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Mr Blue Sky: We Need To Think Of New Ways In Which To Expand

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Blink and you might just miss him. Almarai’s General Manager, Strategic Business Development – Eng. Assad Al Sadoon – is only recently back from Singapore and Malaysia and in a few hours’ time he’s off to the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.

Assad’s role is to think into the future — to look for ways in which Almarai can diversify with new ideas, new projects and new ways of doing things. He’s ‘Mr Blue Sky’, not afraid to think laterally, and to think ‘out of the box’.

?“Obviously I cannot tell you much about the work I’m doing,” Assad tells Tawasol, “as it’s so commercially sensitive. But I’m currently working on three or four different projects, some or all of which may well play an important part in the future of the company.”

Assad’s credentials are impeccable for such a job. With a Batchelor of Science degree in Construction and an MSc in Industrial Management, both from Indiana State University in the US, he moved on to taking a Post-Graduate diploma in Production Methods and Management at Cambridge University in the UK.

Meanwhile his career spanned from being General Manager in a Riyadh construction firm, to working as a Technical Analyst for the Saudi Industrial Development Fund, Managing Director of the privately-owned Al Rajhi conglomerate, and General Manager at Al Hana dairy before he was head hunted by Almarai to his first position as General Manager of the Central Processing Plant (now CPP1) in Al Kharj.

“When I joined the company seven years ago, Almarai really thought that the CPP would serve all our needs until the year 2020; yet within only three years the company had started to build CPP2 which was one and a half times bigger than CPP1 — and this was a reflection of the rapid pace of change within the commercial food sector and the success of the company in marketing both existing and new product lines,” Assad recalls.

In August 2004, Assad was promoted to Deputy General Manager of the Operations Division; but following Almarai’s successful transformation into a publicly quoted company, the Board felt the time was right to start looking to diversify what the company was doing, and to move it from being purely a dairy company into a major multi-food processing company operating across the GCC.

With the newly created Strategic Business Development division, Assad — with his varied and extensive background — was appointed to his present position last December.

“In the old days, Almarai was choosy as to whom it supplied with its products. But now we supply all outlets and our product lines number over 250, so we have to start thinking of other ways in which to expand,” Assad continues.

“The Company is lucky in that it has a dynamic, forward thinking board of management which enjoys huge support across the company. There are lots of ideas that are being discussed and my role is to critically challenge those ideas and to see if they can be made to work for the long term good of the company.

“We are committed to maintaining high standards at all times and we work hard to get our projects right first time, from the very beginning. But our products must be unique and recognised as such in order for us to remain at the forefront of the industry. So I would say that this role that I have taken on is a pivotal one within Almarai.”

Although he lists as his hobbies, basketball and jogging, Assad admits there is little time for leisure activities in his busy schedule, often working long hours into the late evenings. “My family understands my commitment to the company, and supports what I’m doing, and I try to compensate at weekends by spending as much time as possible with them, often at our small farm outside the capital, where we ride bikes and buggies.

“We lost a 13-year old son recently, and that kind of thing makes you stop and consider what is important in your life and to sort out your priorities,” Assad says.

Looking back on his career, he has few regrets. “Of course I could have done some things differently,” he admits. “With hindsight that’s quite clear. I don’t regret the things I’ve done. But I do get joy from making others happy.

“I also hate discrimination of any kind. But it’s something you find the world over. I’ve seen it in the US and in Europe just as I have seen it here in Saudi Arabia.

“Almarai isn’t like that. It’s a good company that supports its employees but it also requires them to be trustworthy and to work hard.

“And if I have one message for those starting off on their career with Almarai, it is this. Learn how to play your part to the full. Work hard and eventually it will all pay back.

“It’s not difficult to be competitive. It’s very difficult. But in the end, that’s what makes Almarai such a very successful company.”

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