In part II of Bechtel’s Member Highlight, the Council spoke with David King, President of the Saudi Arabian Bechtel Company (SABCO), to reflect on the company’s history of delivering successful projects to the Kingdom and its current and future objectives for the market. David King joined Bechtel in 2012 after a 25-year worldwide career in UK Government Service. He has spent six of the last eight years living and working in the Kingdom – serving on the Wa’ad Al Shamal project in the Northern and Eastern Provinces and representing Bechtel in Riyadh.
1. Give us a feel for Bechtel’s history in KSA.
We’ve been privileged to work in the Kingdom, helping our customers successfully deliver projects for 77 years. During that time, we have contributed to some of Saudi Arabia’s most iconic and economically significant developments, enhancing lives and increasing national self-reliance. Our first project in the Kingdom commenced at Ras Tanura in 1943. It was Saudi Arabia’s first oil refinery and started the translation of resources into economic benefits that improve quality of life. Working for over 60% of our company’s history in the Kingdom is so much more human than historical fact, it’s about an enduring relationship in which the Kingdom has become an intrinsic part of Bechtel’s DNA.
2. What work are you most proud of in KSA?
There is much to choose from across the industrial sectors: infrastructure, oil and gas, mining and metals – we’ve completed major projects in all. If I must point to a specific project, it would be our support to the Royal Commission in Jubail. This has been a union spanning almost 45 years that has seen Jubail grow from a fishing port in 1976 to generating 7% of the nation’s GDP today. Jubail Industrial City is the epitome of what I value most – the intrinsic partnership we share with the Kingdom, including playing our part in developing its people.
3. What does Bechtel look forward to in KSA’s future?
Despite coronavirus, these are exciting times in the Kingdom. I’d highlight two clear areas of interest for the next decade – economic diversification and technical innovation – of which Bechtel has extensive experience elsewhere and to which we can add real value here. More broadly though, there is a vibrancy and excitement about Riyadh that I don’t necessarily see in the wider world. I think that’s prompted by an emerging generation of young Saudis with real aspiration. That generation is the future and we have established programmes to coach and mentor Saudi graduates to prepare them for their role as the engineers and constructors of the Kingdom’s coming decades.
4. What will Bechtel focus on in today’s challenging market?
In the immediate term, we aim to complete our share of the Riyadh Metro Project; to catalyse the Neom programme and to maintain our enduring support to the Royal Commission in Jubail. More broadly, our priorities are focused on the Kingdom’s needs. We support all three pillars of Vision 2030 – explicitly contributing to the thriving economy but in the process giving confidence to ambition and ultimately generating project outcomes that give pride to a vibrant society.
5. What does Bechtel bring to KSA and specifically, to NEOM?
We’re a company with extensive experience as a direct Engineering, Procurement and Construction contractor, meaning that in a project management role such as that at NEOM, we understand the objectives of both the client and contractor, enabling us to actively support an environment of collaboration. NEOM’s ambitions are unique and inspirational. It will demand the very best in sophistication, innovation and simple hard grit from the entire project team. Of course, it helps that we bring such an extensive background of work both in the Kingdom and in challenging environments on every continent. We are very conscious of the honour afforded us by NEOM and delighted to accept the role – this is a scale of aspiration that Bechtel revels in.
6. How important is workplace diversity in delivering megaprojects?
Diversity is essential in today’s business environment. The broader the spectrum of our teams, the greater their vision, innovation and balance and the better we serve our clients. Professional ability is the only attribute recognised by Bechtel, everything else is irrelevant – and that’s the basis for a high-calibre workforce. Here in the Kingdom, I particularly enjoy seeing the growing participation of Saudi women in our projects. They are adding real talent, innovative thinking and dynamism across our technical and managerial disciplines.
7. How does Bechtel envision itself as a key partner in localizing human capital capabilities in the Kingdom?
I dislike the term ‘human capital’: it commodifies what we really mean – people. Bechtel employs people to deliver projects with people, for people. We have an implicit responsibility to bring global best practice to the Kingdom’s workforce. Despite having platinum status on the Nitaqat scale, the proportion of Saudis in our workforce continues to flourish. But we understand that localization is not just about jobs, it’s about enhancing sovereign capability. Each of our projects delivers a programme of learning that encompasses our own employees together with those of clients and partners. We also support and sponsor university courses here. Our learning is underpinned by the Bechtel University – one of the most comprehensive professional development libraries in the industry. But this is not a one-way street – we learn and gain just as much as we give through these programmes. The simple truth is that the more we localise, the more local we become.
8. Any final thoughts?
Personally, I see myself as having two responsibilities here: to represent Bechtel in the Kingdom and to represent the Kingdom in Bechtel. Amid an environment of such vision, aspiration and challenge, I couldn’t be more privileged.