Saudi Arabia 2017 | AVIATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Walid Abukhaled, CEO of Northrop Grumman, on youth-focused initiatives, partnerships with ministries, and technology procurement.

Walid Abukhaled
Walid Abukhaled was appointed to his current position in January 2016. Abukhaled has served as Deputy Minister for Industrial Affairs at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. He was also CEO and President at General Electric in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. He has over 20 years of experience and has held many senior level positions, responsible for developing strategies for growth and identifying new business opportunities in various industrial activities. He serves on several boards, including as Board Director for Advance Electrics Company, International Systems Engineering, and Saudi Development & Training Company.

To what extent has the company sought to build a lasting footprint in the Kingdom?

We are here for the long term. We enjoyed more than four decades in the Kingdom and plan to continue with our commitments. We are now focusing on developing the youth of Saudi Arabia to be the future business leaders dealing with the most sophisticated technology. For example, we work with universities on cyber security and have annual competitions related to cyber security. Last year, the competition was presented by the Chief of Staff of the Ministry of Defense (MoD) and the winners were immediately recruited by various companies. The most challenging part is building a pipeline of capable Saudis who can be the future business leaders in the high-tech area. Interestingly, last year the winners on all three days were all female, and this sent us signals that this is an area we should focus on and look at female empowerment in terms of enhancing their cyber capabilities.

To what extent does this fit into Vision 2030?

This absolutely aligns with Saudi Vision 2030. We transfer knowledge and work with the youth. We also have other programs where we send Saudi students to the US to work with high-tech start-up companies. They get involved in everything, from human resources to design and R&D; they learn about all aspects of the business, from technology to investment. At the same time, we seek a great deal of initiatives where we can transfer our own technology to the Kingdom to not only serve Saudi Arabia, but also in the long-term export to the region.

How much of your business is divided with the MoD and how much goes into training and nurturing the new generation?

We have a great history in the Kingdom; however, as a corporate office we started in January 2014. We did not have large B2B deals yet as we worked with universities and other institutions to transfer knowledge and technology. As we grow and win more business, that amount of work will be multiplied by a large factor. Now there are more opportunities, and an important element of every opportunity is related to localization and industrialization. We do not only deal with the MoD, we also deal with the Ministry of National Guard and our products and capabilities go to the Ministry of Interior. We have two joint ventures in Saudi Arabia. Most of the work is done with the Ministry of National Guard by one of our joint venture called “Vinnell Arabia" and the other is called Northrop Grumman Mission Systems Arabia. Most of the work with the latter is related to strategic site protection with Aramco.

Is Saudi Arabia diversifying its defense mix more and more to deal with other countries?

Saudi Arabia has always held a position of diversifying its procurement. A large majority of that procurement was with the US, due to the fact that the US is undoubtedly the most advanced country in the world when it comes to defense technology. It has the most advanced working system, the most advanced defense system, and so on. When it comes to the amount of money it spends on R&D, no one compares. That is why we are extremely positive that defense trade with the US will remain the highest. From Northrop Grumman's perspective, regardless of the rapid political changes happening both in the US and the Middle East, we are absolutely confident the alliance between Saudi Arabia and the US will remain strong, and that we will continue to support each other in security and defense matters for many years to come.