How has your emphasis on corporate governance—from family-owned to a holding company—translated into success for SEDCO Holding Group?
Our corporate governance journey is a long one. I hear about many companies that want to go into corporate governance and separate ownership from management, however, it is not done in a day. For us, it has taken over 15 years, starting with a decisive directive from the owners of the company. We see many companies that are family businesses where the owner wants to separate ownership from management, but for one reason or another, they do not. They might have a non-family CEO, but these CEOs have no real power. It has taken us some time, but by looking for the best personnel in the market, we have made that transition. For example, if you look at the board of the holding company, it has eight members, three of which are from the family, but five are not, with some even from outside Saudi Arabia. This is a powerful message that states they all have equal voting power. The outside directors can out-vote the family members, because egalitarianism is critical. I am the fourth non-family CEO. Like I said, this journey has been ongoing for some time, and it underscores how much we have transitioned from a family business to a conglomerate with strong corporate governance, a board, subsidiaries, and companies that report to the board, among other organizational structures. In my previous job, I worked at a bank and I used to deal with many family businesses in Saudi. I was surprised when I moved to SEDCO and found a strong corporate governance model put in place by the owners and not the regulators. We do not have outside directors imposed upon us; we make such decisions internally with every decision maker's consent.
What are some sectors that you are looking to grow into in Saudi Arabia?
We are looking to diversify and expand in two ways through horizontal and vertical integration. From the vertical point of view, we have a number of existing companies that are trying to grow and expand their business. For example, in our F&B business Tarfeeh, we are opening more restaurants, and growing the number of brands in our portfolio. Another example from our hospitality business is Elaf Group, where we are building new hotels and expanding the portfolio of 3, 4 and 5 star hotels. In terms of horizontal growth, we have several businesses in different sectors, so we are looking at how we can utilize the synergies between these companies to grow and service the group and then expand externally.
How do you see the Saudi economy developing over the next five years?
If you look at the population of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, we are the largest and we have a young population. In other words, we have strong consumption power and our GDP growth is healthy. The economy has strong foreign currency reserves, and even if the oil prices are low, we can still tap into the reserves. Besides, there are many important projects currently underway in the Kingdom. For instance, the religious tourism & hospitality sectors, which are inter-linked, are revenue generating and job creating on their own. Also, Saudi has opened its stock market to foreign investors as of June 2015. All matters considered, the economic outlook of Saudi Arabia is inspiring.