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Georges The Enabler: An Agent For Change

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Georges Schorderet reckons he has the perfect antidote to meetings that run on too long. Almarai’s Chief Financial Officer switches off the air conditioning in his office — ostensibly so that he doesn’t suffer a blast of cold air down his back when sitting at his desk; but one of the benefits is that visitors think twice about overstaying their welcome!

Georges’ function is to oversee the the Finance, Procurement, Central Planning, Business Systems, and Strategic Projects department – a role that he sees as being both an agent for change as well as an enabler.

“I have five people under me and my role is not to do their job, but to ensure they can deliver the resources of the company where they are needed to greatest effect,” he says. “I need to challenge them and at the same time liaise with the various departments to help them deliver what they need in order to be successful.

“I’m not here to stop initiative,” Georges continues “Instead we must continually re-examine what we are trying to achieve, and to make the resources available to make possible whatever is best for the company in the longer term.”

Georges comes originally from the French-speaking canton of Fribourg in Switzerland, but having gained an MBA in Geneva, he spent much of his career working for an aluminium company — Alusuisse-Lonza in Zurich — who arranged for him to spend time at the Harvard Business School in Boston, USA, as well as sending him on postings to both Wolverhampton in the UK, and New York and St Louis in the US. He also worked in the airline industry at Swissair.

Later he set up his own consultancy, which took him mainly to Switzerland and Germany over a three year period, and it was from here that he was head-hunted to join Almarai in the latter part of 2004.

“Consultancy can be fascinating,” Georges explains, “because you get involved in many different fields and you regularly have to go back to re-examine the basics; but it is also frustrating in that you can only make recommendations. You don’t have the wherewithal to implement those decisions. And as often as not you never see the completion of the job.

“Having visited many foreign countries on business, I very much wanted to experience living in either the Middle East or Asia,” he says. “So when I was approached to join Almarai, I accepted the offer gladly. The company impressed me straight away with its systems, its operations, its efficiency and its positive attitude to staff. Newcomers are made to feel welcome here and Almarai does its best to bring everyone into an extended family.”

Georges is determined to learn some Arabic whilst he is in Saudi Arabia and goes to two classes a week to do just that. “I come from a country where we all learn to speak different languages [French, German and Italian] in order to communicate with our fellow countrymen, and by the time I leave here I would like to have picked up some Arabic. I know it won’t be perfect,” he says, “but I would like to be able to understand and take part in simple conversations at least.”

Georges’ wife and two children remain in Switzerland, but make regular visits to the Kingdom, where he spends his free time making the occasional foray into the desert areas around Riyadh, but also very much enjoys golf and diving.

His favourite diving spots are on the west coast off Yanbu and Jeddah. “There’s so much to see,” he enthuses. “The water is clear, and the fish and coral are simply beautiful. I go for a long weekend of diving about once every three months. It’s certainly far better than diving in Switzerland’s cold, dark lakes!”

As for golf, he is still, in his words, a ‘beginner who has not yet achieved a handicap’, having learned to play only when he came out to his present position. He plays on the Arizona course and says he learns a lot from playing with experienced players.

He also enjoys tennis and going to the gym and at weekends enjoys a spot of cooking — “something a bit more challenging than steak and pommes frites,” he adds, slipping back for a second into French.

His other sporting passion is skiing — not something that he is able to practise whilst in Saudi Arabia, of course, but when he goes home on leave he always tries to squeeze in a few days every year at one of the myriad ski resorts in Switzerland. “One week skiing is worth at least two weeks by the seaside,” he reckons.

Meeting Georges for the first time, one is immediately struck by his positive attitude to everything and to his unerring smile. Does anything ever upset him, Tawasol wondered?

“I do get upset over unnecessary bureaucracy, delays and people not coming to a decision,” he admits. “I think I’m quite patient, but there is a limit. However, if there’s one thing I have learned in management, and especially in my consulting days, it is that the quickest way of getting something done is not necessarily to go straight from A to B. Sometimes it’s necessary to go round an obstacle so that you’re effectively going from A to C to B — and that can get the job done much faster in the long term.

“My objective is to serve the customer and eliminate constraints and sometimes that can only happen if you are prepared to take risks,” he continues, returning to his main theme. “If you eliminate risk, then you stifle the business. It’s quite clear that a central function such as Finance or Procurement has no reason to exist unless it adds value to the overall company, so it shouldn’t be a burden to those at the sharp end of the business. A finance director who is risk averse can be a ‘pain in the neck’ for his colleagues. So it’s important that I understand the needs of my colleagues, whether it’s an issue of getting our products to market, or investing in the infrastructure or moving resources.

“Of course, none of us likes to make mistakes, but if you don’t allow mistakes then people won’t be prepared to take risks. So we all need to learn from mistakes in order to achieve faster and better delivery of our products.”

So does Georges have any other ambitions he would like to achieve in his lifetime? “I would love to discover more of the world and perhaps to work somewhere in Asia. To work in China would be a dream. It’s a fascinating place and I believe the future of the world lies in China. Europe is becoming old and stale. Asia is definitely the place of the future.

“Everyone who has the opportunity should try to discover the world, to open their eyes and experience different cultures and to learn from those experiences,” he adds.

There is so much more that Tawasol could have talked with Georges about. His enthusiasm is infectious and there is always another question just waiting to be asked.

But the air conditioning remains obstinately switched off. Perhaps those questions can wait for another time….

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