Smarter budgets to suit current trends urged

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Updated 26 January 2016
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Smarter budgets to suit current trends urged

RIYADH: The world should become smarter in financing and preserving budgets of governments and companies budgets amid the lowering trend of oil prices, says a top corporate head.

What also needs to focus on is in developing of skills to control energy assets through immediate solutions that consider future costs, diagnosing and forecasting the assets and correcting future dealing with them, John Rice, vice chairman at General Electric Co., said during a panel session on the final day of the 9th Global Competitiveness Forum (GCF) in Riyadh on Tuesday.
The session on the "Revolutions of energy: New opportunities toward a sustainable future" had panelists, including David Welch, president, Europe, Africa, Middle East Region and senior vice president for Bechtel; Frederic Abbal, executive vice president, energy business the Middle East and Africa operation of Schneider Electric; and Omar Al-Madhi, senior managing director for investments in Abdul Latif Jameel Ventures.
He pointed out that four new points are essential to achieve energy sustainability and noted that a lot remains to be done to secure development and energy sustainability, which he described as an objective of every country that looks for the prosperity of its people.
Besides financing and preserving budgets of governments and companies, Rice underscored the importance of creating an organizational and legal environment, availing smart legislations to match with the market, facilitating the attraction of investment and finance, assisting investors for long periods through clearness and transparency, and drawing a legal framework to facilitate economic growth and privatization.
Rice stressed the importance of human resources, citing that his company has partnerships with giant Saudi companies like Saudi Aramco and Saudi Electricity Company to provide training and modern education for the youngsters, particularly in the personnel area.
He also underscored the importance of flowing economic data between the private sector and government in its capacity as one way of energy sustainability for the sake of merger of companies and support of privatization of some sectors and government services.
Speaking at another session on "Entrepreneurship: Fostering an ecosystem for digital startups," Mark Crowell, deputy head of innovation and economic development at King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST), called for the support of research centers of Saudi universities specialized in promoting new business ideas, and poised to upgrade their skills and assist them to reach their goals through scientific ways.
He stressed the importance of increasing aspects of cooperation to solve the processes oriented to augment research in promising fields, noting that the Kingdom is offering its youths and business pioneers to take part in government projects infrastructure and development.
Director of Competitiveness and Projects Development at Parson Global Foundation Shankar Singham said the basic concept of index change focuses on raising the free trade edge and further organizing it to liberate many products. He noted that the Kingdom has made great strides in this regard and that ways of reaching highly competitiveness-associated capital were discussed.
He drew the attention to the importance of lowering of energy and communication products prices, particularly in view of the current fierce competitiveness witnessed by these sectors, adding that encouraging the youths to adopt pioneering ideas in the high-and-profit-taking service sectors is critically required in the current time.
Singham said contribution rather than privatization is important to give the competitiveness a chance as is the situation everywhere in the world. On the other hand, he added: “We should be able to practice free investment.” The environmental system should work in a good way and it is possible that we could find youths who practice their innovative ideas outside the traditional boundaries amid the challenges the Kingdom is facing in view of oil falling prices.
Head of MAT Forum for the Arab World projects Hala Fadhel said that the competitiveness forum has adopted as priority the pioneering mentality and openness freedom to think in a different way to innovate in the field of new smart projects, underscoring the importance of building bridges between business pioneers and government bodies to allow them contact with each other and overcome difficulties.


INTERVIEW: Sam Darwish, Group CEO at IHS Towers - the accidental engineer who found his calling

Updated 25 May 2019
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INTERVIEW: Sam Darwish, Group CEO at IHS Towers - the accidental engineer who found his calling

  • The CEO has made it big in telecoms, in a career shaped early on by Lebanon’s bloody civil war

For some, student survival means merely coasting along at university in the hope of bagging a 2.1, as well as invites to as many parties as possible.

For telecoms executive Sam Darwish, however, survival took on a more literal sense, having embarked on his studies in the dying days of the Lebanese civil war.

Teenage life was tough for Darwish, who is now 47 and a US citizen. Growing up in Beirut in the 1980s meant a constant backdrop of violence —  “there were many wounded,” he said — plus the daily struggles of putting food on the table and regular electricity blackouts.

But it was this experience that taught Darwish a certain “pragmatism” that he continues to put to use today as chief executive of telecoms company IHS Towers, which has to date raised more than $5.5 billion in funding.

Sitting in the IHS office in London’s plush Mayfair district, Darwish recounted how, when he was a student, his father would give him a small sum of money each day. He could either use it to take public transport to the American University of Beirut campus — or buy lunch, and risk the walk through the war-torn streets.

“Decisions like that make you pragmatic. It makes you solution-orientated. It makes you appreciate what the basics in life are,” said Darwish.

“You need just to survive. You need to find a solution. Electricity would disappear for a few days, then people started charging their batteries in their cars, and at the end of the day remove the battery to put on a light or small TV,” he added.

“It taught me to not take anything for granted. You needed to think and rethink every little thing that exists.”

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BIO

SAM DARWISH

•47 years old

•US citizen, grew up in Lebanon

•Married, three children based in US

EDUCATION

•Bachelor’s engineering degree in computer communications, American University of Beirut

CAREER

•Network chief engineer, Libancell, Lebanon

•Vice chairman, director of projects, Lintel

•Deputy managing director, CELIA Motophone, Nigeria

•Co-founder, IHS Towers

OTHER INTERESTS

•Founder, Singularity Investments

•Founder, DAR Properties

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This practical attention to detail — along with an awareness of the importance of finance, power and security — are very much required in Darwish’s role today.

IHS Towers’ business model is relatively straightforward: The company buys mobile towers from telecoms companies, or builds them itself, then leases them back to the operators.

Darwish co-founded the company in Nigeria in 2001, and it now has operations in Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Rwanda and Zambia.

Renting out mobile communications towers is hardly the most glamorous of businesses — it is “simple and low profile, we don’t make it flashy,” he said — but the economics stack up.

Selling mobile towers allows telecoms companies to free up cash, while companies such as IHS can rent space on the masts to multiple carriers, which is more efficient. It is a model that Darwish believes the entire industry will one day embrace.

“When (a single operator) owns a tower, often it’s not optimized in terms of the revenue that that tower can get,” he said.

“They end up with hundreds of millions, sometimes billions of dollars on their balance sheet (with) towers (that are) inefficient, and simply depreciating. Sharing means more efficiency, and more margin for everyone.”

There is also a certain advantage to dealing with purely “basic” infrastructure, given the global furor about the security of telecoms networks.

IHS deals with the actual steel masts, rather than the more sensitive communications kit or software they house.

For that reason, it does not face as much scrutiny as a company such as Huawei, the Chinese equipment firm that the US believes poses a security risk.

“There’s a big difference between us and what Huawei does. We’re providers of passive infrastructure,” said Darwish.

“Our towers are simple towers … It’s a location, it’s a tower, it’s power, it’s security —  that’s what we provide,” he added.

“But at the end of the day, we’re also part of critical infrastructure for countries … So there’s always the aspect of ‘who are these guys, who are their shareholders, what’s their track record, what’s their governance like?’”

That is partly why Darwish runs IHS as if it was a “a public company by Western standards.” The company’s governance is “very strict,” and its high-profile shareholders include Goldman Sachs (through a special fund), the Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC, the Korea Investment Corp. and IFC, the private equity arm of the World Bank.

At the end of the day, we’re part of a critical infrastructure for countries.

Sam Darwish

Such backing — Darwish said IHS has raised between $5.5 billion and $6 billion of capital since it was formed —  and governance standards bode well for a potential initial public offering (IPO) of IHS.

The company last year shelved such a plan, but Darwish said it is thinking about “moving ahead” with plans for a listing in New York or London.

“There are hundreds of thousands of towers out there that could be bought, or built, over the next few years … That’s why a potential listing is important to us at some point in time,” he said.

Such a move would potentially expedite the company’s expansion in areas such as the Arabian Gulf, which is currently its “main focus.”

IHS has already struck regional agreements to buy towers from telecoms operators Zain Kuwait and Zain KSA.

Upon completion of those two deals — which are still subject to regulatory approval — the Mauritius-headquartered IHS will have approximately 33,100 towers in its portfolio. It is currently the world’s second-largest independent, multi-country tower operator.

Darwish said Saudi Arabia is “where we’d like to grow,” with IHS recently having obtained a foreign investment license from the General Investment Authority, with plans for an office staffed by 100-200 people.

He cited the economic reforms underway, which include weaning Saudi Arabia off its reliance on oil and encouraging more women into the workplace.

“The Kingdom is going through a transformation now. This transformation is fascinating, and it’s something that needs to be watched very carefully,” he said.

“They’re using this cash they have now to start planning, and start transforming — theaters, entertainment, industries, manufacturing, all these massive investments they’re doing.”

Whilst inhabiting an industry that lacks a certain glam factor, there is something of the “Davos man” about Darwish.

Dressed casually in a designer jacket in his Mayfair office, he explained some of his interests that run parallel to IHS.

He is the founder of Singularity Investments, a private investment firm with a focus on technology and media companies in the US and emerging markets, along with DAR Properties, a property investment company.

Darwish also has a strong interest in corporate social responsibility, having supported incubator programs for aspiring tech entrepreneurs in Lagos, served as a mentor to local business executives, and worked on several health and education projects in Africa.

His personal passion, however, is the IHS Academy, launched one and a half years ago, which offers online education in the field and has seen some 40,000 course completions.

“The training for me is the single most important thing I can give, and it helps us at the end of the day,” said Darwish.

“I personally believe in the power of education — that’s what transformed my life. My father worked three shifts to basically make sure we stayed in the best private schools … He believed in what education can do in transforming lives.”

Darwish’s own studies in Beirut, however, nearly took a different turn. Though he graduated as an engineer in computer communications with “the highest distinction” — setting him out on a 20-year career in telecoms — it was never the path he envisaged.

“I wanted to be a Nobel Prize physicist. (But the university) dean called me, and he was like, ‘no — we need you in engineering’,” Darwish said. “It was just by accident that I became an engineer, but it paid off.”