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SAUDI ARABIA - Economy

Gautam Sashittal

CEO, King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD)

Bio

Gautam Sashittal has been the CEO of KAFD since 2021. His career has seen him work in both the private and public sectors across diverse industries including oil and gas, real estate development, free zone regulation and development, trade facilitation, and healthcare. After a career at Shell spanning nearly two decades, he held a range of leadership roles in companies across the Middle East, including CEO of the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC). He serves on numerous boards including UNOPS, Copenhagen, where he is a member of the audit advisory committee; Fintech Innovations International, to which he is an advisor; and Risk Quotient Ltd. Sashittal has also been named on Forbes’ top 50 Indian Business Executives list.

"We are striving to create a sustainable district, and awareness of our climate impact is one of our driving factors."
A landmark development and a significant symbol of Saudi Arabia’s social and economic transformation, KAFD has transformed into a business and lifestyle destination with state-of-the-art physical and digital infrastructure.
How is KAFD positioned to generate significant value for the Kingdom?

Although the district is the largest mixed-use development in the world spread over an area of almost 2 million sqm, our real value add for the Kingdom is in the dynamic business and finance ecosystems we are building while also focusing on providing our residents and visitors with a premium lifestyle experience. We are enablers for Vision 2030 goals for socio-economic growth and quality of life. As we speak, we are working to complete almost 94 buildings, comprising approximately 1 million sqm of office real estate, 130,000 sqm of retail space, and over 900 apartments. KAFD will become a hub and an iconic district where companies both from the public and private sector and international companies will move their offices. Almost 70% of our buildings have been pre-leased, and it is clear that demand is not an issue. Our ecosystem is attracting both local and international demand, including international banks, legal firms, and international consultancy firms. The heart of KAFD is the Financial Zone, which hosts leading entities such as the Public Investment Fund (PIF), Riyadh Bank, SNB Bank and the Capital Markets Authority (CMA). The northern tip of the district—the Innovation Zone—is also hosting a growing network of start-ups and fintechs. Conscious of the entire experience and our emphasis on retail and hospitality, we have developed a comprehensive connectivity and mobility strategy that will ensure the entire area is served and connected by multi-modal transport, including shuttle bus services, a monorail, and a network of skywalks that will connect different buildings within the district. We want to set new standards as the prime destination for business and lifestyle in the region.

What emphasis will KAFD place on the concept of environmental sustainability?

We are striving to create a sustainable district, and awareness of our climate impact is one of our driving factors. KAFD is the largest LEED platinum-certified, mixed-use district in the world for various reasons. There are two district cooling plants that supply chilled water that permits lower costs and a sustainable solution relating to providing air conditioning across the district. We have 30 towers at the moment undergoing LEED certification, and 14 of them are already certified, with one platinum and several silver and gold awards. Many of our towers have solar panels on the roofs and there is a great deal of innovative functionality built into individual towers and the district.

What challenges does KAFD expect to face over the medium term?

The challenges are in operationalizing such a large district. Therefore, it is important to have everything be smart enabled, harnessing technologies including AI, IoT, and cashless smart systems. An entire smart city platform will enable us to control and monitor everything. The second challenge is that we need better road connectivity. We are in talks with the authorities to create more integrated intersections coming into the district. We have conducted traffic impact and mobility studies to manage more traffic entering into the district, and the Riyadh Metro network will alleviate some of the traffic entering the district. Internally, the monorail and skywalks will provide alternative means for mobility. Parking is also a challenge; ultimately, it is about encouraging people to use multi-mobile transportation solutions. It involves a wider cultural shift across the country. We are a microcosm for the bigger Riyadh city. We also need to provide a healthy micro climate within this district, because we are the first vertical city within a horizontal city. This is where our environment and sustainability measures come in. We need more green areas, walking areas, pedestrian-only areas, crowd management, and traffic control. Plans are in motion for all these issues as we work to make KAFD a thriving district that meets the aspirations of Vision 2030.

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