Abdullah Al-Tasan: My Globetrotting Days Are Behind Me
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“Nothing is difficult. With the help of Allah and then the support of your colleagues, everything is possible.”
It would be difficult to argue with someone who has such a fundamental philosophy on life. Abdullah Saleh Al-Tasan — Almarai’s Head of Central Procurement — is living proof of how determination and the will to succeed will take you to the very pinnacle of your profession.
He is in charge of a department that spends enormous sums of money, amounting to around 40 per cent of Almarai’s product costs. Twenty five of his people, divided into five sections, source, purchase and ensure delivery of the commodities the company needs, from ingredients, raw materials and packaging, to farm feeds, capital equipment purchases, spare parts for machinery and everyday items such as stationery, furniture and outsourced services. They deal with customs clearances for imported goods and for the shipping of all purchases to their user destinations.
Abdullah, who was born and raised in Al Kharj, graduated from the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM) in Dhahran, where he majored in industrial management, specialising in his final years in management and marketing. During his time there he took part in a cooperative training programme, spending eight months with Aramco Service Company in Houston, Texas — an experience which in his words “changed his life”.
“It was the first time I had experienced working life,” he recalls “and the first time I had been outside the Middle East. I learned a great deal and experienced first hand what it was like to deal with business people.”
On graduation, he joined a subsidiary of SABIC — Petrokemya, based in Jubail Industrial City on the east coast, but spent time training on the job in the UK and the Netherlands.
“Following that, I was based for over two years in Yokohama as a procurement coordinator, acting as a link between Petrokemya in Jubail and Chiyoda main contractors,” Abdullah remembers, adding “there were 15 Saudi engineers based there along with 40 American experts from the Union Carbide Corporation. The Japanese were very polite and friendly and went out of their way to make the foreign workers feel welcome.
“Some of the Japanese food was very good — in particular, my favourites Tempura and Sukiyaki — but although eating with chopsticks could be described as an ‘interesting’ experience, I normally used a knife and fork,” he admits.
Abdullah got the opportunity to travel all over Japan, and believes the experience of working there has influenced his business conduct ever since.
He returned to Jubail at the end of 1985, where the following year saw him promoted to the position of Purchasing Manager, allowing him to build up the department virtually from scratch, using the Union Carbide system as a model, with the help of American and Pakistani colleagues with whom he had worked in Japan
In 1990, due in part to a desire to move back to the Riyadh area, Abdullah left SABIC and joined NSCSA — the National Shipping Company of Saudi Arabia as fleet purchasing manager, where he was responsible for the procurement of everything needed by the eight company ‘ Ro-Ro’ container ships — from fuel and supplies, to food and equipment.
“People sometimes ask me if it wasn’t a huge jump to move from the petrochemical industry to shipping; but the discipline of procurement is the same, despite the fact that one is basically dealing with different goods.”
Throughout the six years spent with the NSCSA, Abdullah travelled incessantly. “It was necessary to visit ports all over the world in order to sign contracts and understand just what it was that was needed by our fleet — both in dry dock in places such as Valencia, Dubai or Singapore, or in repair yards anywhere from Yokohama to Houston, with all ports in between,” Abdullah explains.
“On one occasion I sailed on a 20 day trip and I only really then started to understand what a tough and dangerous life the men aboard ship undergo. At the start it was really exciting travelling the world, but after a short while the excitement soon wore off and it was quite tiring always being away and living out of a suitcase.”
Come 1996, Abdullah joined another company in yet another discipline — this time, the fledgling Advanced Electronic Company — AEC — based at the King Khalid International Airport industrial complex. It was here that he spent a great deal of time negotiating contracts — especially in the defence and telecommunications industry — and learning about AEC’s business development whilst also developing further his management skills.
“AEC is a model company in terms of the way it handles the issue of Saudisation,” Abdullah explains. “Some 70 per cent of their workforce are Saudis, and they train their staff in all disciplines, sending them not only on courses in the Kingdom, but also abroad where necessary.”
On January 24th, 2004 — a date that is lodged firmly in Abdullah’s memory — he joined Almarai to oversee the new central procurement department.
“What has been very important to me is the healthy environment in Almarai and the support I get from my colleagues and from management all the way up to the very top of the company,” he explains. “To me that has been one of the most important factors for my working here, and I would like to think I will remain with Almarai until it is time for me to retire.”
Not that he has any retirement plans at the present time. Abdullah admits he is a work addict and has little time for hobbies, though weekends are reserved for family where possible (he has a son and four daughters) and for visiting his mother in Al Kharj every Friday.
“I like reading, too,” he adds, “though mainly newspaper articles that I can get through in one sitting, as books take up too much time.”
And is there anything else he looks forward to, perhaps in retirement, Tawasol wondered? “Exercise,” Abdullah admits, sheepishly casting a quick glance over his figure. “Yes, one day I will definitely get round to doing a bit of exercise — but only when I have the time!” But somehow one suspects that ambition will have to wait a while longer!