As we continue our sweep across Samsung C&T Trading & Investment Group’s dozens of global offices, we move northwards from our most recent Office Spotlight installments in Accra and Nairobi to the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region.
More specifically, we now land in the capital of Saudi Arabia, where Samsung C&T’s Riyadh Office has a long history dating back to its establishment in 1977. Yet, the country is currently undergoing an economic and cultural transformation. With our guide, Riyadh Office head Kwon Sung-wook, let’s find out how Saudi Arabia’s rapid changes are influencing life and work there.
Riyadh’s fab four in a nation of transformation
The Riyadh Office is made up of a team of four, including Kwon, with diverse backgrounds and experiences. Its inclusion of foreign employees is actually in line with Saudi Arabia opening its doors to more people from abroad.
“It’s a friendly country and diverse. There are nearly 37 million people here and more than 10 million of those are foreigners,” Kwon says – with particular excitement about the growing number of global football stars now playing in Saudi Arabia, not to mention last year’s performance there by K-pop girl group NewJeans.
Such prominent examples of cultural change are supported by efforts such as creating golf tours in Saudi Arabia and the promotion of its gaming industry. They are part of a much wider shift, as the country pursues its “Vision 2030” to transform its economic structure, including reducing dependence on oil.
Kwon points out that one of the key developments in this regard is the creation of NEOM smart city by the Red Sea, celebrated for its futuristic approach to urban development and sustainability. He has noticed the evolution of Riyadh too: “I feel the construction boom here. You can feel it just by paying attention to the frequency of visits by entrepreneurs from abroad. As you move through Riyadh, you’ll find some really nice buildings, while the north side is still being developed.”
Seizing the moment
A “construction boom” bodes well for one of the Riyadh Office’s main areas of business – steel trading. While Kwon concedes that “demand for steel is yet to increase in earnest,” his team is well positioned with considerable expertise.
“One of our members has been working in the steel business for over 30 years, another for over 10 years, and another has been with our company for three years but was in the industry before that. Everyone has a lot of experience in their field and is doing their part based on this,” Kwon says.
They may be encouraged by the forecast that annual demand for flat and long steel in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, including Saudi Arabia, is expected to reach 38 million tons by 2030 – growing by 6.2 percent annually.
Beyond steel, the Riyadh Office focuses on other metals and chemicals, although Kwon is eagerly anticipating further rising opportunities. “It is interesting how there are business opportunities emerging in areas we don’t normally consider. For example, Saudi Arabia is very sensitive to food security and imports a lot of grain. There have also been many discussions about smart farm projects recently. And meanwhile, farmed shrimp exports from Saudi Arabia’s coastal waters have been heading to Japan,” he explains.
Adapting to life in Saudi Arabia
Even though Kwon encourages others to be excited about doing business in Saudi Arabia, he recognizes that it can take time to acclimatize.
“As with other regions, the Middle East has its business customs and you cannot get to know them without experiencing them yourself. I engaged in sales with Saudi Arabia while I was still based at our headquarters in Korea and I also participated in a Short Dispatch Program in Algeria. I think the company deployed me to Riyadh considering my experience in the region and my personality,” Kwon reflects.
Another issue that he mentions is the need to travel by airplane a lot because of Saudi Arabia’s size. Kwon says this is essential to meet with domestic partners, while he also oversees operations at Samsung C&T’s Jeddah Office elsewhere in Saudi Arabia. Fortunately, it only takes about 30 minutes to get from the Riyadh Office to the airport. And he takes time to communicate with his staff whenever he gets the chance to compensate for his busy travel schedule, insisting “it’s important to manage the office atmosphere.”
Generally, Kwon says he is “very satisfied” with both his work and life in Saudi Arabia, hoping that people will pay even more attention to the country. In addition, as we have seen, he is working with his Riyadh Office team members to discover new business opportunities in Saudi Arabia as it ushers in that economic and cultural transformation.