The next stop of our journey will be Saudi Arabia. As temperatures climb to 50 degrees in August, we move from one air-conditioned place to another; Saudi Arabia is often referred to as “the Land of the Two Holy Mosques” in reference to Mecca. Saudi Arabia seems to be a mystical oven. It is also called "the Land of the Two Holy Mosques" in reference to Mecca and Medina, the two holiest places in Islam, is the largest Arab state in Western Asia by land area and the second-largest in the Arab world after Algeria.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was founded by King Abdulaziz Al-Saud in 1932. The population of Saudi Arabia is estimated to be 28 million, including 6 million expats. Saudi Arabia has the world's second largest oil reserves. We meet perfect in Jeddah on the coastline, some 80 km west of Mecca.
What are your personal secrets to leading a team?
There are no big secrets at all. To lead a multicultural team consisting of more than 20 different nationalities, each with their own cultural and behavioral norms requires a huge portion of diplomacy with the emphasis on efficiency and speed in taking decisions. And on top of this, appreciating, recognizing and challenging the team every day, encouraging members to stand up and themselves lead.
The economy of Saudi Arabia is the largest in the Arab world. What is your personal forecast for the region?
The economic outlook for Saudi Arabia remains favorable. Growth above 4 percent is expected in the coming years, led by government spending and robust private sector activity. The government is undertaking an ambitious economic reform and investment program to further develop and diversify the economy and create jobs, with significant progress being made.
The program is focused on further developing infrastructure, improving the business environment, increasing the quality of education and skills, and employing more Saudi nationals in the private sector. Just recently, the Saudi economy was given the thumbs up by the IMF, so it seems we have some good times ahead of us.
How about the construction market? Where does the region need Sika most?
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the biggest building and construction market in the Middle East, valued at billions of dollars thanks to sustained and annually increasing government spending as well as huge private sector investments. Rapid population growth contributes to driving the Saudi government to create more vital facilities such as housing, hospitals and medical centers, schools and universities. So basically we can say that Sika would be needed everywhere.
Are there any extraordinary Sika projects you would like to tell us about?
To mention just a few: The USD 22.5 billion Riyadh metro project for the construction of a six-line 176.7 km automated metro network in the capital city. It will be the backbone of the city's public transport system. Work on the Riyadh metro project has just begun. The Sika specification team joined the project in 2012 and has now started delivering the first supplies.
KAPSARC - the USD 543 million King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center designed by Zaha Hadid Architects. This project takes a holistic approach, unifying architecture and engineering, landscape and building artistic expression, as well as environmental responsive design. It is intended not only to be a leading research facility, but also a LEED Platinum certified building upon its completion. Sika supplied the vapor control membrane system for the façades and the Sika® Terrazzo system for the flooring.
Where is Sika Saudi Arabia heading?
Sika Saudi Arabia has been present in the Saudi market for a relatively short time compared with our counterparts. Our factory opened only recently in 2011, the sales team is young and we still need to hire new salesmen. Not long ago we strengthened our positions in Riyadh and the Eastern Province, we are investing in new showrooms and warehouses to increase our market reach and to ensure the availability of Sika products.
Through all these activities we are continually convincing the market and our customers of our technical competence and the reliability of our supply chain, building awareness of the Sika brand and our reputation to translate into solid market share gains.
Our target is to continue growing our construction business in a sustainably profitable way and to become a strong player and preferred solution provider in the Saudi market, on the back of a reliable supply chain, technical know-how and competency. It is a very challenging goal but I am convinced that with the right team such as Sika Saudi Arabia is today, this mission is possible and doable.
What are the best things about living in KSA? And what could you do without?
Saudi Arabia is considered a collectivistic society. Loyalty in a collectivist culture is paramount, and overrides most other societal rules and regulations. Society fosters strong relationships where everyone takes responsibility for fellow members of their group. So the best things about living in Saudi Arabia are fellowship, hospitality, a pro-family society and, for me personally, the chance for a little bit of traveling and tourism. Saudi Arabia offers spectacular scenery when you venture out into the deserts, or the beaches along the coast of the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea.
And what could I do without? Well, there are some cultural aspects which seem quite unusual at first, such as women being required to wear an abaya [a robe-like dress] in public and not being allowed to drive, but as expats we are obliged to respect and observe local traditions and social codes.
What do you personally wish your country for the future?
Rapid formulation and implementation of social schemes and economic projects to transform the Kingdom into a major socio-economic hub in the Middle East.