AN EMPIRE BUILT FROM SCRATCH

Saudi Arabia 2018-19 | TRANSPORT & AVIATION | INTERVIEW

SGS is embracing the competition and positioning itself as an all-inclusive services company and a go-to choice for all airports in Saudi Arabia.

Omar Najjar
BIOGRAPHY
A long and extensive global career in business transformation led Omar Najjar to head Saudi Ground Services in September 2017 as its CEO. Joining Unilever in 2001 was an important period in his career as it provided the chance to lead critical parts of the HR function in the GCC, Yemen, and Iran. After much success, he was appointed Regional Director for Africa, Middle East, and Turkey. Prior to joining SGS, he joined Cristal in 2010 and led the company through its unique transformation journey from a local operator into a global industry leader. Today, Cristal is the second-largest producer of TiO2 in the world.

What are some of the highlights of the past year for SGS?

For SGS, 2017 was a special year. We began an extremely ambitious transformation plan to achieve certain KPIs. We have revamped our entire strategy in a process that involved all stakeholders. Today, we are present in 27 airports in the Kingdom and want to have a presence in every new airport. We are working to expand beyond the definition of ground handling to become a services company that provides ground handling, ticketing, passenger services, hotel transfers, and related hospitality services. In the past year, SGS' on-time performance has improved by more than 26% while customer complaints fell by 24%.

How has the recent liberalization of the industry affected your business?

Living without standards or competitors leads to inefficient operations. Competition brings greater vitality to the sector and gives us the energy to enhance our operations, standards, and perspectives. While prices have fallen across the industry, we are not a price-driven organization, and if someone seeks a service based solely on price, then they will not approach us. We provide an integrated service from A to Z, which includes managing the difficult environment. We offer firms the ability to maximize operations across a wide variety of areas. Our clients require experienced account providers, and, as market leaders, this is the role we play. We are an agent that allows our clients, such as airlines, to maximize the efficiency of their operations. Our competitors, on the other hand, undercut our prices by offering more restricted services.

Do you expect to benefit from the new airport in Jeddah, and how do you plan to capitalize on this project?

We are eagerly anticipating the airport's impending opening. We did a great deal of work to partner with the airport authority and airlines to make sure we are responsive in this new environment. We want to deliver comparable or even superior levels of service in this new airport. Another element has been determining how we can maximize our own operations and revenue in this new space. There will be fewer buses in the new airport, for example, which is a service that generates significant revenue at the current airport. However, we will expand our special needs services in the new airport, which will tie into the increased number of Hajj and Umrah visitors. On that subject, we have launched a concept called Road to Mecca to assist religious visitors who often get stuck in Jeddah; our aim is to minimize the traffic in Jeddah by transporting passengers directly to Mecca. For example, we are building a luggage center in Mecca so passengers do not have to check in at Jeddah Airport. In combination with the opening of the new Jeddah Airport, all this will make the growth in the number of pilgrim visitors smooth and easy.

What are your expectations for the market in 2018?

2018 will be defined by a great deal of transformation. Transformation on a company level begins with close analysis of financial statements with an eye on maximizing operations. In many transformations, the first year of change is the worst in terms of financial results. After the first year, the financial results fall in line with expectations. Technology is a vital enabler of this business, and we must work to ensure that we position ourselves in a way that maximizes our current and future prospects. This year, we want to collaborate and share information with the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) and various other stakeholders. Another key pillar is people; we hired our first female employee in December 2017 and aim to have 500 women working by end-2018. This is all part of rebuilding the company in line with our KPIs and objectives, which have been shaped by the larger reform agenda at work in the Kingdom.