My name is Charlotte Lee, a member of Samsung Engineering’s public relations team. I want to share stories from my latest trip to Saudi Arabia, where my colleagues and I joined the grand opening of our new Middle East headquarters.
For work I often travel to the Middle East, the largest market for Samsung Engineering, to organize various events such as a signing ceremony for a new oil refinery or a Samsung-sponsored project management conference. Travelling to Saudi Arabia as a woman in particular has always been quite an eye opening experience, especially with strict visa regulations and a mandatory dress code that requires me to wear an abaya, a black robe typically worn by Muslim women.
Still, the event this month by far marked the biggest milestone for me and Samsung Engineering Saudi Arabia, as the completion of “Samsung Naffora Techno Valley” opened a new chapter of our localization efforts.
Samsung Naffora Techno Valley is a new state-of-the-art engineering complex located in the heart of Jubail Industrial City. The facility, which took $100 million and 21 months to build, is not just a mere regional business office, but a symbol of our commitment to the region built under support from the Royal Commission.
I arrived in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 9 days before the opening ceremony, along with other colleagues who have been working on this event during the past 3 months. Driving up to the facility for the first time, I could see the facility clearly standing out as a landmark building in the Jubail region (You can imagine the landscape here consists of mainly industrial plants or desert plains, so the building has quite an impact!).
Preparing for the opening show was interesting but hectic. From event organizers to our Saudi staff, everyone was nervous because the ceremony had many technical aspects to it while we were expecting many high-profile guests from the Kingdom’s royal family, the government, and CEOs of the region’s top companies.
Our team brought in high-tech video and audio equipment from France and triple-checked the stage set-ups. We had to create a “plan B” just in case an unexpected sandstorm would pass by during the ceremony. We also meticulously arranged special chairs and seating, which required help from the Protocol team of the Royal Commission. The rehearsal on the eve of the ceremony lasted late into the night.
In the evening of May 10, the opening ceremony was finally held, following a crowded press conference earlier in the day. As I watched nervously in the technicians booth, our highly anticipated guests arrived accompanied by swarms of security. Our CEO Park Ki-Seok, along with Korean traditional guards, greeted His Highness Prince Jalawi ibn 'Abd al-'Aziz ibn Musa'ad Al Saud, the Deputy Governor of the Eastern Province, and His Highness Prince Saud bin Abdullah bin Thunayan Al-Saud, Chairman of the Royal Commission for Jubail and Yanbu, as they appeared on the red carpet.
After the beautifully sung Quran verse and CEO Park’s welcome speech, the main show began with a dynamic Korean drum performance with lasers and skytrackers. The finale involved the building’s front face being revealed as a giant movie screen, we presented a video on the night’s main theme, “Korea, Saudi Arabia and partnership.” I heard so many positive comments about the show from our guests, even some said they had goose bumps!
(Here are some video clips from the show on YouTube)
I personally felt the congratulatory speech given by Saudi Aramco Senior Executive Vice President Salim S. Al-Aydh really delivered the gist of our project. Mr. Al-Aydh supported Samsung's commitment to "Saudization", which is increasing the employment of Saudi nationals among private companies. Building the Saudi workforce in the private sector is quite a hot topic these days, especially with the high unemployment rate and rising youth population.
(Updated) Here you can take a look at a recent CNN report on "Saudization", which features the new Samsung complex.
Naffora Techno Valley has several purposes. The facilities will be the home to more Saudi engineers, as we are currently actively involved in career days at Saudi Arabia’s top universities such as King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals. The in-house Safety Training Center will be utilized to teach employees world-class safety standards through various safety simulations for project sites, and is available to the community. Finally, our sports complex, with various facilities such as basketball courts, gym, swimming pool, bowling, will be open to the community.
I was able to talk to a few people during the reception, including Mr. Moyyed Bin Issa Al Qurtas, Vice Chairman and CEO of our client TASNEE, and my Saudi Arabian colleague and acting head of HR, Badr Ghali, on what does this project mean for the region and our businesses:
Mr. Moyyed Bin Issa Al Qurtas, CEO of TASNEE, says...
My Samsung Engineering colleague Badr Ghali says...
When I first visited the Middle East, the place felt very foreign to me compared to any other place I’ve traveled. But the more and more I visit, I began to experience a closeness and understanding with the Saudis and their culture. I even began to prefer wearing an abaya because it was so comfortable and surprisingly cool in the heat!.
Especially during this trip, I no longer feel like just a foreigner representing a foreign company. I know we are gradually becoming part of this community, not just by growing our businesses but through making connections and commitments to people here -- such as Samsung Naffora Techno Valley.
Samsung Engineering has more than 800 employees in Saudi Arabia and is working with 350 contractors and suppliers in the region. Since entering the Saudi Arabian engineering market, Samsung has built 24 hydrocarbon and industrial plants in the region with the combined value of the projects reaching more than $10 billion.