JEDDAH: STC Academy, the Saudi Telecom Company’s technology and leadership academy, opened in February 2018 with the aim of developing the next generation of digital leaders in the Kingdom.
In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Dr. Rafat Malik, dean of STC Academy and vice president of STC, discussed the progress that the academy has made in fostering individuals able to identify, manage and develop the innovative technology of tomorrow.
“Within the Kingdom and the region, STC is at the forefront of the fourth industrial revolution,” said Malik. “We’re right at the cutting edge of innovation, and our purpose is to prepare the next generation for a completely different technological reality for the Kingdom.
We wanted to create a new and sustainable way of learning in this new era, to redefine what an academy looks and feels like, to create a culture that could be reflective of the new way of working within STC, and have the ability to meet the demands of the national 2030 Vision.
“The strategy of STC is ‘DARE’ — Digitize, Accelerate growth, Reinvent customer experience, and Expand,” Malik continued. “However, if you take away those letters and just look at the word, we are daring to digitally transform the whole Kingdom. The colleagues I work with are all driven to make this transformation happen. It goes beyond just being a job for me, it’s a purpose and a calling. That’s how I treat it, and that’s how many of us at STC view what we’re doing for the Kingdom.”
Malik began his career as a military aviator, then worked as an aeronautical engineer for the UK Ministry of Defense.
After setting up several digital startups, he went on become one of the most senior leaders within the Faculty of Natural Sciences at Imperial College London, before becoming VP of the Financial Times Corporate Learning Alliance.
In 2016, Malik was invited to visit STC headquarters in Riyadh to brainstorm ideas for how to contribute to building a thriving digital future for Saudi Arabia. “In that drive from the airport to the STC headquarters before my first meeting with the CEO at the time, observing and reflecting on the environment around me, it was apparent that this was a country on the cusp of taking quite a few (leaps) in innovation, technology, and how the whole society was positioning itself to be technology contributors on the international stage.
“There were very few countries in the world that were going through this phase. Those thoughts remained on my mind (even until) today.”
At STC, Malik met the current CEO, Nasser Al Nasser, the VP of HR Ahmad Al Ghamdi, and other senior VP’s.
“They left a lasting impression on me, and the impression was very simple: They were a group of people that were all passionate about transforming the Kingdom,” he said. “It was in their DNA. It just so happened they worked in the Kingdom’s largest telecoms company. That passion was infectious for me. I thought about it, discussed it with my family and surmised that the country is going through enormous change and it would be a privilege and honor for me to contribute and to be part of that story. More importantly, I dearly wanted to work with these individuals.”
With the help of STC Academy, STC is making positive strides toward providing world-class development in markets including data analytics, AI, cybersecurity, IoT (Internet of Things) and more.
Malik pointed out that the company is launching a national 5G rollout. “When 5G comes along, it will help improve the lives not just of individuals, but of communities,” he said. “It will be a game changer for the Kingdom.”
STC is, he added, also playing a key role in ensuring gender diversity — a crucial part of Saudi Vision 2030. In fact, one of the members of Malik’s leadership team at STC Academy is also STC’s first female executive — Dr. Moudhi Al Jamea.
“Last year we worked with over 3,000 young individuals,” Malik said. “The gender split was 60/40, and, in some programs, 50/50. Creating diversity is critical. It’s a reflection of how we operate here. We have a 50% gender-split policy within the organization.
“We’re opening ourselves up to diversity and creating an inclusive culture in an unprecedented way, while also ensuring that — regardless of gender — the skills we’re developing for these young candidates will be sustainable for the future.”
In 2018, more than 1,000 students graduated from the academy. This year, it will be focusing on STC’s internal leadership teams, with most of its programs dedicated to sharpening the digital skills of another 1,000 digital leaders.
This year, apart from increasing the number of courses it offers internally, STC Academy will also be focusing on external programs for the general public.
“We’re not just an elite digital academy for experienced leaders, we also have a responsibility to lead and help the youth of the country as well,” Malik explained. “The way we design the learning process is that it intellectually stretches people, tests their agility, and challenges them by blending together digital simulations with key digital leadership themes.”
“We have a partnership with the Misk Foundation. On weekends, we open up the facility to Misk and an organization called Udacity, to develop skills around programming, Python computing, and data analytics. They are all unique to the Kingdom and a first for the region as well,” he continued.
“The role STC and STC Academy is playing in Vision 2030 is palpable,” he continued. “(Our) aim is to create sustainable development journeys for new digital leaders. One of the principles on which we’ve developed the academy is to always keep in mind that (out there), is a young girl or boy just waiting to be discovered and given the opportunity to contribute their intellect, passion and ability to the Kingdom. Our job is to enable that young person’s dream to happen and to give them the tools to lead the next generation.
“Within a few years, I think people will view STC in a completely different way,” he concluded. “We’ll be a digital and technology company that just happened to start out as a telecoms company.”