STUART D’SOUZA

Saudi Arabia 2021 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Stuart D'Souza, CEO of AEI.

Stuart D’Souza
BIOGRAPHY

Stuart D'Souza has spent the last 15 years living and working in Saudi Arabia, building a unique understanding of the complex and challenging marketplace. In 2013, he co-founded AEI, a consulting and support services business, and serves as the CEO. His background as a senior commercial and procurement practitioner in the defense and security sector for both global prime contractors and a local partner entity has been an ideal foundation on which to build the business.

Can you give an overview of your services and how they were used during this difficult past year?

We are a Saudi management consulting and support services business. The twin tracks of the business are basically flying the flag for Saudi as a place to do business, for exporters to enter, establish, and expand in, and the other track is management consulting. It is heavily focused on advisory services and helping companies with regulatory compliance, market research, finding partners, due diligence, setting up entities and all of the planning and research that might be needed to enter the Saudi market.

How did the pandemic affect your clients and operations, and how did you deal with the situation?

2020 was a truly surprising year, and AEI's sales grew by 20%. Most of the growth came from our excellent 4Q2019. Overall, in 2020 our sales hit around SAR75 million. We are a people business and yet we grew by 20% despite not being able to deploy people, no flights, closed airspace, and no visas, so that growth really came from our bedrock business. The most important thing for us was to stick to our values, particularly with regard to how we treat our employees. We did not reduce wages or terminate staff and even paid those staff stranded overseas. We did face the loss of some new contracts that had been awarded in 1Q2020 for delivery in 2021, particularly those connected with events. We did find that our clients were relying on us for other things. In the first lockdown, there was so little information about what was going on and so much uncertainty that we found ourselves in the position of being somewhat of a hub for information sharing and discussion.

What do you see in 2021, and what are your ambitions for the coming year?

We were hoping things would be slightly easier from a COVID-19 restrictions perspective, particularly with regards to flights and getting people into Saudi and on the ground delivering. That has slowed down slightly, and we are not quite where we thought we would be two weeks before Ramadan; however, it is not a disaster. Our mantra, to sum up last year, was delay rather than disaster. We are still seeing some delays, carrying the aftermath of the first wave of COVID-19 into 2021. We are seeing a massive increase in demand for businesses looking to establish an entity in Saudi. ✖