PROFILE: Lubna Al-Olayan looking to shatter glass ceilings as head of merged SABB, Alawwal bank

PROFILE: Lubna Al-Olayan looking to shatter glass ceilings as head of merged SABB, Alawwal bank
Saudi businesswoman Lubna Al-Olayan is to be the first woman in her country to run a publicly traded bank. (Shutterstock)
Updated 05 October 2018

PROFILE: Lubna Al-Olayan looking to shatter glass ceilings as head of merged SABB, Alawwal bank

PROFILE: Lubna Al-Olayan looking to shatter glass ceilings as head of merged SABB, Alawwal bank
  • Saudi businesswoman Lubna Al-Olayan is to be the first woman in her country to run a publicly traded bank
  • Al-Olayan has been appointed chair of what will be the third-largest lender in KSA

LONDON: Saudi businesswoman Lubna Al-Olayan is to be the first woman in her country to run a publicly traded bank.
Olayan has been appointed chair of what will be the third-largest lender in Saudi Arabia, following the merger of Saudi British Bank (SABB) and Alawwal Bank. She has been deputy chair of Alawwal Bank since 2014.
A mother-of-three, Olayan, 63, brings an illustrious CV and a wealth of experience to her new job. She is chief executive of Olayan Financing Company (OFC), the holding entity for the Olayan Group, the company founded in 1947 by her entrepreneur father, Sulaiman.
A multinational dealing in distribution, manufacturing, services and investments, it has yielded a private fortune of more than $10 billion for the family.
OFC operates more than 40 businesses and is one of the largest investors in the Saudi and other stock markets in the region.
In 2004, Olayan joined the board of the Saudi Hollandi Bank, becoming the first woman to be elected to the board of a Saudi public company. That year she claimed another first as the first Saudi woman to make the opening keynote speech at the Jeddah Economic Forum, a major conference in Saudi Arabia.
The following year she co-chaired the World Economic forum in Davos, Switzerland.
She appears regularly in “most powerful” lists. She was one of Time Magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential People in 2005 and Forbes lists her as the 86th most powerful woman in the world as of 2014, while Fortune magazine names her as one of 50 Most Powerful Women in its International Power 50 list.
All this has been achieved in an era when a Saudi woman working in business had to overcome considerable obstacles, such as separate offices for men and women.
She spent nine years as an analyst with JP Morgan in New York, returning to Riyadh in 1983. Over dinner, her father asked what she was intending to do now that she was back in Saudi Arabia. Olayan replied with a vague plan to look for a job in a Saudi Bank.
But her father had a better idea. His executive assistant had just resigned. Why didn’t Lubna take over, starting the next day? She agreed and began the process of shattering stereotypes of Saudi women. She was the only woman working at Olayan Financing company for her first 18 years there. When she visited factories, there was never a bathroom she could use.
In an interview with NPR in May, Olayan admitted she felt extra pressure to succeed because she was the boss’s daughter. The few other women in business in Saudi Arabia at the time were working from their homes. The only places men and women worked together was in hospitals. During her years of working with her father, Olayan urged him to employ more women.
“How is our society going to progress if 50 percent of the populations is not allowed to contribute?” she said.
She co-opted male colleagues and senior members of the government who also had wives and daughters who wanted to work. They were supportive but said she must respect Saudi custom.
“So you negotiate, you deal, you take and give,” she said. In 2001 she hired her first woman, whose task was to increase the number of female employees at OFC. As of 2018, 500 of OFC’s 16,000 employees across the Middle East are women. Olayan wants women to make up 30 percent of OFC’s Saudi workforce.
She is her own best advertisement for female capability.
“Even my most chauvinist of Saudi friends and clients have great admiration for the way that she manages her companies,” Bernd van Linder, CEO of Saudi Hollandi Bank told Fortune in 2015. “She is respected as a person rather than as the first Saudi woman to do this or that.”
Her abilities have been recognized well beyond the borders of Saudi Arabia. From 1996 to 2004 she was on the board of the British property developer Chelsfield plc and in 2006 and 2007 she joined the international advisory boards of Rolls-Royce and Citigroup respectively.
Outside the world of business, her primary interest is education. She has been on the international council of the prestigious INSEAD business school for more than 20 years and a trustee of Cornell University for more than ten. Twelve years ago she joined the advisory board of Effat college, a private, non-profit college for girls in Jeddah.
She is also on the boards of Alfanar, the first philanthropic organization focusing on the Arab region, and of the Beirut-based think tank, the Arab Thought Foundation.


Flagship Huawei store in Saudi Arabia will be its biggest outside China

Flagship Huawei store in Saudi Arabia will be its biggest outside China
Terry He, the CEO of Huawei Tech Investment in Saudi Arabia, said the Kingdom is a very important market for the company. (AFP)
Updated 16 January 2021

Flagship Huawei store in Saudi Arabia will be its biggest outside China

Flagship Huawei store in Saudi Arabia will be its biggest outside China

RIYADH/JEDDAH: Chinese tech firm Huawei has signed an agreement with Kaden Investment for the launch in Saudi Arabia of its largest store outside China.
During the signing ceremony, at the Ministry of Investment headquarters in Riyadh, Investment Minister Khalid Al-Falih highlighted the importance of investment in information and communications technology, along with energy and entertainment, which are important pillars of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 development plan.
He said that the agreement with Huawei is a symbol of the prosperity that comes from long-term partnerships, in this case a 20-year relationship with the Chinese business. It is a “long-standing digital partner and ahead of the curve” in spotting the potential offered by the Kingdom, he added.
“Huawei has played an instrumental role in Saudi Arabia’s development, collaborating with government and private enterprises to enhance our nation’s technological infrastructure,” said Al-Falih. “It continues to share our commitment to talent development, innovation and ambition, the values which underpin Vision 2030.”
Terry He, the CEO of Huawei Tech Investment in Saudi Arabia, said the Kingdom is a very important market for the company.
“It gives me great pleasure to announce the next step in Huawei’s commitment to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to open the largest Huawei flagship store in the overseas market,” he added. “This will provide customers with an unprecedented, immersive full-scenario experience.”
Fahad Alarjani, a member of the Saudi Chinese Business Council, welcomed the agreement as a “huge success” for the Ministry of Investment, in collaboration with other Saudi ministries, in attracting high-tech investments to Saudi Arabia, “especially given that Huawei is considered a technology giant in China and the world.”
Alarjani, a doctorate-level scholar in sustainable entrepreneurship, SMEs development, and marketing strategies, said it is important that agencies in the Kingdom work together to create a fertile, world-leading environment for investors so that they can attract the latest, and sustainable, technological innovations.
“This will help to open new markets and speed up entrepreneurial development,” he added. “It is important to be aware of the fact that Chinese companies are working hard on being pioneers of 5G.”

The agreement with Huawei is a symbol of the prosperity that comes from long-term partnerships, in this case a 20-year relationship with the Chinese business.

Khalid Al-Falih, Investment minister

Saleh M. Al-Saleem, a professor of computer and information sciences at King Saud University, said: “The agreement will definitely entail training programs to transfer technology, and an investment by a company of this size in the Saudi market is an acknowledgment on its part of the huge size of the technological sector in the Kingdom.”


He added that the agreement opens the door for increased competition between the biggest international companies in the sector, and will contribute to lower costs and enhanced services in the Kingdom.
Saudi consumers also expressed excitement about the news. Pharmaceutical science graduate Ruwaid Mahalawi, 29, who lives in Jeddah and describes himself as a Huawei fan, said: “It’s nice to see big names coming into Saudi Arabia and this is only the start — it will inspire more companies to invest in the Kingdom and recognize the market is extremely welcoming.”
Saudis are a very tech savvy society, he said. “Children and adults alike use electronic devices — especially now, with the pandemic — whether it’s for work or schooling. I think it’s shedding light on how big the market is here.”
Mahalawi’s wife, 26-year-old Wajd Abdullah, is also a fan of the Chinese firm and said she ditched her iPhone for a Huawei Mate. She appreciates the added level of service that is provided when a tech brand sells its products through its own stores, rather than through third-party retailers.
“It’s always best when a brand’s own store opens,” she said. “You don’t have to worry about insurance for the gadgets or quality. The store staff will be more knowledgeable and helpful, too, and that helps to ensure customers will return.”
An opening date for the new store, which will be in Riyadh, has yet to be announced.