. The private sector is poised to become an even more important driver of the country's economy in the years to come.

      Overall, the government's commitment to supporting the private sector is a positive development for businesses and individuals alike. By providing access to the tools and resources that are needed to succeed, the government is helping to build a stronger and more prosperous Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has made significant strides in streamlining the process for visit, work, and business visas for foreign nationals. The government has taken a proactive approach to support the private sector, partnering with them to develop projects that will benefit the country as a whole. Additionally, the government has provided funding through initiatives such as the Tourism Development Fund, which has helped to boost the tourism industry in the region.

      As a result of these efforts, the business environment in Saudi Arabia is positive. There are ample opportunities for foreign companies and investors to establish themselves in the country and contribute to its economic growth. The government has put in place policies that are designed to attract foreign investment, and it has also taken steps to simplify the process of setting up a business in the country.

      Overall, the government's commitment to improving the business environment in Saudi Arabia is evident. Through its partnerships with the private sector and its funding initiatives, it has created an environment that is conducive to growth and development. As a result, Tourism development fund (TDF) announced that (TDF) has signed a cooperation agreement with Al-Othaim Investment Company to develop several tourist projects across the Kingdom. The signing ceremony was held recently in Riyadh. The projects aim to enhance the tourism sector in the country and promote its natural, cultural, and historical landmarks.

      The agreement comes in line with the Saudi Vision 2030, which aims to increase the contribution of the tourism sector to the national economy by developing and diversifying its resources. The TDF seeks to support and finance tourism projects that contribute to creating job opportunities and encouraging local and foreign investments in the sector. This agreement expected to have a significant impact on the tourism industry in the Kingdom, and to attract more tourists from around the world to visit its unique destinations.

      The prospects for foreign companies and investors looking to establish themselves in the country are bright.

      We have the support of banking institutions on the debt side, and the government on the other. This combination is something not found anywhere else; we are in the right place at the right time. Things are changing; there is a change in the quality of business, a change in standards and a change in the government itself. The public sector processes everything quickly and have set themselves an example for the private sector to follow. We encourage investors to not be influenced by what they hear and to come to Saudi Arabia themselves and experience what is happening in the market.

    • AOIC is spread across seven sectors, including real estate, hospitality, cinemas, foodservice, fashion retail and malls. Currently the company has developed 12 shopping centers in Saudi Arabia, making it the second largest shopping mall operator in the country. It also operates more than 70 entertainment centers in five countries in the GCC and North Africa. The company has grown significantly recently, with 14% growth and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization margin of 55% in 2022. We currently operate five cinemas and plan on ramping up to 9 cinemas under our current strategy before the end of 2023. We are developing the Konoz entertainment city in Riyadh, which encompasses 50,000 square meters of commercial office space, 20,000 square meters of commercial entertainment space and 135,000 square meters of residential space. We also contribute in terms of job creation. For example, the Konoz project in Riyadh will create 15,000 jobs and our development in Al Khobar will create 10,000 jobs. We are currently developing 26 projects across Saudi Arabia, with most of them tabled for completion by 2026.

      Al Othaim Family started the business with the retail supermarket segment. We have the same values today as we did 43 years ago. Although we have changed our financial position, assets, business lines, knowledge and resources, these values are what have sustained the business. The company’s success has been a continual process, and we must look to the future. While we are family owned, we are not a family business but a corporation with its own corporate governance. This approach has made a real difference in the company’s performance. As a company we are also firm believers in partnerships. We cannot do it alone and require partners to achieve our vision. When choosing a partner, it is crucial they share our vision, values, standards and timeline. We have already partnered with several companies, such as international architecture firm Benoy. We are also a private sector partner to the Saudi government.

    • What the company has right now is just the beginning; we are now working on our new strategic plan and what will happen beyond 2026. A substantial strategy should be built on the company’s strengths, weaknesses and opportunities it may have in the future. Al Othaim Investments’s strategy involves three elements: an independent strategy for each sector, an integration strategy between each of these and a consolidated strategy for the entire company. The implementation processes of these three elements is crucial. We need to ensure we are aligned and have the resources and human capacity in place to make sure our strategy is implemented. Our new strategy is split into the two following focus areas: 85% mix-use projects such as contained entertainment cities and 15% blue ocean project such as hotels, residences and offices. Our mandate is not limited to development in the Kingdom, and we are open to doing business anywhere. However, we currently require our full capacity to fulfill the needs of the Saudi Arabian market.

    • Investing in AOIC is low risk. Investors are not only investing in one industry but seven. As a rule, we work with low-risk projects. We work in real estate, and all the projects are 70% owned by us. We have strong assets and a net margin of 30%, which is something you cannot find anywhere. We are also in an industry that is cash driven. Additionally, new regulations regarding foreign investments have eased foreign participation the Saudi Arabian market. We are now in the process of working with the financial advisory to find the right time to re-submit our file. Our initial public offering will be very soon. We have a very good stock market here in Saudi Arabia and we are seeing high interest from investors. There is a lot of value in the Al Othaim family brand; we have been in business for 43 years and will continue to be in business forever.

Sheikh Mohammed Alajlan

Vice Chairman of Ajlan & Bros Holding Company

Aligning with the vision

Prominent family-owned conglomerate Ajlan & Bros Holding Company has planned its diversification strategy to align with the objectives of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030. Vice Chairman Sheikh Mohammed Alajlan sees the dynamic strategy as a golden moment for both national and international investment.

“The Saudi Arabian government is currently keen on progressing industrial development very quickly. Our challenge as private companies is to be even faster.”

Sheikh Mohammed Alajlan

    • How has Ajlan & Bros Holding Company transformed from retail to one of Saudi Arabia’s largest diversified conglomerates?

      We first began in textiles in 1979 – a segment where we remain a dominant player in the Middle East – and moved into real estate, becoming one of the largest real estate companies in Saudi Arabia with more than $15 billion in land either primed for sale or sold. When the Vision 2030 initiative was launched in 2016, we understood this was the future. If one is not aligned with this initiative, one will be left behind and forgotten. We started our investment arm in the same year and developed businesses in all sectors mentioned in the strategy – some in partnerships with companies from the United States, Europe, Asia and other parts of the world. The company now invests directly and indirectly in 25 countries around the world. We still consider ourselves to be setting up the main pillars of the group to develop and prosper.

    • Saudi Arabia is already the gateway to the Middle East and North Africa region. Our country has a large area of 830,000 square miles. Developing an entire nation is akin to having a large portfolio of developments, projects and programs. HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud has established royal commissions and 11 companies to oversee this new development, which will take time. Tourism and logistics are taking huge leaps forward, with perhaps logistics being the priority.

      The Vision 2030 initiative is in full swing. Already one can see the development with their own eyes with Diriyah Gate, NEOM, Amaala, the Red Sea Project, Sindalah island, King Salman Park, work by the Royal Commission of AlUla and improvement of Mecca city and holy sites. We can see industrial growth in Jeddah and companies being established in Khafji in the eastern region and Tabuk in the northern region. We at Ajlan & Bros Holding Company are aligned with all sectors mentioned in the Vision 2030 strategy as it represents a huge market; we are actively working to increase our market share.

      The real gross domestic product of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia rose 8.7% year-on-year in 2022 to reach more than $1 trillion, the highest annual growth among G20 countries. This remarkable development exceeded the expectations of many economists and international organizations. Saudi Arabia's policies to support the national economy – guided by Vision 2030 – have yielded significant results in the past year, contributing to the diversification and liberalization of the Kingdom’s resources and creating a thriving environment for economic activities in all sectors.

    • The United States and Saudi Arabia enjoy a strong economic relationship. The United States is Saudi Arabia’s second largest trading partner, and Saudi Arabia is one of the United States’ largest trading partners in the Middle East. The United States and Saudi Arabia have signed a trade investment framework agreement and Ajlan & Bros Holding Company has been investing in the US real estate and equities markets for more than 15 years. Through Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia laid out plans to diversify the economy, including through increased trade and investment with the United States and other countries. This led to Ajlan & Bros Holding Company recently signing billion-dollar partnerships with American companies Solar Edge and Lightbeam.

    • We have two lines of business in the segment. The first is a partnership with QNB Group, one of the largest banks in the Middle East and North Africa region. It has state-of-the-art technology that we are developing in Saudi Arabia. We are currently finalizing our official documents and licenses with the Saudi Central Bank. Our other line of business is a fintech company that we established from scratch called Tiqmo that handles digital payments. We established it in partnership with SwiftPass, a giant fintech company dedicated to providing mobile payment solutions. Another noteworthy collaboration is with Linklogis, a leading provider of supply chain finance technology solutions. Both parties are collaborating to establish a local company in Riyadh to jointly develop supply chain finance services, promote the digital transformation of the financial industry and address common financing challenges for small and medium-sized enterprises in the region.

    • The United States and Saudi Arabia have a longstanding security relationship. Saudi Arabia is the United States’ largest foreign military sales (FMS) customer, with more than $100 billion in active FMS cases. Through FMS, the United States has supported the three following key security assistance organizations in Saudi Arabia: Ministry of Defense, Saudi Arabian National Guard and Ministry of Interior.

      Vision 2030 clearly stipulates that Saudi Arabia is aiming to localize 50% of its military expenditures by 2030, which is the main reason we entered this sector. Our subsidiary SCOPA Defense is registered in Saudi Arabia and with the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls in the United States. We have obtained licenses and approvals from the United States to work as a defense broker and develop the defense system. SCOPA aims to focus on co-operation with companies in the United States and European Union that follow certifications set by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. All our projects are certified by the organization and follow its guidelines and procedures. We have a wide range of partnerships with prominent US defense companies.

    • There are many key areas of investment currently available, including tourism and entertainment, healthcare and food and beverages. Equally, all aspects of the oil and gas value chain continue to represent good returns, from upstream to downstream segments – particularly in petrochemicals. Alternative energy sources also represent huge investment opportunities, such as solar, wind and water. Logistics is another important avenue that plays a major role in our lives today. Additionally, technology and infrastructure represent important areas of co-operation. We have a company, Sandsoft, that is focusing on gaming, which is an interesting segment for investment. We also have a burgeoning mining and metals sector in Saudi Arabia, with many opportunities for American and Western companies. The holding company will invest $13 billion in this sector with the National Industrial Development and Logistics Program and has already partnered with UK-headquartered Moxico Resources, Swiss precious metals refining company Valcambi and National Securities Exchange of Australia to establish a metal and mining stock exchange in Saudi Arabia.

      Our partnerships are as internationally diverse as the sectors we cover. For example, we are partnered with Dussmann Group, a world-renowned facility management services provider headquartered in Berlin, Germany, through Dussmann-Ajlan & Bros. Dussmann Group is one of the world’s largest privately owned companies. It was established in 1963, employs more than 65,000 employees in 21 countries and has annual revenues of around $2.5 billion. They saw the opportunity to partner with us in Saudi Arabia.

    • We now have a leader who has made us believe he will change the country. The Saudi Arabian government is currently keen on progressing industrial development very quickly. Our challenge as private companies is to be even faster. To this end we have created international consortiums to participate in public private partnerships and privatization initiatives, such as the acquisition of Jubail 3B for $800 million with French company Engie and the acquisition of Second Milling Company in conjunction with international partners for $600 million.

      Today there are many unique opportunities in all fields of business in Saudi Arabia. The Ministry of Investment has flung its doors wide open, and the private sector is highly willing to accommodate anyone who would like to come and invest. There are funds to support investors entering Saudi Arabia just as there are for local Saudi companies; no distinction is made. It is the ideal time for investors to enter the market.

Robert Wilt

CEO of Ma'aden

Partnering to leverage Saudi Arabia’s $1.3 trillion mineral potential

Robert Wilt, CEO, Saudi Arabian Mining Company (Ma’aden) talks about the company’s growth from humble beginnings to becoming a key player in Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 national transformation program, including recent international partnerships it has created to transform Saudi Arabia into a regional mining hub. He also outlines the extractive sector’s significance in both diversifying the local economy and supporting the global energy transition.

"It is unbelievable what is going on in Saudi Arabia; whether you are interested in mining, technology, tourism, sports, entertainment or finance, this place is on the move."

Robert Wilt

    • Can you give our readers an overview of the company’s beginnings?

      Ma’aden is 25 years old with humble beginnings at the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy's office. At the time the Kingdom was almost exclusively focused on developing oil and gas resources. There were previously some forays with United States Geological Survey – mostly related to oil and gas –and local gold mining activities. However, no one was taking advantage of other mineral resources such as phosphates until 2007 when we established our first joint venture. We then immediately moved onto aluminum. In reality, the company is only about 13 years old in terms of significant growth and investment. Since then, we have become the world's second largest exporter of phosphates and now have the world’s lowest cost, fully integrated aluminum chain.

    • Under the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, we are diversifying beyond oil and gas. We have some natural advantages such as tourism and mining that have historically been underdeveloped. Estimates indicate that there is $1.3 trillion worth of mineral resources in the Kingdom. Ma’aden and the Ministry of Industry and Mineral Resources are currently working to develop that, and in the process, attracting some of the world's best exploration and mining companies.

      Our basic mandate is to develop the third pillar of the Saudi economy. Under its diversification strategy, the Kingdom wants to develop a significant steel industry for shipbuilding and the Kingdom’s mega projects; an electric vehicle industry; and a high-tech industry. These segments all require a portfolio of minerals and metals, which is why building a significant mining industry is imperative.

      We are benefiting from a new mining law and the government’s investment in geological surveys. The mining law is designed to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) into the mining sector and benefits Ma’aden because we are the natural partner of choice for FDI given our scale and scope. We know the stakeholders and the landscape, and we have done most of the legwork. There is a vast exploration program being undertaking by the Kingdom focusing on copper, gold, nickel, zinc and uranium. We are looking to bring these resources on stream quickly, through partnerships and on our own.

      It is unbelievable what is going on in Saudi Arabia; whether you are interested in mining, technology, tourism, sports, entertainment or finance, this place is on the move. It is an amazing honor to be here, not only to have a front row seat to history being made, but also be able to play an active part in this transformation.

    • In our early days, we partnered with US-based global leaders such as Mosaic and Alcoa. We have a joint venture with Mosaic to extract phosphate at our Wa’ad Al Shamal complex and develop it into fertilizer products for global agriculture customers. We also have a long-standing partnership with Alcoa in the aluminum production complex in Ras Al Khair Industrial City, which is the world’s first fully integrated high efficiency aluminum production complex.

      In addition, we have a joint venture with Canada’s Barrick Gold Corporation to operate Jabal Sayid mine, the only copper mine in the Kingdom. We have recently expanded that partnership to expand into additional exploration license areas with the goal of building a significant copper hub in Saudi Arabia.

      We also recently agreed to buy 9.9% of US-based Ivanhoe Electric and form an exploration joint venture in the Kingdom. Ivanhoe Electric was founded by renowned miner Robert Friedland and houses the proprietary Typhoon technology. This technology will enable us to accelerate our exploration efforts by six times, and de-risk and advance the development of a significant exploration hub in the Kingdom.

    • In 2009, we established the first phosphate company in the Kingdom. Currently, we are the world's second largest exporter of phosphate fertilizers. As global demand for phosphates continues to grow, only a few companies are capable of meeting production needs through expansion projects – and we are one of them. We currently produce around 6 million tons of phosphate fertilizer per year and plan on growing production by 3 million tons per year through a project we are calling Phosphate 3. Worley is our engineering procurement and contract manager for the development, and we plan on reaching full production by 2026 / 2027.

    • Our joint venture with the Public Investment Fund is aimed at expanding our footprint into global supply chains to source minerals and metals essential to downstream development of the Kingdom’s industrial economy. We plan to acquire minority equity investments in global mines, assets and companies and secure off-take agreements to support the development of downstream industries in Saudi. We are initially looking for iron ore, nickel, copper and lithium to drive the industries of the future.

    • We already have a significant footprint. We are responsible for around 6,800 direct employees, but there are 45,000 people working around or in adjacent industries to process our minerals and metals. This will grow as we continue the buildout of our phosphate industry. We are also poised to take advantage of our long-life bauxite mines and competitive energy, which are both perfect ingredients for aluminum expansion. And we have at least two more promising gold projects in pre-feasibility stages that could come online in the next five years.

      We will continue to grow and expand along our current verticals – phosphate, aluminum, and gold and base metals. We will increase volumes across all our major lines and are simultaneously undergoing a major cost takeout initiative. We are looking for margin expansion across the board. Our overall strategy follows four distinct pillars. The first is to develop the mineral endowment of the Kingdom with exploration and growth. We have a great asset base. We will make it bigger. The second is to drive the productivity of our assets; we need to continue to sweat these assets, make them more productive and throw off cash for future investment. The third is value creation through innovation and enabling future segments, whether it be green fertilizers or green aluminum. The last is to be a role model for environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG). Focusing on ESG is not simply a way of operating; we view this as an opportunity to address global issues and challenges, distinguish ourselves and give ourselves a competitive advantage. The Kingdom is driving an ESG agenda, and as the national mining champion we are aiming to become an ESG role model for local industry.

    • The world requires the mining industry to achieve its energy transition and move towards green energy. However, to do so we need to double the amount of copper we are mining in the next decade and produce five times as much aluminum in the next 15 years. Saudi Arabia is significant in this transformation as it sits at the center of the world between Asia, Africa and Europe. The Kingdom is a perfect logistics hub that is endowed with significant yet-to-be-explored mineral potential.

      A key component of our strategy is decarbonization. The Kingdom is well positioned for carbon capture, utilization and storage, with potential for carbon capture and sequestration all up and down the eastern coast. Additionally, we have vast amounts of wind and sunshine and are a great home for renewables. In terms of environmental focuses, groundwater usage is a major concern here in the Kingdom as much of the country is desert; we must be cognizant and remain good stewards of our water resources.

      Ma’aden is committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050 and has developed a roadmap beginning in 2022 with checkpoints and milestones along the way. We have already taken out 300,000 tons of carbon from our emissions through a circular economy agreement with a food and beverage company. We are currently the world's largest exporter of blue ammonia and have recently signed a series of agreements with suppliers from the world’s largest markets to provide over 138,000 tons of blue ammonia products. We have planted 3 million trees so far with the commitment to plant 20 million as part of the Saudi Green Initiative. We are already utilizing renewable energy to fuel our newest gold mine. This ESG roadmap will continue to accelerate over the next decade.

    • The social side of the equation is of equal importance. As our footprint grows across the Kingdom, our expectation is to create jobs and support local communities. Local content is vitally important. Right now, about 45% of what we buy is locally produced or serviced, which needs to be increased to at least 65%. As we grow, we need to leverage all the talent the Kingdom has to offer, including females. Unfortunately, only about 3% of our current workforce are women. But we have ambitious goals to diversify our workforce and empower women to take a range of positions. We aim to double the percentage of female employees to 6% this year. We need to pick up the pace here in order to be viewed as the employer of choice in the Kingdom. On the governance side, all our regulatory requirements, board governance and structure align with international standards. We are a values-based organization and I am proud to be part of it.

Tony Cripps

CEO of Saudi Awwal Bank (SAB)

Intenational connectivity is an asset

Tony Cripps, CEO, Saudi Awwal Bank, talks about how the financial services institution has grown significantly on the back of Saudi Arabia’s dramatic economic transformation and new investment opportunities in the market.

“Saudi Arabia’s position is currently very positive on the world stage. Interest from international investors and the number of companies entering the country have never been higher. SAB is well positioned in this area because of our international connectivity through HSBC Group.”

Tony Cripps

    • How has the recent growth of Saudi Arabia’s economy helped bolster Saudi Awwal Bank’s (SAB’s) own success?

      We expected going into 2023 to have some challenges in the world economy, particularly inflation. Inflation is well managed in Saudi Arabia because of the growth trajectory of the economy. Development is being bolstered by the Vision 2030 initiative, which is focused on developing many segments, including information technology, tourism and agriculture. The economy in 2022 was the second-fastest growing economy behind India. In 2023, it is expected we will grow the fastest. Given the positive macroenvironment, SAB is expected to continue growing. SAB has had very strong results. Our performance is in a way a reflection of the normalization of global interest rates. We told investors at the beginning of 2022 that we expected interest rate normalization, which is positive for us given the structure of our balance sheet. We have seen a positive effect on margins.

      Saudi Arabia’s position is currently very positive on the world stage. Interest from international investors and the number of companies entering the country have never been higher. SAB is well positioned in this area because of our international connectivity through HSBC Group. We use common systems globally, and we have connectivity across borders. Our biggest business segment is institutional banking; it makes up around 75% of our client base, with retail banking taking up the remaining 25%. Multinationals entering Saudi Arabia are often clients of HSBC in Europe, America or Asia. Since HSBC owns 31% of SAB, these clients want to do business with us. Although SAB is independent, we collaborate very closely with our international colleagues in making introductions and maintaining connectivity across our most important growth corridors. We bank with more than 80% of the multinationals that enter Saudi Arabia. The nation is opening up. Clients are demanding international services combined with domestic services, and we are the only bank in the market that can provide these services in a significant way. Additionally, we have clients on the retail side that have kids studying in the United Kingdom or the USA and want all bank accounts connected.

    • We completed our merger in 2021 and made significant investments. We are now seeing the effects of that investment in the growth of our retail business and continued growth of our institutional corporate business. We initially focused on creating synergies out of the merger. We were trying to create one bank with one culture and one ambition, which is not easy with two very large institutions. We needed to make sure our goal was crystal clear, which is to become the lead international bank in the country. No other institution competes with us at our scale due to our international connectivity.

      Following the merger, we invested heavily in digital technologies to build solid infrastructure for clients. Previously there had been an absence of investment in this area because we were focused on the merger and integration. We had some catching up to do. The board committed spending $1.5 billion over the course of five years on new technologies, improving our current technologies and transforming the bank. We front loaded a lot of the spending; we spent more than half of our total investments in the first year. We have now begun to see our investments paying off in many areas such as allowing online customers to get a personal loan, credit card or mortgage without having to visit a branch. These many changes were recognized not only by our customers but also our staff. There have been noticeable improvements in our internal survey results. We know our people, and we are proud of what we have achieved.

    • The growth in initial public offerings is part of Saudi Arabia’s development plan to become a regional economic hub; mergers and acquisitions are central to the nation’s growth. In the banking sector, we were the first merger with others following such as National Commercial Bank and Samba Financial Group. No doubt more will follow. The insurance sector is another area where there are a lot of small players, and we have seen some consolidation. We completed our consolidation strategy last year when we disposed of a stake that was acquired through our merger. We merged this entity with a larger insurance business. There is no doubt that this kind of activity will continue. The Middle East has seen a very high proportion of this compared to other regions around the globe. People are very excited about new opportunities opened up by these transactions. We had the strongest representation of initial public offerings in 2022. We understand the pipeline and offshore interests.

    • We are more connected internationally than other banks in the country. Europe is leading in terms of environmental, social and corporate guidance (ESG) initiatives with other markets such as China ramping up these activities. Bringing these solutions to the domestic market is something we can do. The green deposit is a great example. Our clients can be confident in their own ESG commitments by trusting SAB. We were also the first bank to create the first corporate green loan for the Red Sea project along with a lending consortium in 2021. HSBC supported the design of the loan, and the lending was done by domestic banks. It was the first of its kind. ESG is now at the top of the government’s agenda. We are partnered with the Saudi Central Bank. They have been very open to collaborations with the finance industry in areas such as regulation, product development, risk assessment and training. We have made rapid progress in many ESG-related areas alongside them.

    • In any country, inclusion and promotion of diversity is always the correct operating model. All analysis done internationally supports this conclusion. There was a lot of momentum to get female participation in the workforce above 30% by 2030, and we surpassed our target seven years ahead of our goal. You can see the change everywhere, and SAB is aligned with this goal. We have also made great progress in achieving benchmarks above international standards in this arena, particularly in senior leadership. We are very proud of this progress, and we are fully committed to more.

      At lower levels, there are some challenges in terms of seniority, and more needs to be done involving training and development. We recently took in 20 graduates through an information technology training program, which was done in collaboration with Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Half of the graduates that we took in from 20,000 applicants were women committed to fields such as artificial intelligence, computing and science. Things are changing rapidly. Saudi Central Bank has asked banks to commit to long-term plans to increase the participation of women, which can only happen through training and support. There is now a larger available pool of resources. It is very exciting, and we are proud of our own commitments.

    • In the late 1990s and early 2000s, banks migrated to the internet, which was brand new. There are many similarities between how banks are approaching digital transformation then and now. We need to expose traditional banks to new technologies and digital innovation, which includes partnering with technology companies. There are many ways to introduce new technologies. Using joint ventures is one way, such as licensing software. For instance, we have implemented 20 new software providers in the last 12 months. We also started a $100-million fintech investment fund that will be used to introduce ourselves to the fintech ecosystem. HSBC has been doing this for five to seven years. Typically, big banks do not take majority stakes in fintech entities as we do not want to smother their innovation. We want to enable them to guide their own development. We have also created an internal digital workforce.

    • SMEs are a critical part of the country’s plans to diversify the economy. These entities are largely the top employer in developed economies and a key to diversifying industry. SAB has traditionally not been a bank for SMEs; we are fully open about that. However, our new strategy proposed in 2021 aligns us with playing a larger role in this segment, and it is now a core element to our five-year plan. In 2021, we quadrupled the size of the book, but from a very small base; SMEs represented less than 5% of our balance sheet at the beginning of 2022. Our strategy involves managing client’s ambitions instead of playing heavily on the lending side. Typically startups do not get a lot of access to bank credit. We aim to help them create their own ecosystems and support them in their banking needs. We introduced a new local technology platform for SMEs in Saudi Arabia that allows these entities to onboard themselves. Under the state-supported Kafala program, new SMEs in their startup phase can receive credit as the government could support 90% of the risk. This has been useful for banks as a way of introducing themselves and is similar to the way the mortgage sector was supported in its early phase. We are working hard to ensure our connectivity to the SME ecosystem and are committed to supporting their development. While we have seen growth, we are not claiming any victories by any means. In other markets such as Hong Kong and the United Kingdom, HSBC is a dominant bank in the SME segment.

    • Tourism in Saudi Arabia is a very interesting segment from an international investment point of view. Saudi Arabia aims to have 100 million tourists by 2030, which is phenomenal. This includes giant tourism projects and upgrades to the value chain. Tourism resonates; people understand that everywhere. Whether we reach 99 million visitors or 101 million, the goal is ambitious and promises growth. Additionally, tourism will create employment for our youth. Projects in this segment are loudly promoted. For example, the Red Sea land and property megaproject is a good example because it is focused on attracting tourism. It is completely based on compliance with environmental, social and corporate governance standards and is entirely powered by renewable energy.

      The green transition is also another interesting segment for investors. There are many new opportunities surrounding the transition even at an institutional level. We have made introductions between large Saudi Arabian clients looking for technology to help with their green transitions and companies of all sizes such as water purification companies, recycling entities and solar panel providers. This is brand new to Saudi Arabia. There are opportunities in this along the country’s entire supply chain. Additional opportunities exist in construction. Many construction companies are coming in from China, South Korea and Japan.

    • I moved to Saudi Arabia for two reasons: commercial opportunities and the country’s social transformation. As a banker for more than 35 years, I have always directed my career towards where there is both growth and innovation. It is possible that no other country in history has changed as dramatically for positive reasons as Saudi Arabia, including inclusion of women in the workforce and building an entirely new entertainment sector within just a few years. This transformation has made the population confident to reach towards the outside world and has driven connectivity. When I arrived, my first question was if this transformation was sustainable. It did not take me long to realize that it was. This is due to the consistent commitment to development by government officials and regulators who all have the same goals in mind.

    • Saudi Arabia has a couple of very good domestic banks that are strong and have caught up in the last five to seven years. For example, their implementation of new technologies is impressive and will continue without question. Mergers and acquisitions will continue to consolidate the industry over time. Another key strength is the strong regulatory presence of the Saudi Central Bank. It is globally one of the top regulators in the banking sector. They view their role as also being a development regulator, which is quite different from other markets. Many regulators in other markets are very strict and do not do a good job of driving development and creating innovation. Another strength is the banking sector’s commitment to having 250 fintechs in the country. The country created a sandbox for these entities, which had been done in other markets such as Singapore. The segment is growing rapidly, which we are seeing through client connectivity. We brought people from Singapore who had not previously been to Saudi Arabia and were talking about commercial opportunities within weeks.

Mussad Al Muhaidib

Board Member Al Muhaidib Group

New Landscapes

Leading the incursion of his family’s 75-year holding into the tourism and entertainment sectors, Mussad Al Muhaidib discusses the importance of seizing new opportunities while minimizing risk. Although expectation needs to be tampered with patience, the goal remains to excel in whatever the group undertakes.

“Sometimes, timing is key. It’s when taking a calculated risk as an investor pays off. The risk is worthwhile if you have a strategic investor willing to offer more than just finances.”

Mussad Al Muhaidib

    • Since 2019, you have headed Al Muhaidib Group Entertainment Ventures.
      What are its goals?

      Our aim is to create regional champions. The companies we partner with must be experts in their field and have the potential to become regional or global players. We want to attract the best in entertainment or any of the four other verticals we, as a group, focus on (food & consumer, industrial & infrastructure, real estate and financial investment).
      Currently, we are exploring many different options in tourism and entertainment. We have ventured into a company called EBDA, a wellness, sports and adventure company that addressed a gap in the market and includes EBDA Adventure Park.
      There is another project that we haven't announced yet, which is a partnership for tier-two cities. We offer access to hidden gems in the mountains, adventure lodges, amusement parks and much more.
      There are so many opportunities to experience the Saudi culture, cuisine, arts and crafts and natural beauty. Sometimes, timing is key. It’s when taking a calculated risk as an investor pays off. The risk is worthwhile if you have a strategic investor willing to offer more than just finances.
      Additional support in terms of regulations, activation and access is also important.

    • Any sector that is new requires patience. Getting capital is important, but so is having a longer-term expectation of the ROI value. In Saudi Arabia, the initial testing period is critical to determine the suitability and potential success of a venture. What works well in the GCC or other regions may not work well here. We understand this might take longer to execute, but our vision is focused on the long run.
      COVID-19 provided us with an opportunity, as many people were constrained to stay within Saudi Arabia. We focused on increasing local travel offers. It was a good testing ground for all the cities of all the Amaala region. Amaala, on our northwestern coast, was designed to evolve into the very best in travel. It is a global wellness, ultra-luxury destination that focuses on transformative personal journeys, inspired by wellness, arts, culture and the purity of the Red Sea. We explored the local regions and discovered so many hidden gems that we decided we had a great opportunity to grow this sector.
      Another popular travel destination is the Asir region, which has stunning natural beauty.
      Our strategy in the tourism sector will take time and focus for us to shape it into a strong and permanent sector.

    • The construction industry has always been big in Saudi due to the sheer size of the country, but home ownership by Saudi families is among the lowest. Vision 2030 has quite ambitious goals with respect to home ownership.
      We have identified a gap in the housing market supply. Many of the manufacturing facilities are required to have at least 50% of all work come from locally based companies. This is to mitigate supply-chain constraints. The industrial products and building materials that are locally made are of extremely high quality, and the most innovative building technologies are used to ensure the highest level of efficiency.
      We aim to build houses in less than 18 months. In the case of modular housing, this can be accomplished even faster with 3D printing. The 3D printing model may well become the way forward for the construction industry, whether it's modular, traditional or precast. We are aiming to be laser-focused on what we do best and see how these new modes of delivery can improve the current system.

    • Vision 2030 and its opportunities have motivated more people to try something new. These great opportunities are rarely seen, and they require a solid vision of what can be achieved. We envisage that only 20% of the top 100 organizations or investors will still exist in ten years. This is due to ever-evolving changes in the way businesses are conducted, as well as to social, economic and technological evolution. In today’s market, rapid change and adaptation to changing market forces is critical to the survival of businesses.

    • It is unwise to have too much capital investment into smaller opportunities. Thankfully, government initiatives like Monsha’at and Saudi Downtown Company provide founder funds. They are not crowding the market; rather, they are supporting the accredited investors through limited partnerships. They come in and take 20%-50% of the fund, and they mitigate the risk. They evaluate the setup of the startup or young enterprise. They are shrewd and actively look into all aspects of the operation.
      As a result of this due diligence, the whole ecosystem operates quite efficiently. The reward at the end of this process is gaining the trust of the limited partner, be that from the government or the private sector. And that's why it's always important to invest wisely and be very selective. Above all, to be an active investor with these companies, because they need all the support they can get.

    • Acquiring talent is one of the major challenges in any business. Today there is support from the Ministry of Communications & Information Technology. Through their NTP program, a successful entrepreneur is welcomed into Saudi Arabia with a golden visa. They are able to bring in their co-founders and develop their ecosystems within the country. This will attract innovators who are provided support and will in turn potentially hire locals. They are supported by the government at certain threshold from 25% to 75%, in the first few months.

    • Our ACWA Power managed in 17 years to become a leading global company in power and water generation. They are leading the way in environmental initiatives with their solar-powered renewable energy. They achieved a major milestone at Neom, a smart city with a green hydrogen facility powered by renewables.
      Another company that we are proud of is Almarai, which is the largest integrated dairy farm in the world. And, hopefully, you will see many more companies in the digital and technology arena that are leading the region and potentially the world.

Fares Bugshan

CEO of Bugshan Investments

No Room for Complacency

The scion of a prominent Saudi family and a former Gallup Consulting specialist, Fares Bugshan believes in the importance of paying attention to new trends in the sectors where he invests. With global tastes and needs changing fast, private businesses must keep up to stay relevant.

“A key part of our strategy is developing solutions to problems that may not have existed before but are large enough to merit investment. But it has to be a very big problem, not a small one.”

Fares Bugshan

    • According to Monsha’at, there was a growth of 10% in the number of SMEs registered in a single quarter (Q3) of 2022.
      To what do you attribute this boom in entrepreneurship?

      One reason for it is that the cost of doing business has gone down overall because of technology, so there's booming entrepreneurship in startups all over the world. But if you ask me for specific reasons of this growth in Saudi Arabia, I would say one is the availability of funding. In 2012-13, I was a researcher at Gallup Organization and asked entrepreneurs which were the main obstacles they faced. The number one was lack of funding.
      In Saudi, there are six or seven large banks, and they didn't really bankroll entrepreneurs and startups, and that has changed a lot. On the side of venture capital, for example, there is the Social Development Bank, and there are many other banking facilities now available.
      The second reason has to be the scholarship program. From 2006, Saudi has sent a lot of people to the US and other countries. I think those who went abroad were already entrepreneurs; their return has helped lay out an infrastructure.
      I think these two pillars were really important and specific to Saudi.

    • Absolutely. The home values are always there. Saudis, as any other nationality, feel comfortable investing in their home country—but they're venturing outside, starting with the GCC and MENA. We see companies like Foodics, for example, that invested in Egypt and then expanded into Morocco as well. They're everywhere now in the Middle East. They know that while the Saudi market is big, to become large-scale they need to keep expanding abroad.

    • I think it's the pace at which the government wants to achieve the Vision 2030 goal: very fast. And we, the family companies, have a long history of doing business in a certain way. And so our pace and the government's might not match. That has forced the government to create its own entities sometimes, just to get the job done.
      Some private sector players are being left behind because they can’t match the pace, and some are trying to match it. I think that is the most important challenge.

    • I don't think we have a collaboration between the business sector and academia similar to the one in the US, where companies sponsor research or sponsor labs. Some work has been done by a few families and universities, especially in the Eastern Region, but that has not been systematic.
      This is a big area for improvement, and it's really important because a lot of the entrepreneurship that you see in Saudi Arabia is not being undertaken in high tech, unfortunately. For high tech, you do need to work with academia, and that's not happening. And I think the government can do a lot here by bringing together the corporates, the private sector and the academics who do the research. This culture is not here yet.

    • First, a big part of the strategy is to look at sectors that we’re already in. All sectors change, and being longtime players in those sectors doesn’t mean we can become complacent. We don't want to miss out on new trends in our sectors. So we always look for new ideas from those entrepreneurs that cooperate in our sectors.
      To give you an example, if we are the F&B sector, we want to look for new products. In FMCGs we have been a 60-year partner with PepsiCo—but, as you know, there is a trend against sugary drinks and salty snacks, etc. And there are new ideas out there that we may not be aware of, but we’ll want to participate in.
      Another key part of our strategy is developing solutions to problems that may not have existed before but are large enough to merit investment. But it has to be a very big problem, not a small one.

Arnaud Martinez

CEO of The Helicopter Company (THC)

An exciting new journey as a General Aviation champion

Arnaud Martinez, CEO, The Helicopter Company, outlines the company’s plans to grow alongside projects related to the Saudi Vision 2030 initiative and create added value for the country by training a new generation of leaders in aviation.

"Our immediate goal is to provide air mobility to Saudi Vision 2030 projects and grow domestically. However, we still have the appetite to be both a national champion and lead the region as a global player."

Arnaud Martinez

    • What strategy is The Helicopter Company (THC) utilizing in its plans to expand its fleet of vehicles?

      THC is a unique company in a unique country with a unique vision. By default, we have had unique growth on a scale not seen before within the helicopter and broader general aviation industry. We are fully embedded in the Saudi Vision 2030 initiative and maintain a sharp focus on our financial key performance indicators to ensure the effectiveness of the decisions that we take. We do not bring in helicopters to leave on the shelf; we only bring helicopters that are required and in our case, 80% of our fleet is contracted. Whatever we do, we want to do it differently, but also effectively, but we need to make sure the basics are in place and that safety is never compromised and this is embedded in our policies and in our culture.

      Sustainability is one of our goals and as an operator, we are ready to embrace innovation and a greener platform with less noise and advanced safety features that do not exist on other platforms.

      Profitability is a journey. We started the company four and a half years ago and have significantly increased revenues year on year and our business is doing well. We did what we call a vertical takeoff, and it was an interesting journey. Our shareholders have a clear plan, including management and the Public Investment Fund. Our immediate goal is to provide air mobility solutions to Saudi Vision 2030 projects and grow domestically. However, we still have the appetite to be both a national champion and to lead the region as a global player. The need for our services certainly exists. I have been in Saudi Arabia for the last 10 yearsand in the past two to three years alone, I have seen more exciting projects than I ever could have imagined. One cannot grow a country without a solid general aviation sector, and we are excited to be part of a broad range of new developments. I suspect we will have additional requests for a wide variety of work for many years to come. We are now focusing services into hospitality, aerial work, sports and entertainment and we recently helped with our first Hollywood movie. Business is booming in Saudi Arabia, but I do not suggest visitors come only for business. It is a beautiful country.

    • The Giga Projects such as Red Sea Global and NEOM smart city are crucial for the Saudi Vision 2030 initiative and therefore crucial for us. The initial goal of the company was to provide immediate and tailor-made solutions for the Giga Projects and grow alongside them. Our recent agreement with Red Sea Global falls under this category. We provide turnkey solutions and will provide a range of different aircraft and operational services to meet these projects’ requirements. We are moving from construction phases where medical support services and aerial work are the focus and will shortly enter into hospitality and tourism segments. These developments are at the forefront of our path towards sustainability and the use of new technologies. We can no longer operate in an old-fashioned way and we have a number of initiatives planned. The Giga Projects and a number of other initiatives across the country will have an impact on our future business as the tourism industry becomes one of the engines of our non-oil economy.

    • Our main strategic objective is to bring a positive impact the country by saving lives. To do so we need to provide state-of-the-art medical services that will cover 90% of the kingdom and at full capacity, this will require around 23 bases and 30 helicopters. In terms of scale, it is one of the largest projects we have in our portfolio, but Saudi Arabia is a huge country and we want to provide immediate response for any emergency within this coverage area.

    • Our biggest challenge is not onboarding aircraft but onboarding 30 to 40 new employees every month. To sustain our growth, we need to source the right people, onboard them and retain them. We try to be extremely pragmatic and for every single challenge, I see an opportunity to do things differently. In the Kingdom, we need a mixed approach to solutions, we have to be innovative. We invest in knowledgeable people and at present, seek a plug and play approach. We have a fantastic team with a lot of expertise that we onboarded at an early stage because we needed to have strong safety foundations. To support the long term industry, we are investing in the future and we take about 50 people per year – a mix of future pilots and technicians – and send them overseas to be trained. This is a mandate from the Public Investment Fund as a new generation of Saudi talent must be mentored and developed internally. We also have succession plans in place for every position in the organization, including for myself, this ensures that the Company can not only sustain growth, it can readily maintain business continuity. When we purchase aircraft, we do not simply sign a contract, we partner with the manufacturing companies. We do not look at the broader ecosystem as competitors but rather as peers and partners.

      We are extremely clear at the highest level within the Public Investment Fund and with the leaders of the companies we sign contracts with that we are investing in the Kingdom and local content is a driving factor for mutual success. We require not only aircrafts, but the right level of equipment and experts, especially for support during the early stages of new projects. We have plans already in place to purchase different levels of simulators to conduct our own in house training and this will allow us to provide training not just once a year, but as an ongoing process to enhance every aspect of crew competence and safety. We have also invested in virtual tools and will soon have our first virtual single-engine aircraft training simulator. When it comes to safety, training and development, there are zero restrictions at the board level and they are incredibly supportive. We have arrived on the scene quite quickly and much to the surprise of the industry, but we are now establishing ourselves as a significant operator and we are building something that will have a lasting legacy.

Ibrahim Koshy

CEO of Saudi Arabian Airlines

Expanding and modernizing its fleet

Ibrahim Koshy, CEO, Saudi Arabian Airlines, talks about the reasons for the airline’s rapid growth and its new innovative and sustainable products.

"We are expanding our fleet, which is set to be one of the youngest and most modern fleets in not only the region but the world. We do not have enough aircraft to operate the demand today, and we are hungry for more."

Ibrahim Koshy

    • What role is Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia) playing in Saudia Arabia’s Vision 2030 diversification program?

      We consider ourselves the wings of Vision 2030. We are expanding our fleet, which is set to be one of the youngest and most modern fleets in not only the region but the world. We do not have enough aircraft to operate the demand today, and we are hungry for more. With our new order of 49 new Boeing 787s, we are going to have a product that guests have not seen in the past in business and economy classes. The 787 Dreamliner is one of the most sustainable aircraft and it is a perfect fit for the routes we fly, including the opening of new routes to North America. The order allows us to meet current demand, which is growing fast and will require additional units as we move forward. At the same time, we are increasing connectivity in other markets and at the hubs where we currently operate. Jeddah – our main operational hub for Saudia – will have improved connectivity with new destinations. Through Saudia, travelers will be able to experience what Saudi Arabia has to offer and connect to different parts of the world. Saudi Arabia is where it's happening. There are a lot of opportunities for entrepreneurs and businesspeople in transport, logistics and new products. There are also many opportunities for travelers. The country has the desert, coastal resorts and believe it or not snow – one can go skiing in Saudi Arabia. It is a fantastic vacation destination.

    • We see a larger number of corporate business travelers that want the same experience onboard our narrow-body aircraft that they have been having onboard the wider body aircraft. In May 2023, we launched a business class suite with privacy dividers on our 777s and 787s, which is the first of its kind at this scale. We will be integrating this on all our new narrow-body aircraft we receive. We will also start a retrofit program where the current business class aircraft will also be changed. We are doing this to meet the heightened number of business and corporate travelers. We need to be sure we give them the product they desire.

      Saudia is really unlike any other airline – and it is improving. When traveling with Saudia, passengers will have a premium travel experience with better connectivity than they can get elsewhere. Although we have not built up our network to the extent that we want, once our new aircraft arrive, we will increase connectivity to other international destinations. We recently announced more than 11 new international destinations, with more coming up over the next two years.

    • When we look at the growing connectivity we are creating out of Jeddah, cargo is also growing quite fast. Over the past period we have seen growth in consignments from other companies and cargo transiting through the Jeddah hub – far more than in the past. We are gaining both belly and freighter capacities. This is an area that is likely to grow substantially. There is a lot of e-commerce happening. A logistical hub will be formed in both Jeddah and Riyadh. We are working closely to leverage our capabilities on this front alongside our partners Saudia Cargo.

    • Saudia has been a strong brand in the region for a while. However, it is currently moving to the next level. With its connectivity and increase in international travelers, we are seeing more opportunities for brand exposure. For example we are partnering with international events such as Dakar Rally, Formula E or the Formula One, the latter of which was hosted here in Jeddah. People are seeing Saudia's brand everywhere. We are gaining a lot of recognition and are now considered a major player. We will continue to market ourselves in this manner, such as getting ties with football teams. Today a lot of European, North American and Asian travelers are traveling with Saudia and discovering our product. We are also dealing more with online travel agencies and different channels. People are seeing Saudia as a brand, and we will see more of this going forward.

    • We have always considered our people as our most valuable resource. We have a very dedicated group of people and retaining this talent is important. There is currently a high demand from the aviation sector for the talent we have at the company. One of the most aggressive fights for talent is for pilots and certain specialists, which will continue as we move forward. Our human resources department has created an attractive scheme for employees at all levels, from entry to executives. They have created a work environment with flexible policies on timing and vacations. Things are now much more flexible; we are listening to employees and accommodating them. We have also created performance-driven incentives, which employees are very excited about. We will soon be rewarding our staff with time off and paid vacations, which are reasons people join airlines in the first place. The pandemic was a very difficult time for travel, aviation and the world in general. However, we came out knowing that our people come first. We showed a lot of care for our employees all over the world. Those who were stranded when lockdowns came into place were brought home. We helped many Saudi Arabian nationals and residents come back to the country.

    • There is a story happening surrounding sustainability in Saudi Arabia that many people do not realize. All new resorts that will open on the Red Sea are eco-friendly resorts. They care about the carbon footprints they are creating and are targeting travelers who are environmentally concerned. These eco resorts fit perfectly into our sustainable air mobility development strategy. These real estate projects will not be limited to nearby Jeddah but all along the coast in other regions of the country. We need to have either sustainable flights or electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft with zero emissions to transport these customers to their resort destinations. We have a strong network of electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft, which will be deployed. We are working with German air mobility leader Lilium in this regard. It is going to be very exciting.

      As an airline we need to accelerate our sustainability initiatives to meet not just the demands of travelers but the demands of our employees. We have a young generation of employees that care about these issues. They are driving new initiatives and accelerating our progress. We currently have a team dedicated solely to researching sustainability initiatives. We collect ideas from employees who are integrated into our sustainable flights. We also have ideation sessions with employees to come up with new ideas. They are changing our catering services, how we handle waste and even our comfort items on the aircraft like blankets and pillows to create a more sustainable product. On the catering side, there are local farms where we can source vegetables, and we are working with these suppliers. Many of these farms are being launched by young entrepreneurs in the region. The same thing is happening in terms of how we handle our waste. Sustainability is becoming a critical part of our corporate culture.

    • The United States is an important political and economic destination for Saudi Arabia. A lot of government travelers utilize these routes, and there has been a large rise in the number of corporate travelers coming to and from the country. Additionally, there is significant interest from Saudi Arabian travelers in visiting the United States on vacation and there is a growing number of students traveling from Saudi Arabia to study there. On the other hand, we have even stronger demand from American travelers coming to visit Saudi Arabia or using Saudi Arabia as a hub to connect to other destinations in Africa or Asia. There is also a lot of cargo traded between Saudi Arabia and the United States that people are not aware of. These increasing numbers are leading to an increase in flight frequencies to the United States on our current routes to New York, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles. We are exploring several new destinations in the United States over the next year. This increase in connections is having a positive impact on the creation of new economic markets for both parties.

Curro Nicolau

Chairman of Go Energy Group

Green energy frontrunner proves practice makes perfect

Curro Nicolau, Chairman, Go Energy Group, talks about his company’s long-standing experience in landmark renewable projects around the world and its current role in leading Saudi Arabia’s green energy revolution.

“Saudi Arabia is at the forefront of developing renewable energy projects and contributing to a model society set on transforming industry to protect the planet."

Curro Nicolau

    • How has the viability of renewables as an essential energy source changed in the last two decades?

      Around 20 years ago the renewable energy industry was simply a dream for the future and an inspiration for humanity. Today it is a reality; no one doubts that the use of renewable sources to produce energy is the most profitable and efficient way. At the beginning of my career, the technology associated with renewable energy was very expensive and inefficient. We have seen an unprecedented technological revolution and a quite forceful global expansion. In Spain we are pioneers in renewable energy and have been able to export a lot of knowledge about green technology to other countries. Today the projects we invest in are focused on financial efficiency and contributing to lowering emissions.

    • The company brings more than 20 years of experience to the table. We have a strong grasp of the larger picture after participating in many projects at an international level. We are in close contact with all companies that offer related technologies, which means we have direct and fast access to equipment and supplies. We are not a common developer as we have extensive experience in the design of photovoltaic and green hydrogen installations together with the most relevant technological partners. We provide value throughout the entire development chain of any project. Additionally, we have strong financial backing thanks to the investment partners who participate in our projects, and we have experience in minimizing operating costs. We bring value, creativity and global vision to our partners and the countries we are present in. With Go Energy Group's technology, we can make a significant contribution; we are driven to help protect our planet.

    • We were pioneers more than ten years ago in the renewables sector. We participated in the first wind farm in Uruguay located in Artigas with a production capacity of 67 MW and the highest-altitude photovoltaic plant in the world with a production capacity of 60 MW in Uyuni, Bolivia. In Saudi Arabia we were among the first to develop a 6-MW photovoltaic solar park in the private sector south of Riyadh. Today we are also pioneers in Europe in the Balkans area with the largest photovoltaic parks, such as the 150-MW facility in Kosovo. We are a quite relevant player for a company that is not listed on any stock exchange.

      We are currently developing photovoltaic and green hydrogen energy projects that exceed 5 GW on all continents. In each country our strategy is different, but there is always a common denominator. In the end, we want to sell energy, reduce energy costs for industries and favor their promotion of clean energy. We focus on the industrial sector as we can reduce their energy costs through long-term power purchase agreements. Companies can control their energy costs regardless of changes to the market, and this measure of stability allows us to adequately finance projects.

    • Saudi Arabia is at the forefront of developing renewable energy projects and contributing to a model society set on transforming industry to protect the planet. Projects such as the NEOM smart city highlight the country as a world leader in energy. This revolution began a few years ago, and we are anxious to see the size and scope of its development. The nation is open to the world and wants to attract talent and investment to diversify. It wants to remain the important international player it has always been. Saudi Arabia is a country of investment opportunities, including in culture, infrastructure, tourism and – of course – energy. The energy sector’s recent regulations have unlocked a whole new world of investment options. Large infrastructure projects are growing, putting Saudi Arabia on the map as one of the best locations for investment.

    • Go Energy Group was among the first players to appear on the renewable energy scene in Saudi Arabia. We have been very active in the country for the past five years with innovative projects in the private industrial sector. New regulations have brought improved business models for renewable energies that were not viable before. Thanks to our knowledge of the country, we are ready to take a leading role in using these positive changes to grow the sector. Although we are focused on the renewable energy sector, we want to explore business areas that serve our core business. For example, we want to lead a change in the use of green hydrogen in the private aviation and maritime sectors. We are also working on green fintech projects and with professionals from the entertainment sector, the latter of which has taken on a relevant role in promoting Saudi Arabia’s current transformation.

    • I have always been inspired by the desire to offer innovation, change society and improve our planet. My professional career has been focused on renewable energies and continuously learning about technological changes through my legal academic training and my experience advising multinational companies in the energy sector.

Ayman Tamer

Chairman of Tamer Group

Healthy Partnerships

Closely aligned with the tenets of Vision 2030, Tamer Group occupied the forefront in healthcare in the kingdom through close partnerships with multinationals. It now embraces change and extends its reach through e-commerce.

"We, as a group, realize we are part of the value chain that is under disruption. If we do not build e-commerce capabilities, we will be disrupted."

Ayman Tamer

    • Tamer Group celebrated its 100th anniversary last year.
      What remains of the original vision that launched it in 1922?

      Our vision and purpose have not changed: they are to serve our community and take care of the societies around us. My grandfather started in 1922 by being in a pharmacy and doing more than just a pharmacist. He listened to the patients. Everybody came in, told him their story and their problems. He was more of a confidant in the community.

      Today the purpose that still drives us is to serve our community and our country. With Vision 2030, we can do even more. The only difference is that we have upscaled our capabilities through technology and e-commerce to better serve our patients and consumers in the market.

    • Our principals and partners played a pivotal role in our development. These multinational companies have allowed us to expose ourselves to the know-how and skills of different cultures, allowing us to adapt, evolve, and to reinvent ourselves constantly.
      Whether it's in consumer segments or in healthcare, where we focus, these companies helped us develop our capabilities. They are symbiotic relationships. We also appreciate the access to market globally, and in turn we give one-stop service in the whole value chain.

    • We have policies in terms of nurturing, developing, and retaining local talent.

      First you need to work on the culture. If you don't build an environment that allows you to attract and retain talent, then you're not going to succeed. You must have a healthy foundation, and that means creating a fair playing field in your business environment.

      There is a saying: “We always join a company and leave a boss.” This is because the boss steals your ideas. You have to change the way your senior managers operate in order to create an environment that is friendly for talent. You must have an ethics committee. You must have a scorecard that rewards your managers not for numbers only; basically 75% of their remuneration is built on developing talent, upskilling that talent through mentorship, building the organization, building the customer. Only 25% relates to the financials. This scoring forces the senior manager to look for and recognize talent, and promote that talent because they get rewarded for it.

      Once you have that healthy culture, then talent will come and stay; otherwise, you'll have a hemorrhage of talent and always need to work on training and upskilling.

      We are building what we call “Performance Evaluation Potential Assessment Development”. Our people are informed about their performance, and we offer them tailormade training programs. Also, we consider our employees’ career path so that if today I want a salesman to be district manager, I need him to develop those sets of skills for tomorrow. I'd say about 10% of our workforce are on this program, if not more.

      Many Saudi women and men working with us have received offers for higher salaries and didn't leave because they love the culture here and their career. Of course, we had to make some adjustments, but I think we listen to our people, and that's what differentiates us from other companies.

    • We invested in Mumzworld more than ten years ago with the founders. It's been a success story. It is clear to us that today we need to reach the consumer in his home, and B2B is not the endpoint.

      We are being more customer centric and understanding the future development of our industry. It was crucial to enter the e-commerce field. We entered with Mumzworld, in the mother and child segment, because of their success—and it's been a magnificent investment. We see Mumzworld as an innovation center that will help us develop other e-Health platforms in the future, to better serve our consumers and patients in the market.

    • Technology and innovation are the only way forward. In terms of our evolution in technology, we started by building business excellence to get more efficient in organization. That was about 15 years ago. And then, five years later, we were more customer centric and started to use and develop our CRM, the applications technology that connects us more closely to our customers, suppliers and stakeholders, and runs the system for greater customer focus. Now we're coming to phase three, where we are taking the leap into an e-commerce platform and developing our front-end technology to offer an excellent customer experience.

    • The sector is evolving in the same direction in Saudi Arabia as it is globally. With technology, the evolution in healthcare is going to accelerate for precision medicine, you're going to have a lot more result-driven healthcare.

      Technology-driven medicine is going to be a huge opportunity. Biologics will play a major role in it. Now there are more than ten factories already here. If any public-private partnerships happen, it will be to focus more on high-end biologics and vaccines and ensure we have national safety.

    • When developing our strategy, we consider ESG goals as an integral part. Today I really look at the values and culture of the new-generation millennials and Generation Z, who in another four or five years will be working. They are prioritizing environment, society, and good governance before anything else. People are worried that this new generation is living in unregulated platforms, and that they've lost their culture and values. On the contrary, they are rewriting and reprioritizing the values within the culture, getting rid of bad norms and habits that we carried along the way. What they're doing is healthy. 

      We adopted the SCI metrics approved in Davos, which are the most recent. There are about 65 metrics and 58 applied to us. We're going to incorporate them in three phases. Phase one and two will get 75% of the most basic and extended metrics, and the third phase, the last 25%, will be in 2024. This phase requires third parties to also be compliant. It requires some investment in data analytics that we don't yet have. 

      Therefore, by 2024 we will know exactly our footprint and work towards reducing it with time. We have already started working on our purpose , and a new logistics park in Riyadh that is state-of-the-art, and it's going to be all renewable energy, solar energy, water conservation. We have 12 solar power generators.  And don't forget that we are in logistics. So the day they give electric trucks are on the market, we will be the first to adopt them. We're working hard to up-skill our  people and we adopt good governance in our activities.

Omar Al Jasser

CEO of Arabian Oud

Saudi Arabian player takes global perfume world by storm

Omar Al Jasser, Group CEO, Arabian Oud, outlines his company’s journey from local storefront to international recognition for fragrances and the key ingredients required in transforming the world of perfume.

“Currently, the best-known brands in perfume are French brands. From a business perspective, we expect to turn the tables and have the biggest brands in the world in Saudi Arabia.”

Omar Al Jasser

    • Can you give us a history of how Arabian Oud grew from humble beginnings in Saudi Arabia to becoming a powerhouse in the international perfume sector?

      My father Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al Jasser founded the company in 1982 with a vision that was very much outside of the box at the time. He was the first person to open a shop outside what was once the Oud market. He was young and the older people in the industry told him he would lose his money by doing this. However, he stood by his vision and instead of failing, he built an empire. He first expanded into Riyadh and then into Jeddah. In 1991, he opened a store in Dubai, our first outside of Saudi Arabia. In 1998, he expanded to other Gulf countries and by 2000 he opened a store in London, our first in a non-Gulf country. The following year we opened a shop in Paris on the Champs Elysée. The initial goal of the London and Paris stores was to cater to Gulf customers. However, we quickly received customers from all over the world, which opened a new door for us. We saw there was an international demand for our products and our natural components. We were the first to introduce Oriental perfumes or scents to the world.

      When we opened our stores in London and Paris there was a barrier between other communities and the Saudi community. The oriental touch and our string of perfume was unknown to the outside world beforehand. However, after introducing our scents in London and Paris, other brands followed, and customers embraced the scents as a sign of luxury. We took advantage of this and began expanding our company into the world, taking into consideration different tastes in different territories and communities. His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman was quoted as saying that the Gulf area will become the next Europe, and he meant this in all aspects. Currently, the best-known brands in perfume are French brands. From a business perspective, we expect to turn the tables and have the biggest brands in the world in Saudi Arabia.

    • We have built a research and development team that follows every market and identifies new trends, and from there we create products that cater to a wide variety of tastes. We currently have a team of 13 specialists in the industry. Before sourcing any material, we build a story for each product. To do this we need to know who we are designing the product for and what we want the product to do. For example, one of our best-selling products is a perfume called Madawi, which is named after my grandmother. For this my father raised the standards to the fullest. These were a challenge to meet, and we worked on that product for three years. However, in less than one year after we put it on the market, we had already sold more than 1 million bottles of the perfume. It became our best seller.

      The most important aspect of the perfume is the story, the time we spend on it and the effort and love we put into it. What we sell is less perfume and more a unique moment. Our scents are the fingerprint you will leave behind in a room. It is amazing how much scent can influence memory. One can travel through time with the right smell, and this is how we have positioned our brand. We help our customers leave a mark on their family, their work and their life. Additionally, the opening of the box is part of what we sell. The experience does not end in the shop but continues when you take the product home and unbox it. If the product is given as a gift, the recipient will see the value of it. This is an important middle stage of the entire experience that lasts as long as you wear our perfume. We want our customers to see their personality in our ingredients and know that there is a perfume for every occasion.

    • We are very proud of our Saudi Arabian culture and heritage. This year we launched a line called Arabian Blend that tells the story of Mahnun and Layla – the Arabic Romeo and Juliette. Love moves mountains and one of our myths recounts how this happened in Saudi Arabia. The tale tells of two mountains, Tamiyah and Koton, a female and male. These two mountains were far away from each other, but they were in love. One night there was a storm, and when lightning appeared Tamiyah was able to pick herself up and walked towards Koton. When you visit the area, you will find a crater with the same white sand and perimeter, but the mountain of Tamiyah is in another place where its sand does not belong to the environment with its black stones. They say it is from volcanoes, but it has been turned into a love story.

      We brought our people to the scene, explained the story and from there translated it into a perfume. Based on Tamiyah we have a perfume indicative of a feminine, sexy and independent woman with lots of strength who goes for what she wants. Based on Koton we created a male perfume that is masculine, strong and presents itself with achievement. We wanted to translate aspects found in successful men into a perfume.

    • There are many similarities between the Saudi Arabian and American markets. Saudi Arabia is the biggest market in the Gulf, and we have different cultures and backgrounds all within the same country. We took our model and tried to represent our culture to the US market. We have found that people love our scents and the stories behind our products. They love our natural ingredients and our Arabic heritage. We have now expanded and opened stores in Texas, Washington D.C., Virginia, New York and Florida. We are looking to expand further because of the similarities between the two markets. We are comfortable in the USA, and we have been welcomed in every community we have entered and have never felt like outsiders.

      We will continue to expand. Usually, we enter markets and open stores ourselves; every branch is currently 100% owned by us. However, we want to establish a branch in every major city in the US and to do this we will launch a franchise model. We will be there to give support and ensure logistics are smooth. We feel this is the best approach for this particular market, and we are currently looking for the right partner. We are trusted as a company that makes products in Saudi Arabia and exports to everywhere in the world. Whatever you find in Saudi Arabia will meet your expectation, and I invite everyone to come and live this journey with us.

Abdulmajeed Alsukhan

Co-Founder and CEO of Tamara

Leader in fintech sets example for Saudi Arabia

Abdulmajeed Alsukhan, Co-Founder and CEO, Tamara, discusses the rapidly changing landscape of Saudi Arabia’s digital finance ecosystem and the company’s rise as a regional leader in buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) platforms.

“The proof of our success lies in the trust we now have from international players that have recognized our potential and value.”

Abdulmajeed Alsukhan

    • How has Saudi Arabia’s digital finance ecosystem developed in the last decade?

      The financial services industry in Saudi Arabia is experiencing a rapid transformation with a focus on modernizing the payments infrastructure and driving economic growth. In 2022, the country recorded an impressive 352 million real-time payment transactions with projections of reaching 1.2 billion in 2027. Traditionally, the Middle East was cash-focused and credit penetration was limited. Credit card usage in the region was relatively low and alternative payment options were needed. Trust in the BNPL option has grown rapidly, with more than 50% of consumers in the Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan region currently using BNPL platforms and 36% of merchants in the region offering BNPL options at checkout. Due to the thriving financial services industry and the country's digital transformation, there is significant international interest in the region. The impressive growth in real-time payments and the government's initiatives have positioned Saudi Arabia as an attractive market for global investors and banking institutions. Tamara, with its commitment to revolutionizing the financial landscape, is at the forefront of this high interest in the region from an international perspective.

    • Every experience we have is a steppingstone that leads us to something bigger and more impactful. My previous experience with building the online shopping and delivery service Nana exposed me to the hurdles of our e-commerce ecosystem in terms of payments and credit. These gaps in the ecosystem inspired my co-founders and I to establish Tamara. The company’s competitiveness stems from addressing significant gaps in the market and meeting the financial needs of the region's youth. Our BNPL platform appeals to the region's consumers, especially the younger generation who seek freedom and flexibility. Tamara's platform also offers a credit option that is Sharia-compliant, which is highly sought after in the region and aligns with the cultural and religious preferences of the population. Our regional success is driven by the shift in trust towards e-commerce, higher smartphone penetration, heightened investment in financial inclusion, limited access to short-term credit and a large population of young consumers. Tamara is well-positioned to capitalize on these factors and continues to drive innovation and growth in shopping, payments and banking segments in the Middle East and North African region.

      Tamara’s growth is heavily aligned Vision 2030. Revolutionizing the payment and banking landscape in the region falls under Saudi Arabia's economic transformation and diversification program. The Vision 2030 initiative emphasizes the development of a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem and the promotion of innovation in financial technology within the country. We work hand in hand with local government regulators such as the Saudi Central Bank to ensure we are aligned with national strategies and serve the best interests of our customers. The proof of our success lies in the trust we now have from international players such as, Goldman Sachs and Coatue that have recognized our potential and value. Their continued support and investment validate our growth trajectory and position as a leader in the industry.

    • Tamara takes the issue of accurate and fast risk assessment in the BNPL system very seriously. We have implemented a robust risk assessment framework that combines advanced algorithms, machine learning and data analytics to ensure responsible and seamless lending practices. Our sophisticated risk engine analyzes various factors such as customer creditworthiness, transaction history and behavioral patterns to make informed decisions when providing credit. We are committed to maintaining the highest standards to protect our customers and ensure the long-term sustainability of our business.

    • We recognize that expansion can occur in the two following ways: vertically and horizontally. Our primary focus for the next two years is to serve the significant needs of the GCC region. We aim to provide a comprehensive and seamless experience that addresses the diverse financial requirements of individuals and businesses by doubling down on our core verticals, namely shopping, payments and banking. Our goal is to become the go-to platform for all things related to these segments in the GCC region by leveraging our expertise and technology. Tamara is well-positioned to leverage the growing digital payments landscape in Saudi Arabia; the majority of payments are expected to be electronic in the coming years. The high adoption rate of mobile wallets in Saudi Arabia further amplifies Tamara's growth potential.

      Tamara's ability to become a unicorn is evidenced by its growth, scalability and record of setting new milestones in the region. However, becoming a unicorn is not our singular goal; our mission is to empower people in the region and inspire a new wave of innovation and entrepreneurship. We believe that through determination, passion and relentless pursuit of excellence anyone can create transformative change. By building a successful BNPL platform, we are not only revolutionizing the way people shop, pay and bank but also demonstrating that homegrown companies from the region can compete on the global stage.

    • The best talent spans borders. While we operate across Saudi Arabia and the GCC region, our team is global with offices in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Germany and Vietnam. Our offices in Germany and Vietnam play a crucial role in our company's development, particularly when it comes to engineering and technology. We have been able to attract top international talent from these regions and bring diverse perspectives to our team. The international talent pool has been instrumental in driving our technological advancements and enabling us to build robust and innovative solutions for our customers.

    • Our human resources policy is centered around enabling our employees to thrive and contribute to our collective success. We believe in hiring the best talent from around the world who possess exceptional skills and a drive for innovation. Once on board, we give them the trust, autonomy and space to excel in their roles. We have built a culture of collaboration where diverse perspectives are valued and encouraged. We also embrace flexibility and understand the importance of work-life harmony, especially in today's dynamic work environment. Building a high-performance environment and unleashing the full potential of our employees is what has driven Tamara's growth and success.

    • I do not believe in settling for the status quo. We all have the opportunity to drive change through our stories. My mission has always been to create movements and leave an impact by building things that outlast me. I am driven by the potential for empowering youth in our region when it comes to payments and financial freedom. Youth in Saudi Arabia and the wider Middle East represent a dynamic and tech-savvy generation that is eager to embrace new opportunities. By providing innovative pathways we can enable them to have greater access to products and services they need while also promoting responsible financial behavior.

Lateefa Al Walan

Managing Director of Endeavor Saudi

The Multiplier Effect

With the belief that high-impact entrepreneurs transform economies, Endeavor mentors and invests in innovative companies, connecting them to the global network. Managing Director Lateefa Al Walan explains the strategy behind fostering a business community that "pays it forward." - Original

“One entrepreneur can positively influence more than 600 startups through mentorship, spin-offs or angel investment.”

Lateefa Al Walan

    • Endeavor Saudi was created 10 years ago and is now a leading community of high-impact entrepreneurs.
      How would you describe the way you work?

      At Endeavor, we meticulously evaluate entrepreneurs to ensure they are at an optimal growth stage, having achieved a substantial product-market fit and have a clear path to growth. Once they join our global network, we offer tailored services and resources to foster their targeted growth.

      As a non-profit organization, Endeavor believes that cultivating a high-impact business is a marathon, not a sprint. Our unwavering commitment is to support entrepreneurs through mentorship and expert access, connecting them with peers in Silicon Valley, Latin America, and Southeast Asia via our extensive global network.

      Endeavor is a safe haven for high-impact entrepreneurs worldwide, particularly those in the tech sector who may have exhausted local resources and mentorship opportunities. We bridge the gap by providing access to global expertise and experiences, thereby empowering entrepreneurs to thrive.

      Our mission transcends merely facilitating startup growth and wealth creation. We also encourage entrepreneurs to become mentors and ecosystem supporters through Endeavor's "Pay it Forward" platform. Our board members actively support Endeavor's cause and contribute to our operations. We take pride in the diverse representation of successful Saudi entrepreneurs on our board, as we strive to foster a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem in Saudi Arabia.

      An intriguing fact to note is that in the last 5 years , we have witnessed a growing influx of global entrepreneurs seeking assistance in entering the Saudi market. This trend highlights a growing entrepreneurial migration into Saudi Arabia, showcasing the nation's increasing appeal as a hub for high-impact businesses.

    • It's crucial to distinguish between SMEs and pure entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurial companies are typically innovative, disruptive, and high-growth, whereas SMEs might simply be small businesses, such as laundromats. At Endeavor, our focus is on empowering innovative, high-impact enterprises.

      Historically, starting a business in Saudi Arabia was not an attractive endeavor. Graduates aspired to secure steady government jobs or positions at large corporations like SABIC and ARAMCO. The entrepreneurial movement in Saudi began modestly around 2005 with families encouraging their children to explore trade or business careers. At that time, around 70% of Saudis worked for the government. Today, the landscape has shifted significantly, aligning with Vision 2030's goal of diversifying away from oil and creating more non-government, non-oil-dependent jobs.

      Previously, there was no dedicated authority like Monsha'at to support SMEs. The private sector and the Chamber of Commerce drove these initiatives, but the agenda often got lost in the Ministry of Commerce. The establishment of a dedicated entity with the sole purpose of nurturing, taking action, and creating regulations for SMEs has been a driving force behind the growth we see now.

      The advent of Monsha'at and the movement towards supporting SMEs led to increased access to capital. Programs like “Kafalah” and “Saudi Venture Capital” have had a significant impact on providing capital to SMEs by facilitating and guaranteeing loans through banks. This program has also enabled more capital for female-led businesses, resulting in a dramatic increase in the number of businesses owned or co-owned by women.

      The Misk Foundation and Monsha'at have successfully shifted mindsets by launching initiatives that empower the youth to start businesses in KSA.

      Endeavor's mission, conceived a decade ago when the term "entrepreneur" was not widely known, is to develop an ecosystem that supports and scales high-impact entrepreneurs. Typically out of all registered SMEs, only 2% are high-growth, yet they account for 50-60% of the jobs created by SMEs. This is why high-impact entrepreneurship is so critical.

      In Saudi Arabia, large contributors to the ecosystem are abundant. Our focus remains on identifying high-potential entities and directing support to ensure growth, with the vision that within 10-20 years, the ecosystem will be more self-sustained and self-dependent. Entrepreneurs will no longer require donations, government assistance, or help from large businesses to access capital, investment, talent, and mentorship.

      At Endeavor, we champion the "Multiplier Effect," which emphasizes the exponential impact founders have when mentoring, investing in, and inspiring future entrepreneurs. Our CEO, Linda Rottenberg, famously said, "A unicorn that doesn't breed even more unicorns is an endangered species." Endeavor Insight's research shows that one entrepreneur can positively influence over 600 startups through mentorship, spin-offs, or angel investment.

      By supporting early groups of entrepreneurs, driving them to pay it forward, and encouraging individuals who've shared in their growth to start their own businesses, we can effectively cultivate and expand the entrepreneurial ecosystem. We are beginning to see this impact unfold in Saudi Arabia.

    • Absolutely! Let me illustrate this with the tech sector as an example, as it's often considered the birthplace of innovation. We conducted a comprehensive mapping of the Saudi tech sector over the past 25 years, comparing data from 2000 and 2021. Our map highlights the density of companies along with the magnitude of their impact, represented as bubbles. This impact was calculated based on factors such as investments, former employees launching new ventures, mentorship, and more.

      Our research uncovered a remarkable "hockey stick" growth pattern that emerged five years ago. In fact, nearly 50% of the tech companies in Saudi were established within the last five years alone. This surge in new businesses has resulted in 90% of job creation within the tech sector, driven by companies that have successfully scaled. Hence, it's not just about being innovative, but also possessing the ability to scale effectively. For our analysis, we defined scaling as the capacity to grow beyond 50 employees. This evolution demonstrates a significant shift in the business landscape of Saudi Arabia, driven by forward-thinking entrepreneurs and a thriving tech sector.

    • Definitely, we are witnessing a notable transformation in the Saudi corporate landscape, with an increasing number of skilled individuals gravitating towards startups and growing tech companies. Talented professionals are now leaving established corporations and international firms to contribute to the growth of dynamic and innovative enterprises.

      Take, for example, Ebrahim Al-Jassim, who successfully scaled HungerStation, one of the largest food delivery apps, which was eventually acquired by DeliveryHero. His executive team comprised experienced individuals from major telecom companies like Mobily and STC. The fact that these professionals willingly transitioned from prominent corporations to a burgeoning startup is both astounding and revealing. Such a career move would have been unthinkable 15 years ago.
      This shift aligns with the business models prevalent in the USA and Europe, moving away from traditional family-owned enterprises towards diverse groups of founders collaborating to grow businesses together. This progressive approach empowers the entire ecosystem, creating opportunities for everyone, regardless of their background or connections. All that truly matters is talent, ambition, and the drive to turn one's vision into reality.

    • Reflecting on my own experience when I launched "Yatooq" back in 2011-12, there were very few tech founders to learn from or relate to in the region. We had to rely on global success stories or local ones that managed to capture investors' interest.

      However, the current landscape has shifted dramatically, with increased access to capital and a growing appetite for higher-risk investments, particularly in the tech sector. Prior to 2018, one could count the number of active VCs in Saudi or the region on their fingers. Yet, with the inception of initiatives like the Saudi Venture Capital Company, a ripple effect has been created, leading to over 20 flourishing VCs in a relatively short span of time.

      The emergence of VCs in their second, third, or even fourth generation signals a maturing ecosystem, demonstrating that investing in these companies can yield tangible returns. Saudi-based funds are now closing their first cycles and initiating their second ones, making capital more accessible and enabling entrepreneurs to grow faster.

      Interestingly, when one of our entrepreneurs sought to raise capital, international investors were hesitant to invest until a local investor showed faith in the venture. After two years of pitching to international investors, it was a local investor who finally wrote the check, subsequently attracting international investment as well. This highlights the increasing confidence in and support of the local entrepreneurial ecosystem.

    • The private sector undoubtedly has a crucial role to play in achieving Vision 2030's objectives, particularly through close collaboration with regulators to unlock potential in areas that may otherwise face restrictions. Innovative approaches can thrive in such an environment, as evidenced by the fintech sector and the sandbox initiative introduced by the Saudi central bank (SAMA). This collaboration between SAMA and the Saudi Capital Market Authority has enabled the growth of numerous fintech companies – from none to an impressive 150, with a goal of reaching 500 by 2025.

      An interesting insight from our fintech and tech studies is that large corporations can act as breeding grounds for exceptional tech entrepreneurs, further emphasizing their role in Vision 2030. Major companies like Aramco and STC have already produced a number of successful tech entrepreneurs. By fostering innovation and supporting the growth of new ventures, the private sector can effectively contribute to the realization of Vision 2030's goals and help shape a more diverse and dynamic economy in Saudi Arabia.

    • It's true that the vast potential of the Saudi market often leads us to advise entrepreneurs to concentrate on capturing local opportunities first. However, as the ecosystem advances and more unicorns emerge, we expect to see the rise of what we call "global native companies." For instance, one of the entrepreneurs we're supporting from the very beginning is focused on building a global business – their mindset, solution design, and technology are all tailored for the international stage, as opposed to merely addressing local needs.

      That being said, we are still in the early stages of this transition. As investors and VCs mature and accumulate experience, we anticipate increased capital flow and greater interconnectivity between markets. This evolution will undoubtedly pave the way for Saudi companies to expand their reach and compete effectively in Western markets, including the US.