INTERVIEW: Ahmed Linjawy, the driving force behind Saudi Arabia's KAEC

INTERVIEW: Ahmed Linjawy, the driving force behind Saudi Arabia's KAEC
King Abdullah Economic City’s top man Ahmed Linjawy spells out his ambitions as European Tour golfers - and Mariah Carey - pitch up at Saudi Arabia’s business and leisure zone. (Illustration: Luis Grañena)
Updated 05 February 2019

INTERVIEW: Ahmed Linjawy, the driving force behind Saudi Arabia's KAEC

INTERVIEW: Ahmed Linjawy, the driving force behind Saudi Arabia's KAEC
  • King Abdullah Economic City’s top man spells out his ambitions as European Tour golfers — and Mariah Carey — pitch up at the vast business and leisure zone

KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY: Ahmed Linjawy looks on proudly as top international players tee off at the meticulously manicured golf course at Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC).
He’s not the only one watching. The world’s media cast their not-uncritical eye over the European Tour event, which coincided with a high-profile and even higher-pitched performance from Mariah Carey.
As chief executive of the Riyadh-listed developer of the city, Linjawy has been key in building facilities designed to attract golfing greats, pop princesses and big business.
King Abdullah Economic City or KAEC (pronounced “cake”) is bigger than Washington D.C., spanning about 181 million square meters, as the marketing people are keen to point out.
Situated about 100 km north of Jeddah, the city comprises the King Abdullah Port, coastal residential communities, an industrial zone and the new Haramain Railway link.
Two things become clear on the long drive from the zone’s brightly illuminated main gates to the golf course: KAEC is big, but it’s still mostly desert.
Yet as golfing legend Ernie Els, and top-ranked Saudi golfer Othman Almulla, get into the swing of things, Linjawy expands on his vision for the economic zone and how a great city is emerging from the sand.
“For us it is a historic moment,” the 50-year-old Saudi national says.

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BIO

CAREER

•Appointed group CEO of Emaar, The Economic City in late 2018.

•Formerly deputy chief executive, and president of industrial and city services.

•Has worked for the company, which develops King Abdullah Economic City, since December 2006.

•Previously an executive in Procter & Gamble, where he worked for 16 years in various roles including country manager for Saudi Arabia.

EDUCATION

•Bachelor of science in medical technology, King Abdul Aziz University.

•Certifications from the London Institute and the American University, Washington D.C.

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“We’re hosting the first-ever golf tournament in Saudi Arabia, and it’s a tournament at an international scale … this is what King Abdullah Economic City is now capable of doing.”
Linjawy is in a richly upholstered room at The Oryx private members club, part of the the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, the 18-hole championship course where the European Tour event is played.
The room, though relatively new, smacks of old-school grandeur. It is the sort of place where you might purposefully lose a game of pool to your father-in-law, or pretend to understand the golf handicap system.
The clubhouse is bustling on the first day of the Saudi International, part of a three-year agreement with the European Tour to hold a golfing event in the Kingdom. That agreement is likely to be extended, says Linjawy, while other leisure events are planned.
After the Carey gig, other concerts — which were a rarity in Saudi Arabia until recently — are in the pipeline for KAEC.
An international motor-racing event and even a fishing tournament are in the works, the latter making sense due to the city’s Red Sea coastline and marina facilities.
Such events will be key to Linjawy’s ambitious target to boost the number of visitors to KAEC, which pulled in almost 500,000 tourists last year. He says the zone aims to attract a million tourists in 2019 through events such as the European Tour, during which he expects to see about 100,000 visitors alone. A system to make it easier for foreigners to obtain Saudi entry visas to visit KAEC will be introduced this year, Linjawy says, with the new high-speed Haramain Railway whisking them from the new terminal at Jeddah airport.
Yet boosting visitor numbers through glittering concerts and multimillion-dollar sports events are just one aspect of what KAEC is about. The city has other activities in areas such as logistics, business, manufacturing, entrepreneurship and residential property.
Notably, KAEC is home to King Abdullah Port, which Linjawy says aims to be one of the world’s largest shipping hubs with a possible share sale set to fund its expansion.

We want to be a global hub for logistics and light manufacturing.

Ahmed Linjawy


“To kickstart some of the future projects, we will need other sources of funding. We’re going more and more into project financing for specific projects — an IPO for the port — and some of our other businesses as well,” Linjawy says.
“The vision for the port is to be among the largest in the world. We have the funding and the plans to make it the largest in the Middle East for sure, but (to make it among the biggest) in the world we will certainly need a lot more capital.
“We want to be a global hub for logistics and light manufacturing, and this is where the port comes and the entire industrial and logistics zone come into play.”
Such facilities complement the presence of international companies including pharmaceuticals firms Pfizer and Sanofi, as well as confectionary giant Mars, at KAEC.
“(For) those names and others, this is their first manufacturing presence in Saudi Arabia, if not in the Middle East in some cases,” says Linjawy.
Other items on Linjawy’s agenda include pursuing discussions with a data-center provider, which he does not name, to set up in KAEC.
Another is building the city’s startup scene, which benefits from the presence of the Prince Mohammed bin Salman College of Business and Entrepreneurship, which was set up in KAEC through a partnership with a subsidiary of Babson College in the US.
Linjawy even believes that Saudi Arabia’s first “unicorn” — the term describing a privately held startup company valued at more than $1 billion — could emerge from KAEC.
“We are looking that big, for sure,” he says. “Part of our objective here is to create jobs, opportunities and offer the environment for creativity and innovation. We’re not just looking at it on a small scale, we want this to be a destination, a hub for startups, and for Saudi Arabia, for the creative people … to invest or experiment.”
Creating a city bigger than Washington DC does, of course, come with challenges. First announced in 2005, King Abdullah Economic City was envisioned as having an eventual population of 2 million people. Yet as of today it only has about 10,000 full-time residents.
Linjawy is not perturbed by this — and is sanguine about KAEC’s future growth prospects.

Everybody has been able to see the real Saudi Arabia, the hospitality, the culture itself.

Ahmed Linjawy


“What was communicated back then (in 2005) was more of a vision and inspiration that this was going to be developed in a few years,” he says.
“But that would have been almost impossible unless you wanted to compromise on quality. It has had its challenges, no question about it, but nothing extraordinary.”
Priorities now include growing tourism and leisure, and building a business community around KAEC’s new train station.
“(What is) really important is for this to be — and continue to be, more so — a place for Saudis to start their businesses, start their new life as well, new family, a place for hope and the future,” Linjawy says.
The eloquent, urbane Linjawy has worked for Emaar, The Economic City — the company developing KAEC — since 2006, the year it was listed on the Saudi stock exchange. He took over as acting CEO in September, a position confirmed as permanent three months later.
His transition into the CEO role came at the same time as the public furor over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul last October.
Some of the global media coverage of the golfing tournament has referenced the murder of Khashoggi. Yet despite some negative headlines, Linjawy remains confident that the tournament will give a boost to Brand Saudi Arabia.
“I think you can see the vibe already, we have 130 players from all over the world, so many guests coming also from different places,” he says.
“Everybody has been very positive, and they have been able to see … the real Saudi Arabia, the hospitality of the Saudis, the culture itself.
“It is (about) the people who were here and (what they) say about Saudi Arabia, that’s what really matters — testimonies.”
A small crowd gathers to watch world golfing stars make their European Tour Saudi debut. It must be the most high-profile event to be staged at KAEC in all of Linjawy’s 13 years working there. “I’ve seen it all,” he says of his time helping develop the city.
And as Ernie Els and Othman Almulla tee off, he can be sure there are many rounds still to be played.


Saudi copycat watchdog destroys 5 million products amid global crackdown

Saudi copycat watchdog destroys 5 million products amid global crackdown
Updated 16 min 20 sec ago

Saudi copycat watchdog destroys 5 million products amid global crackdown

Saudi copycat watchdog destroys 5 million products amid global crackdown
  • Saudi move comes amid global push to tackle IP theft
  • Amazon removed 10 billion suspect listings last year

RIYADH: The Saudi Authority for Intellectual Property destroyed about five million products violating intellectual property regulations during the past year.
It was working in tandem with the Zakat, Tax and Customs Authority and the Ministry of Information.
Counterfeit commercial goods accounted for about 40 percent of the tally, amounting to two million goods, while nearly three million products were defined
as a violation of intellectual property rights.
The Authority seized 11,620 products that violated intellectual property in five cities, Al Eqtisadiah reported.
It warned against promoting or trading in any product that violates intellectual property rights, or any behavior that violates intellectual property regulations.
Governments and corporations are increasing their efforts to crack down on counterfeit goods as rogue operators use e-commerce to boost sales.
Amazon said this week that it blocked more than 10 billion suspected listings of counterfeit goods on its platform last year as part of a global crackdown in the face of pressure from consumers, brands and regulators.
The e-commerce giant made the announcement in its first “brand protection report,” as part of its initiative to weed out listings of fakes by third-party sellers, AFP reported.


Saudi Grintafy football scout platform helps clubs to discover the next Messi

Saudi Grintafy football scout platform helps clubs to discover the next Messi
Updated 14 May 2021

Saudi Grintafy football scout platform helps clubs to discover the next Messi

Saudi Grintafy football scout platform helps clubs to discover the next Messi
  • Platform allows players to build their profiles
  • Saudi tech startups boom as sector attracts wave of cash

RIYADH: A Saudi startup aims to help the world’s biggest football clubs make talent scouting more efficient.
The history of football is full of tales of chance sightings by a scout that has led to many a glittering career in the game.
At the same time, across amateur and weekend leagues the world over, there are many talented footballers who are never seen by a scout and never have a professional career.
Saudi startup Grintafy aims to help make that process more efficient by helping footballers build their profile in the game through the ratings of fellow players which can in turn be showcased to potential scouts and clubs.
It is one of several new Saudi technology startups that has started to make international waves as the sector attracts a wave of venture capital.
West Ham United last week become an official club partner for the fledgling platform which will see Grintafy have a presence across the club’s growing global digital channels as well as becoming the presenting partner of all academy match highlights.
The agreement allows coaching and technical staff at West Ham full access to view Grintafy user profiles and stats.
Selected players will then be chosen and invited to an official tryout in England.
The relationship will also see West Ham United Academy coaches deliver coaching programs in the Middle East.
“At West Ham United, we pride ourselves on our ability and capacity to nurture talent. We are excited to work in partnership with Grintafy to create experiences for aspiring players,” said Nathan Thompson, commercial director at West Ham United.
Grintafy will also be holding regular regional and national open tryouts to find the best of the best. Players chosen will have the once in a lifetime opportunity to travel to England and train like a West Ham academy player.
“Grintafy was started so that every young footballer has an opportunity to make their dream come true, regardless of their economic status or access to resources,” said Grintafy CEO Majdi Al-Lulu. “This partnership ensures that we are bringing international opportunities to the Kingdom and keeping our focus on the 2030 vision. West Ham has a rich history and pedigree for developing talent and giving youth a platform to shine. This perfectly aligns with our key values.”


Huge Titanic replica to open in China

Huge Titanic replica to open in China
Updated 14 May 2021

Huge Titanic replica to open in China

Huge Titanic replica to open in China
  • Six-year construction was longer than original Titanic build
  • Site features a replica of Southampton Port seen in James Cameron’s 1997 disaster epic

SUINING: The Titanic is being brought back from the deep, more than a century after its ill-fated maiden voyage, at a landlocked Chinese theme park where tourists can soon splash out for a night on a fullscale replica.
The project’s main backer was inspired to recreate the world’s most infamous cruise liner by the 1997 box office hit of the same name — once the world’s top-grossing film and wildly popular in China.
The original luxury vessel, the largest of its time and branded “unsinkable” by its owners, has become a byword for hubris ever since it plunged into the depths of the Atlantic in 1912 after striking an iceberg, leaving more than 1,500 people dead.
Investor Su Shaojun says he was motivated to finance the audacious, 260-meter-long (850-foot-long) duplicate to keep memories of the Titanic alive.
“I hope this ship will be here in 100 or 200 years,” Su said.
“We are building a museum for the Titanic.”
It has taken six years — longer than the construction of the original Titanic — plus 23,000 tons of steel, more than a hundred workers and a hefty one billion yuan ($153.5 million) price tag.
Everything from the dining room to the luxury cabins and even the door handles are styled on the original Titanic.
It forms the centerpiece of a Sichuan province theme park more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) from the sea.
The site features a replica of Southampton Port seen in James Cameron’s 1997 disaster epic, where Leonardo DiCaprio’s fictional character Jack swings on board after winning his ticket in a bet.
Tour buses play the film’s theme tune, Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” on repeat.
It costs up to 2,000 yuan (around $150) to spend one night on the ship for the “five-star cruise service,” Su says, adding that with a functioning steam engine guests will feel that they are really at sea.
He was so excited by the challenge that he sold his energy industry assets, including a stake in several hydropower projects, to invest in the Titanic.
But even before opening, the replica has drawn plenty of controversy.
Online users have questioned whether the famous ship would attract tourists given the disaster that struck its real-life inspiration.
Others feared it would join other ambitious Chinese building projects that turned into white elephants — including a 2008 replica of the USS Enterprise, an American aircraft carrier, which cost over $18 million and was abandoned shortly after it opened.
But Su hopes as many as five million annual visitors will come to see his Titanic.
“This tourist volume should guarantee the return of our investment,” he added.
Project manager Xu Junnian said he felt it was important to preserve the vessel’s memory.
“The greatest significance of building this ship is to carry forward and inherit the great spirit of Titanic,” he said.
Aside from the enduring appeal of the Hollywood blockbuster, the Titanic has stolen headlines in China in recent weeks with the release of a new documentary called “The Six.”
The film tells the story of a group of Chinese travelers on board when the ship sinks, of whom six survived.
But the developers are hoping to rope in some bigger names to help draw visitors.
“We’d like to invite Jack, Rose and James Cameron to the inauguration ceremony,” Su said.


Riyals, euros or dollars: Women money changers at heart of Djibouti’s street economy

Riyals, euros or dollars: Women money changers at heart of Djibouti’s street economy
Updated 14 May 2021

Riyals, euros or dollars: Women money changers at heart of Djibouti’s street economy

Riyals, euros or dollars: Women money changers at heart of Djibouti’s street economy
  • The informal sector drives around two-thirds of economic activity in Djibouti

DJIBOUTI: They are a familiar sight on the busy streets of Djibouti: women clutching handbags bulging with dollars, euros, riyals and rupees, the money changers keeping the informal economy ticking over.
Perched on plastic chairs, feet propped on wooden steps, these “sarifley” as they are locally known are vital to the global cast of migrants, traders and soldiers passing through this tiny nation at the crossroads of Africa and Arabia.
Trading in money offers a safe, reliable way especially for women to feed their families, in a conservative country where they lag men in education and literacy.
“I have it all. Euros, English pounds, Turkish lira, dollars, Indian rupees, anything,” said Medina, who offered just her first name, flashing a purse she estimated held the equivalent of one million Djiboutian francs ($5,600/€4,700) in multiple currencies.
Customers and traders alike say that economic life would suffer a lot more friction without the money changers.
Camped at Rimbaud Square, overlooked by a grand mosque in the heart of Djibouti city, Medina and three other sarifley scan the bustling crowds for customers.
Before long a young man from Yemen, the war-torn country across the Bab-el-Mandeb strait from Djibouti, approaches in a flowing white tunic and turban, wanting to change Saudi riyals.
Medina exchanged a few words with the foreigner, tapped some calculations into her phone, then counted out a wad of crumpled Djiboutian francs retrieved from the depths of her bag.
“We bring Saudi riyals with us (to Djibouti) because our currency, with the war, keeps fluctuating all the time,” said the Yemeni, slipping away into the crowd as a police car crawled by.
Refugees from Yemen, migrants en route to the Gulf, foreign troops stationed in naval bases, Ethiopian truck drivers — Djibouti is a melting pot of cultures, and currencies, on the Horn of Africa.
“We also deal with Djibouti businessmen going abroad for their work, as well as foreigners and tourists,” said Noura Hassan, another sarifley in the capital.
When her husband died a decade ago, the mother-of-three started out with just her savings in francs, before acquiring more currencies.
Every day, Hassan refers to a printout from the local bank to gauge exchange rates and determines what to offer customers for the major currencies.
“It is a good job, and I am proud of it,” said the money changer, wearing a blue veil and black abaya, the traditional floor-length tunic worn by Muslim women.
In PK12, a busy neighborhood where many Ethiopians live, Ahmed jumped out of his tuk-tuk to change some Ethiopian birr on the roadside.
“The difference might be 10 or 20 francs, it’s not much,” said the rickshaw driver about the street rates compared to those officially on offer.
But those exchange offices are far away — whereas the sarifley are on every corner and marketplace.
“Without them, I would say that trade in PK12 would not be possible,” said Faiza, who sells khat, the popular narcotic plant that is a daily staple in Djibouti and other parts of the Horn.
“They make sure to feed their families ... We help each other like that,” the 25-year-old trader said.
The informal sector drives around two-thirds of economic activity in Djibouti, said researcher Abdoulkader Houssein Mohamed from the Djibouti Center for Studies and Research (CERD).
Of those engaged in the sector, three-quarters are women, he added.
Safety might be a concern, but in a country of just under one million inhabitants, even the capital feels like a village, the sarifley said — a reassurance when your line of work requires carrying bundles of cash on the streets.
Zahra, one sarifley in the city, said of thieves: “They don’t come near us. They are afraid.”
She also wasn’t too concerned about being scammed by a forger or unscrupulous seller trying to palm off counterfeit cash.
“Even if I was asleep and you handed me a forgery, I would know... Counterfeit cash, I’ll know. The real thing, I know. That’s my job isn’t it?“


Musk tweets, doge leaps and bitcoin retreats

Musk tweets, doge leaps and bitcoin retreats
Updated 14 May 2021

Musk tweets, doge leaps and bitcoin retreats

Musk tweets, doge leaps and bitcoin retreats
  • Markets have gyrated to Musk tweets for months since his interest in dogecoin sparked a hundred-fold rally

SINGAPORE: Bitcoin was pinned near its lowest in more than two months on Friday and headed for its worst week since February, while dogecoin leapt by a fifth as tweets from Tesla boss Elon Musk sent the two cryptocurrencies on a wild ride.
Markets have gyrated to Musk tweets for months since his interest in dogecoin sparked a hundred-fold rally in the previously ignored token’s value this year, while Tesla’s $1.5 billion bitcoin purchase helped it break past $50,000 in February.
Yet in an equally surprising U-turn he dented the world’s biggest cryptocurrency this week after announcing Tesla stopped accepting bitcoin in payment owing to environmental concerns, making investors uneasy about Musk’s influence on crypto prices.
Bitcoin is down nearly 15 percent this week at $49,804.
Dogecoin is down about a third since last Friday, having tumbled after Musk referred to it as a “hustle” on Saturday Night Live. It then jumped 20 percent after his latest comments that he was involved in work to improve its efficiency.
“Working with Doge devs to improve system transaction efficiency. Potentially promising,” Musk said on Twitter, vaulting dogecoin from about $0.43 to $0.52 on the Binance exchange.
It was unclear if Musk was referring to efficiency in terms of energy use, ease of use or suitability as a currency, said Mark Humphery-Jenner, an associate professor of finance at the University of New South Wales business school in Sydney.
Dogecoin consumes 0.12 kilowatt hours of electricity per transaction compared with 707 for bitcoin, according to data center provider TRG, but it is near impossible to use it to buy anything.
Almost worthless in late 2020, dogecoin is the latest darling of a frenzy gripping crypto markets that began last year as institutional investors announced big bitcoin purchases.
It has surged to become the fourth-largest cryptocurrency by market cap, according to CoinMarketCap.com. Second-biggest cryptocurrency ether has also soared more than 400 percent this year. It last sat at $3,865, steady for the week so far.
The huge moves have begun to attract regulatory scrutiny, and a Bloomberg report on Thursday which said major exchange Binance was under Justice Department investigation in the US added to some of the price pressure on cryptos this week.
Musk’s tweets and the market’s response may also invite attention, said Edward Moya, an analyst at brokarage OANDA.
“Tesla is drawing tremendous scrutiny for Musk’s cheerleading of Bitcoin,” he said. “If Tesla unveils a bet on dogecoin, regulators may have their eyes on Musk.”
Others, however, say the market might be more comparable to an old fashioned bubble.
“Dogecoin remains a lesson in greater fool theory,” said David Kimberley, analyst at investing app Freetrade, which posits that buying overpriced assets can be profitable, so long as there is a “greater fool” to buy them at ever higher prices.
“It’s being pumped by people that want to get rich quick (and Elon Musk),” he said.