SAUDI ARABIA - Energy & Mining
Acting President, Al Bawani Water and Power (AWP)
With over 20 years of industry experience, Helena De Flaviis has an extensive track record of new enterprises and joint ventures establishment, businesses origination and growth, including M&A, complex commercial transactions & negotiations, and leading the development/implementation of business growth strategies and of complex business transformation and reorganization/corporatization programs. She worked across diverse regions including Latin America, UK, Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa, with a key focus on the development of infrastructure across the supply chain, including financing, construction, advisory services and O&M, and on the implementation of robust governance frameworks. Currently the group chief strategist and board member at Al Bawani Holding, Helena provides leadership, guidance and support to the group and its subsidiaries on an exciting transformation and expansion program, which include new ventures across Oil & Gas (including hydrogen), Mining, Asset Management and Infrastructure development, through acquisitions and partnerships. She has also been leading the group corporate reorganization, including the implementation of a robust governance framework in preparation for a public listing. As Acting President of AWP, her remit is to position the organisation for accelerated but sustainable growth and to turn the entity into a truly Saudi champion in the water and power sectors. Prior posts include head of corporate development at Khatib & Alami, leading a global reorganization and transformation program and establishing new businesses such as an infrastructure finance advisory arm; strategic growth and infrastructure finance executive positions across global firms like Serco, Brookfield, KPMG and Braus; and a number of board and audit & risk committee positions in infrastructure development companies.
Helena De Flaviis, Acting President of Al Bawani Water and Power (AWP), talks to TBY about Vision 2030, new ventures abroad, and priorities for the coming year.
Could you outline AWP’s mandate?
Helena De Flaviis: Al Bawani Water and Power is one of the subsidiaries of Al Bawani Holding, focused on the development, investment, construction, and operation of water & environment and energy-related projects. We currently have an investment in the largest desalination plant in Saudi Arabia and the largest globally which was procured as a Public Private Partnership (PPP). We also provide services to a number of clients that support the delivery of Vision 2030, including the Public Investment Fund and other government entities.
What is your assessment of AWP’s achievements in the past year?
Helena De Flaviis: It was a difficult last couple of years in terms of challenges, especially in relation to resources, manpower, and supply chain in order for us to deliver our projects. We felt the impact and effects of Covid across the supply chain as factories were not producing as much. More recently, we have experienced volatility in prices as a result of the combination of shortages due to the geo-political situation and subsequent inflation. These external factors outside of our control mean we are hyper-vigilant about our supply chain so that we are able to deliver to our clients. Identifying alternatives can be challenging, in terms of finding the right suppliers that meet our requirements of quality, price, and timeline delivery. Fortunately, we have developed a very positive relationship across the supply chain leveraging the longevity and market reputation of our sister company, Al Bawani Construction Company, ABCC. In terms of achievements, we have positioned ourselves well for growth including entering into a series of strategic partnerships and finalizing key acquisition that will support in our current aspirations in the market.
How are you employing technology at AWP to improve your services?
Helena De Flaviis: There are two different aspects of how we are deploying technology. We have an internal digitalization program across a number of our subsidiaries, mainly focused on internal operational efficiencies. And we have set up an innovation hub to assess the deployment of technology and innovation across our subsidiaries, involving multi-disciplinary teams across our companies and, as needed, engaging external consultants. We regularly participate in trade missions between Saudi Arabia and other countries as promoted by the Ministry of Investment, MISA, which rely on the exchange of ideas and innovation. Among them, we are currently assessing a pipeline of technological advancements from French, Finnish, and Dutch companies. One of the objectives of the innovation hub is to introduce new technologies to Saudi Arabia, adapting them to our unique environment in terms of weather, heat, and arid conditions.
What specific strategies has AWP launched to align itself with Vision 2030, and how will these support the expansion of AWP in the Kingdom?
Helena De Flaviis: AWP naturally aligns with Vision 2030 by being a company whose business represents the diversification away from an oil-based economy. We build on this by working with key government bodies: the Ministry of Environment, Water, and Agriculture (MEWA) and their entities including the Saudi Water Partnership Company (SWPC) which has the mandate to procure PPP projects in the sector, the National Water Company (NWC) and Saudi Water (Saline Water Conversion Corporation) which procure and deliver their own projects across the construction and operations of desalination, treatment and transmission/pipeline projects; the Ministry of Energy, especially the entities involved with renewable programs; and the Public Investment Fund and entities such as Aramco, MISK Foundation and various royal commissions, which are key clients for us. We identify their needs and execute a bespoke solution. MEWA, for example, has a well-defined seven-year strategic plan. First, we understand their challenges in terms of bringing environmental services to the Kingdom, and then we map out all the projects which we can provide support for, preparing ourselves to ensure that we have the right capability, the right partners, the right people, resourcing strategy, and the technology to secure those projects. As an example, SWPC has a large program of water transmission line projects coming to the market. In order to strengthen our capabilities and add to our expertise, we have recently acquired the Saudi arm of a Dutch pipeline company, a-Hak, which will prepare the business for projects such as SWPC’s as well as others in the market like Aramco and SWCC. Thus illustrating our process of assessing the strategic objectives of our clients, looking at the next layer and how we can best prepare ourselves to secure projects and successfully deliver them.
Could you elaborate on AWP’s ambitions to go abroad and engage in new ventures?
Helena De Flaviis: Although our key focus is in Saudi Arabia, AWP is aligned with the Kingdom in terms of international expansion. Saudi has set up a committee focused on some CIS countries, such as Uzbekistan. There is a task force, in which we are represented, that is entering the country with the support of the Islamic Development Bank. The relationship is G2G, but is positioned to cascade down and enable B2B opportunities. In preparation for such expansion we have recently invested in setting up an office in Uzbekistan, with additional details forthcoming next year.
What specific projects are you targeting in the following 12 months regarding power?
Helena De Flaviis: For the upcoming twelve months, we are targeting a wind power project in Yanbu which is under the Ministry of Energy’s portfolio, through partnerships with Europeans and local players, where we plan to also invest equity. We are exploring waste-to-energy programs under SIRC, PIF’s Saudi Investment Recycling Company, again through partnerships with international companies in order to bring the right capability to the Kingdom. This falls under a wider waste management strategy we are developing under AWP. Two new areas for us is a potential participation on the Kingdom’s nuclear energy program leveraging our sister company ABCC’s unique experience in building healthcare nuclear plants. And lastly we have started the development of our green hydrogen strategy and how it fits in with the Ministry of Energy and wider Kingdom’s program.
Looking ahead into 2022, what are your strategic priorities for the following year?
Helena De Flaviis: As a relatively new organization, established in 2018, our strategic priorities are ambitious! We aim to become a local Saudi champion in our sector. Our journey is mired by tremendous competition, which is very capable, however we believe this is good for the sector to keep companies accountable and innovative. We have built AWP on a strong foundation enveloping sustainability and local talent in our core operations that will position us as a truly local company focused on those two sectors. We are a partner of choice in our construction vertical, and we aim to earn this accolade for AWP too. We are constantly exploring strategic partnerships and acquisitions that will support our desired status to become a leader in the Saudi market. Our motto has always been steady and sustainable growth, without losing sight of our parent company’s ethos of being a fair organization with our employees, suppliers and clients.
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