Middle East managers take their place on the world stage

Middle East influencers

03 December 2007 00:00  [Source: ICB]

Who's sitting at the forefront of the Middle East? Who is really driving this maturing market? A new generation of leaders is emerging

John Baker/Dubai/Abu Dhabi/Kuwait

FEW LEADING Middle East executives have, as yet, ascended to the world stage. Often, the visibility of major personalities is poor, as many producers operate as state-owned concerns or as joint ventures (JVs) with Western or Japanese companies.

But dig around behind the scenes now that private investment is being encouraged - most notably in Saudi Arabia, long dominated by SABIC - and you'll uncover quiet talent people whose industry influence is growing by the day.

The prime example is, of course, SABIC's Mohamed al-Mady, awarded ICIS's top slot in this year's Top 40 Power Players. But as the newly formed Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association (GPCA) builds on its new foundation, other names soon will become familiar - Equate's CEO Hamad al-Terkait, vice chair of the organization and No. 11 in our Top 40, for example. Others are Abdallah Jum'ah, head of Saudi Aramco (No. 13) and Gholamhossein Nejabat (No. 24), head of Iran's National Petrochemical Co. since late last year.

But who else is poised to take center stage? ICIS has picked nine senior influencers waiting in the wings. Some are new to international operations some lead the new breed of private Saudi Arabian producers. Many will leave their mark.

While Al-Mady embodies SABIC's leadership drive, the company's Homood al-Tuwaijri, vice president for petrochemicals coordination, oversees the heart of SABIC's core business. Previously vice president of corporate finance, he moved roles in May 2004 and now is responsible for SABIC's group logistics, as well as overseeing coordination between the strategic business units for basic chemicals, intermediates and polymers. His role is to optimize the cooperation between them and streamline SABIC's business activities.

As with many Middle East high flyers, Al-Tuwaijri is US educated, with a master's degree in industrial engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. He holds several other positions, including a place on the supervisory board of SABIC Europe, and chairman of both Petrokemya and the executive steering committee for SABIC's business transformation project, Fanar.


In the private Saudi sector, petrochemical companies established in recent years include Sipchem, Xenel and Tasnee. Not surprisingly, SABIC has been a nurturing ground for some of them. Take Ahmad al-Ohali, CEO and president of Saudi International Petrochemical Company (Sipchem). A chemical engineering graduate from King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, he worked at SABIC from 1981-1996, when he left to launch several medium-sized companies in the film and plastics field.

Al-Ohali was instrumental in setting up Sipchem and assumed the positions of CEO and president in 1999. Sipchem develops and invests in petrochemicals. Through affiliates International Methanol Company and Gulf Advanced Chemical Industries Company, it currently produces more than 1m tonnes/year of methanol and 75,000 tonnes/year of butanediol (BDO). It is now developing a major acetyls complex, expected to start up in the first quarter of 2009. It is also planning a fully integrated olefins and derivatives complex, scheduled for start-up in 2013, which will take production to 5m tonnes/year.

Another leading private player is Khalid Zagzoog, president and general manager of Safra, a Saudi Arabian maker and distributor of hydrocarbon solvents. Safra was founded in 1986 to exploit an unfulfilled market for solvents and the advantage of locally available feedstock. Its plant in Yanbu was the first privately owned petrochemical unit established in the Middle East, with a capacity of 120,000 tonnes/year. Safra, majority-owned by Xenel Industries, is currently undergoing an expansion to add 1m tonnes/year of butane, propane, gasoline, isometrate and benzene, toluene, xylene (BTX) to its capacity by 2008.

Completing the trio of leading Saudi private company influencers is Moayyed al-Qurtas, chief executive of Tasnee and GPCA board member. Founded in 1985, his company's titanium dioxide (TiO2) subsidiary, Cristal, this year acquired the much bigger Millennium Inorganic Chemicals business. Construction is under way on the company's second major petrochemical complex for ethylene, propylene and derivatives, due onstream in 2008. Tasnee started up its first large facility recently, a propane to polypropylene (PP) complex. Both projects, at Al-Jubail, are in partnership with Basell. Further projects are being sought, says the company.

Outside Saudi Arabia, private operations are less developed, but there are a number of important JVs with new ­executives in place and with major ­investment programs to see through to ­successful fruition.

One example is Abdul Aziz Abdulla al-Hajri, the new CEO at Borouge, the Borealis/Adnoc JV. He is currently expanding the company with a major cracker and polyolefin program.

Al-Hajri has more than 20 years' experience in operations and technical services management with Borouge parent Adnoc's gas processing company, Gasco.

His strength? A solid operational background, which is a plus with the Borouge 2 complex being built. Al-Hajri is a GPCA board member and has a chemical engineering degree from the University of Texas, US.

Also on the GPCA board and newly promoted to replace Hamad Rashid al-Mohannadi, No. 34 in last year's Top 40 listing, is Mohammed Yousef al-Mulla, general manager at Qatar's QAPCO. He has just seen through a major expansion of the Qapco cracker capacity and is now overseeing a major polyethylene project, due for completion in 2010. The company also has a stake in the Ras Laffan cracker project being developed in Qatar.

Also on the GPCA board and newly promoted within Kuwait's Petrochemical Industries Co. (PIC) is Maha Mulla Hussain. As PIC's new chairman and managing director, she is also on the board of its Equate JV with Dow Chemical, and of MEGlobal, its global JV with Dow Chemical for ethylene glycol (EG). Her portfolio since 2001 has included deputy managing director for planning and JVs at PIC.

Hussain is a chemical engineer with a degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara, US, and joined PIC in 1976. As chairman, she will spearhead PIC's future investment in aromatics and olefins and EG through Equate, and projects further afield. PIC and Dow are reportedly interested in a cracker investment in Egypt, for example, and there are talks of PIC's involvement in a Guangzhou, China, project.


And finally, two others to watch for the future are Mohammad Ali Zardbani, newly appointed deputy chairman and ­president of Iran Petrochemical Commercial Company (IPCC), the company responsible for marketing the rapidly growing output of Iran's National Petrochemical Co, and Khadem al-Qubaisi, the ­managing director of Abu Dhabi's International Petroleum Investment Co. (IPIC), a major shareholder in Borealis, OMV and Cepsa.

Zardbani only took up his position at the end of September, but has played an important role as foreign commercial director of IPCC since 2001, before which he was managing director of IPCC's overseas units in the UK and Germany for four years. He has plans to extend the company's global reach, sources close to IPCC told ICIS recently.

Al-Qubaisi at IPIC is already recognized for his investment and financial acumen within the oil and gas industries, say local reports, and has gained good experience on the board of Borealis. IPIC recently moved its ownership of melamine producer Agrolinz Melamine International into Borealis and is undertaking oil and gas exploration projects with Austria's OMV in the Middle East, North Africa and the Caspian region. Al-Qubaisi also recently revealed IPIC will build an oil refinery in Pakistan with the government.

If there are one or two common threads to draw out here, they are that many of these senior executives are chemical engineers, many with Western university training, and that many have been with their employers for a long time. This technical background is exceedingly useful when dealing with an industry centred on project execution.

But as the sector matures in the Middle East, the emergence of private players in Saudi Arabia points to no lack of financial acumen either. And there's no doubt other high flyers will emerge, but our aim is introduce you to some of those making the running right now.


Homood al-Tuwaijri vice president petrochemicals coordination, SABIC, Saudi Arabia
Ahmad al-Ohali CEO and president, Sipchem, Saudi Arabia
Khalid Zagzoog president and general manager, Safra, Saudi Arabia
Moayyed al-Qurtas chief executive, Tasnee, Saudi Arabia
Abdul Aziz Abdulla al-Hajri CEO, Borouge, Abu Dhabi
Mohammed Yousef al-Mulla general manager, Qapco, Qatar
Maha Mulla Hussain chairman and managing director, PIC, Kuwait
Mohammad Ali Zardbani deputy chairman and president of IPCC, Iran
Khadem al-Qubaisi managing director, IPIC, Abu Dhabi

John Baker, ICIS global editor, custom publishing, traversed the Middle East to research this article. Email him with your views: john.baker@icis.com

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