(MENAFN - Arab News) Saudi Arabia is one of General Electric Company's (GE's) core markets. With sales of 147.3 billion last year, GE is one of the world's largest companies. It has had a long and historically successful presence in the Kingdom.
Since supplying the Kingdom with turbo-machinery for its first oil expedition in 1942, the American giant has been Saudi Arabia's key growth technology partner, according to Hisham Bahkali, a dynamic and energetic engineer from Riyadh, who was recently appointed as GE president and chief executive officer for Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. During his recent visit to GE Energy Manufacturing Technology Center (GEMTEC) in Dammam, Bahkali spoke exclusively to Siraj Wahab of Arab News and explained the company's focus on localization, its partnership agreements with local universities, future strategy and the company's ongoing headline projects.
How has the journey been for GE in Saudi Arabia? You count on an 80-year heritage ...
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of our core markets in the region. Here we have established long-term partnerships in growth sectors that bring a positive difference to the wellbeing of the people. We will continue to be part of the Kingdom's growth goals emphasizing on economic diversification, creating jobs for talented Saudi youngsters and promoting regional research. You know that Saudi Arabia is witnessing one of the most exciting developmental phases, with strong investments in new and emerging technologies. Our priority areas will be to strengthen our existing partnerships and to continue to create more growth opportunities for skilled Saudi professionals. We have steadily expanded knowledge-sharing initiatives having trained over 1,500 Saudi professionals in the health care, energy and aviation sectors. Recently, we established a technical academy in partnership with the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation (TVTC) to grow the Saudi technical talent pool. We plan to double our work force in the Kingdom by 2013. It gives me pleasure to state that today, more than 500 GE turbines generate over 50 percent of our country's electricity. Our company's advanced technology produces 180 million liters of clean water, which is then delivered to the Kingdom's remotest corners. You will be delighted to know that over 20,000 GE health care technologies serve nearly 90 percent hospitals in the Kingdom. So we have an excellent track record of contribution to the Kingdom's development. It is this trust and our hard work that has helped our company grow in Saudi Arabia.
Can you tell us more about GEMTEC. This technology center was opened last year. Did it achieve the intended targets in the first year of its operation?
Yes, very much, and more. We have been and are working very hard on this facility. We have invested SR 1 billion here. Since the center's inauguration in June 2011, it has helped serve more than 50 customers, not just in the Kingdom but also across the Middle East and Europe. GEMTEC also extended service support to more than 450 gas turbines. As you know, this center consists of three key main components - a manufacturing facility of high-technology equipment for the power, water and oil and gas industries; a service and repair center for advanced turbine equipment; and a training center that offers the latest technology and managerial courses for college students, field engineers and other power industry professionals throughout the region. As the largest energy facility of its kind today, GEMTEC underlines GE's long-term commitment to Saudi Arabia. We are proud to be serving the technology and service needs of our prestigious customers such as Saudi Electricity Co., Saudi Aramco, Marafiq and Saudi Basic Industries Corp. (SABIC). Right from the beginning, the center's focus has been on technical talent development to support the Kingdom's growing energy infrastructure. This has provided a big boost to the Kingdom's efforts in establishing itself as a technology hub for the global energy industry. To complement the human development goal outlined in Saudi Vision 2020, the massive facility is employing more than 500 technologists and training many others under the Saudi-GE Joint Technical Program. The program participants are being trained in key areas of maintenance and repair of gas turbines, electrical motors and generators that are critical to the efficient generation of electricity in the Kingdom.
Can you, for the benefit of our readers, elaborate on GE's involvement in the various energy infrastructure projects?
Sure. We just talked about GEMTEC. That is one. Then we have Marafiq Integrated Water and Power Plant (IWPP), Riyadh Power Plant 9, Riyadh Power Plant 10, Saudi Aramco Shaybah Expansion, GE Saudi Water and Process Technology Center, GE Fuel Research Center at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, and Air-cooled Heat Exchanger Manufacturing Facility (MEHECO). There are many others. We delivered advanced power generation technology and services to Marafiq, the world's largest independent water and power plant, located in Jubail. Recognizing the key role we played in the development of this milestone project, GE received the Marafiq award for sustainability. The Marafiq IWPP project also reflected GE's commitment to ecomagination, the company's corporate initiative to imagine, build and deliver innovative solutions that solve today's environmental challenges and benefit customers and society at large. Regarding Saudi Electricity Company's Riyadh Power Plant 9 (PP9), it is the Kingdom's and the region's largest power plant. It is also Saudi Arabia's first non-coastal combined cycle power plant. Located 54 km east of Riyadh, PP9 generates 4,000 megawatts with 60 massive GE turbines. This constitutes 35 percent of SEC's power generation capacity in the Central Region. As for Shaybah, it is Saudi Aramco's most remote oil field, located in the southeast. In order to enhance oil production and the gas-oil ratio, Saudi Aramco selected GE for agreements totaling nearly 500 million to supply a broad range of equipment and services for an expansion of the Shaybah gas-oil processing facilities. To generate the additional 729 megawatts of power, GE supplied 11 gas turbine-generator units, 44 compressors, motors and services. Since supplying the first gas turbine to the Kingdom's first refinery in 1942, GE has, to date, delivered more than 110 gas turbines and nearly 100 centrifugal compressors to Saudi Aramco. I just mentioned GE Saudi Water and Process Technology Center in Dammam. Here we invested nearly SR 40 million. It is a joint venture with Al-Tamimi Group. Then we have the GE Fuel Research Center at KFUPM King Fahd university of Petroleum and Minerals, which will work to coordinate a number of fuel-related research and development programs. These include potentially expanding the use of alternative fuels to better utilize the Kingdom's existing resources in addressing fuel issues, operating efficiency and emissions.
Talking about KFUPM, GE has initiated a number of training programs for Saudis and has signed up with local universities to meet localization targets.
We are fully aware that a trained and empowered work force plays a key role in the long-term sustainability of the Kingdom's energy infrastructure. Therefore, we have been actively expanding our knowledge-sharing and training commitment. This also coincides with the emphasis that the government has placed on development of the Kingdom's human resources, as spelled out in the Saudi Vision 2020. And so building on the successful graduation of the pioneering class of the GE Joint Technical Program (GE-JTP) with the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation (TVTC), GE and TVTC inked a five-year memorandum of understanding to expand the GE-JTP. The agreement paves the way for the expansion of the existing GE-JTP curriculum, which includes training and testing of key areas of the repair of gas turbines, electrical motors and generators. Aiming to train up to 100 graduates annually, the GE-JTP is designed to ensure that graduates of the program will obtain the optimal qualifications to support the future growth of the Kingdom's national economy.
What about specific agreements that GE signed with local universities?
Yes, we have formed partnerships and joint programs with leading educational institutions. Current programs include internships and co-op programs with premier institutions such as Dammam College of Technology and Al-Ahsa College of Technology. As a result of the collaboration with KFUPM, there are now more than 50 KFUPM graduates working in GE's energy business in the Kingdom. Other partner institutions include King Faisal University and Prince Mohammad bin Fahd University. Let me also tell you about the GE Graduate Management Program. To date, the GMP program has had more than a dozen participants from Saudi Arabia.
Having been appointed as a Saudi Arabia and Bahrain CEO, how does it feel?
I joined GE 15 years ago. I was a young engineer having done my bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Riyadh's King Saud University. I always knew of GE as a highly reputable international company. For me, it has been a long, fruitful and satisfying journey. My family was looking forward to me joining Saudi Aramco or SABIC or even Saudi Arabian Airlines. Those were the three companies that every Saudi wanted to join in those days. But my heart was set on GE. I joined the company in 1997 as a customer service manager for GE Energy. Throughout my years at GE, my focus was and still is on leading and driving the company's commercial and operational strategy in Saudi Arabia by creating, communicating and executing on growth plans, identifying and developing new business opportunities, creating a growth culture, building capacity and capability, and building relationships with key customers and the government. The company's philosophy is to reward hard work. It gave me many opportunities to prove myself. So here I am. Alhamdulillah. GE is here to stay to script more success stories.