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Walid Abukhaled


Defensive Position

CEO, Northrop Grumman


Walid Abukhaled was most recently Deputy Minister for Industrial Affairs at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in Riyadh. Prior to that, he was President and CEO of GE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, during which time he led the company’s operations. Before joining GE, he worked for BAE Systems in Saudi Arabia in a career that spanned more than 20 years and was most recently Director of Portfolio Management. In this position, he was posted to the UK for two years to develop strategies for growth and inward investment opportunities in Saudi Arabia.

“This is of interest to us because this is exactly what we should do: highlight the importance of cyber security.“

To what extent has the company sought to build a lasting footprint in the Kingdom?

We are here for the long term. We enjoyed more than four decades in the Kingdom and plan to continue with our commitments. We are now focusing on developing the youth of Saudi Arabia to be the future business leaders dealing with the most sophisticated technology. For example, we work with universities on cyber security and have annual competitions related to cyber security. Last year, the competition was presented by the Chief of Staff of the Ministry of Defense and the winners were immediately recruited by various companies. This is of interest to us because this is exactly what we should do: highlight the importance of cyber security. The most challenging part is building a pipeline of capable Saudis who can be the future business leaders in the high-tech area. Interestingly, last year the winners on all three days were all female, and this sent us signals that is an area we should focus on and look at female empowerment in terms of enhancing their capabilities in ICT technology.

To what extent does this fit into Vision 2030?

This absolutely aligns with Saudi Vision 2030. We transfer knowledge and work with the youth. We also have other programs where we send Saudi students to the US to work with high-tech startup companies, because our experience is that if we place them with high-tech startups, they will understand what it takes to grow a company from inception to investment, to actually utilizing technologies. They start to get involved in everything, whether it is HR, design, or R&D, so this is a great opportunity to place Saudis through this program. At the same time, we seek a great deal of initiatives where we can transfer our own technology to the Kingdom to not only serve Saudi Arabia, but also the region at large.

How much of your business is divided with the MoD and how much goes into training and nurturing the new generation?

We have a great history in the Kingdom; however, as a corporate office we started in January 2014. We did not have large B2B deals yet as we worked with universities and other institutions to transfer knowledge and technology. Our work with universities is not related to any obligations like offset. We do it because it is the right thing to do for the community. As we grow and win more business, that amount of work will be multiplied by a large factor. Now there are more opportunities and an important element of every opportunity is related to localization and industrialization. We do not only deal with the Ministry of Defense we also deal with the Ministry of National Guard and our products and capabilities go to the Ministry of Interior. We have two joint ventures in Saudi. Most of the work is done with the Ministry of National Guard by one of our joint venture called “Vinnell Arabia“ and the other is called Northrop Grumman Mission Systems Arabia. Most of the work with the latter is related to strategic site protection with Aramco. Cyber is included because we embed cyber in all our products.

Is Saudi Arabia diversifying its defense mix more and more to deal with other countries?

Saudi Arabia has always held a position of diversifying its procurement. A large majority of that procurement was with the US, due to the fact that the US is undoubtedly the most advanced country in the world when it comes to defense technology. It has the most advanced working system, the most advanced defense system, and so on. When it comes to the amount of money it spends on R&D, no one compares. That is why we are extremely positive that defense trade with the US will remain the highest. From Northrop Grumman’s perspective, regardless of the rapid political changes happening both in the US and the Middle East, we are absolutely confident the strong alliance between Saudi Arabia and the US will remain strong, and that we will continue to support each other in security and defense matters for many years to come.

What are your expectations for 2017?

We all know 2016 was not a great year as there were many issues and the price of oil dropped by more than 50%. 2017 will be different and we are positive about it. We will not see the effect of Vision 2030 and the transformation before 3Q2017. In 4Q2017 people, the economy, and businesses will start to feel the positive impact. The Kingdom has looked at the government procurement systems and processes and has re-engineered them to make them more efficient and transparent. All of this will be great for the economy. There remains many good opportunities in the Kingdom. Northrop Grumman has designed and built one of the most advanced C4I systems and a world leader in Cyber security. We are standing by for a large sustainable program related to logistics and after-sales support for big platforms. With all these, we hope the coming years to be great for us.



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