What are your strategic priorities for the medium-term?
SEDCO's strategic priorities for the medium-term, namely education, hospitality, and healthcare, are perfectly in line with Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Program, which have provided a clear roadmap to transform the economy from being heavily dependent on government spending and oil to one based more on the private sector and less dependent on hydrocarbon. Habits are changing, and the young are much more equipped to take advantage of this. Since Saudi Arabia has a rather young population, we expect this transformation to move at a faster pace. The whole market will witness different speeds and different needs.
What business opportunities does the hospitality sector offer?
One of the main pillars of Vision 2030 is to grow the number of Umrah and Hajj pilgrims from 8 to 30 million by 2030. There are a number of initiatives in this regard, and we have picked up where we see exciting trends and businesses we can build on. Hajj and Umrah services, hospitality, and F&B cater to the same offering. At the same time, non-religious tourism is an area that is becoming increasingly exciting and with promising growth potential. The example set by Al-Ula city showcases the potential this country has to offer. Abha and the Assir region, with their beautiful nature, nice weather, and multiple topographies, are two areas with immense potential.
How can Saudi Arabia's economy strike a balance between the growth of SMEs and its consolidation across different sectors?
There is significant focus on SMEs, and, although the market usually creates its own balance, it is our duty to prepare youth for the future. In order to do so, we need to identify what the opportunities are, simplify them, and give training and budgets to address them. This way, young entrepreneurs can start their own businesses, while bigger groups monitor them until they can take off. Monsha'at and other government agencies have been developing strong programs to facilitate and fund SMEs; however, it would be great if a bureau was set up to help entrepreneurs use these programs.
What is your assessment of the price adjustment witnessed by the real estate market in Saudi Arabia in recent years?
Even if prices have been rightly reduced, the Saudi real estate sector offers opportunities. In the long term, it is important to create affordability and sustainability for families and individuals by setting realistic prices. Once the market really stabilizes, it will flourish, and a new balance will be created. In the past, it used to be about a big piece of land and a big house, but now the conversation is more about convenience, practicality, affordability, and sustainability.
What major opportunities lie within the different financial asset classes?
As a sharia-compliant investment group, we are in multiple asset classes: listed equities, private equity, sukuks, and real estate. We avoid projects and companies that adopt excessive leverage, as we want the financing to be structured in a way that builds long-term businesses. Already there is a lot of excitement about the upgrade of Tadawul, and since the beginning of the year, SAR6 billion has been invested into the market. More investments will follow with the inclusion process, especially from passive emerging market funds; the Saudi market will ultimately represent 2.4% of the assets in the emerging market index.
What is your approach with regards to the healthcare sector?
SEDCO Holding is active in the pharmaceutical sector and is one of the major shareholders in one of the leading hospital chains in Egypt. We are also looking to get involved in rehabilitation centers, specialized centers, and primary and secondary care.