On the lighter side of things we asked Khaled Alsaleh, Managing Director, SAP Saudi Arabia, about makes him tick.
What would you describe as your most memorable achievement?
Joining SAP as Managing Director of Saudi Arabia has been a major career milestone as I have been inspired by its vision; to help the world run better and improve people’s lives.
Since joining SAP in February 2018, I was pleased to see SAP Saudi Arabia be awarded the 2018 Top Employer KSA, Top Employer Middle East and Top Employer Global certification. Then, I have been involved with the go-live of the SAP Public Cloud Hub in the kingdom, in support of Saudi Vision 2030. SAP became the first multi-national technology company to go live on a public cloud data centre in Saudi Arabia.
Previously in my career, my most memorable achievement was having Saudi Arabia as the top-performing country in EMEA during my tenure at Hewlett Packard Enterprise in 2014.
What first made you think of a career in technology?
I first became interested in technology during secondary school. Technology has always been the trend of the future, and an impactful enabler not only in terms of transforming economy, society and the environment but also in presenting career growth opportunities.
At King Saudi University, I applied to IT and computer science programmes and pursued a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Information Systems. From there I worked with a number of technology companies in the region, resulting in being Managing Director of Saudi Arabia for SAP.
What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?
I’m a believer in sympathetic servant leadership style and in curiosity as a state of mind. The ultimate leadership characteristic in my opinion is the ability to develop talent and to create a corporate culture that fosters a common mission for everyone to push in the same direction.
In terms of management philosophy, it is to map global corporate strategies onto geography-specific market dynamics; and to develop an effective go-to-market strategy. Thanks especially to Saudi Vision 2030, the KSA presents strong growth opportunities in the digital transformation of the economy and of organisations. I also believe that it’s imperative to know your team members well, and to identify what motivates each and every one distinctively as this skill is not one size fits all.
Being an effective manager is an ongoing process and a journey of learning and education. I just graduated from the Senior Executive Leadership Program at Harvard Business School and have obtained an alumni status.
What do you think is the current hot technology talking point?
The KSA is at the global forefront of adopting and leveraging breakthrough technologies to foster nationwide digital transformation, youth job creation and economic competitiveness.
Digital transformation will fuel Saudi Vision 2030 goals and support new digital business models and new levels of customer and citizen experiences, especially in Smart Cities such as NEOM. Supporting Saudi Vision 2030, we recently launched our public cloud data centre and our training and development institute is continuing to support Saudi young talent, start-ups and entrepreneurs.
Among CIOs, following our recent global event SAPPHIRE NOW, we are seeing strong interest in enhancing intelligent enterprises. Running on a digital core and integrating innovative technologies is essential, supported by our SAP Leonardo digital innovation system and SAP C/4HANA suite to modernise customer relationship management.
How do you deal with stress and unwind outside the office?
Being a managing director requires a strong dedication and commitment to supporting our customers at any time, from any location and on any mobile device. This requires a personality that is calm and thoughtful and can rapidly respond to challenges, embrace change and proactively find solutions to customer requests.
Outside of the office, I try to spend as much time as possible with family and friends. We like to slow down on the weekend, and our favourite past times are having good conversations and playing sports.
If you could go back and change one career decision what would it be?
Early in my career, I was a pre-sales consultant and was offered the chance to move from consulting to becoming a business owner, shifting roles to business and sales. I declined and moved to my next firm in the same pre-sales consultancy role. At the time, I thought it was important to build up experience before advancing into leadership.
While I have no regrets on my career path, in retrospect, I believe that it’s important to take chances when you’re young. If you’re offered a position that seems beyond your reach, you should seize the opportunity and can learn on the job as you advance. Careers are no longer straightforward and it can be worthwhile to follow your own path.
What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?
Multi-national IT companies such as SAP organisations and Saudi organisations across all sizes and industries are heavily investing in breakthrough technologies such as AI and machine learning, blockchain, IoT, cloud computing, and cybersecurity.
In KSA, SAP is seeing strong interest in the SAP Leonardo Digital Innovation Platform, the recently-launched C/4HANA customer relationship management and solutions running on the SAP HANA in-memory database and SAP S/4HANA real-time business suite.
What are the region-specific challenges when implementing new technologies in the Middle East?
Unlikely many emerging markets, the KSA and the Arabian Gulf have among the world’s most advanced technology infrastructure, strong technology spend and CIOs with innovative mindsets.
However, we do face a number of challenges in implementing new technologies. Government regulations and standards, for example in Smart Cities, are advancing at a rapid pace. The region faces a major IT skills gap, especially in a rapidly moving field such as technology. SAP’s Training and Development Institute is fostering partnerships between the public, private and academic sectors to help close this gap and train Saudi young talent.
One of the most important aspects is for organisations to adopt a mindset of early adoption of technology.
What changes to your job role have you seen in the last year and how do you see these developing in the next 12 months?
Over the past year, I have made a major transition in having a regional Middle East and Africa role to now being focused solely on KSA. The kingdom is one of the largest countries in the region; in terms of population, innovation, and economic strength. As Managing Director for SAP Saudi Arabia, I have the opportunity to sharpen my focus on how best to meet the needs of creating transformative customer experiences.
In the next 12 months, we will further support and get closer to our customers in adopting cloud-based digital business models and continue to enable the Saudi government to meet its Saudi Vision 2030 goals. We will continue to foster young talent development. We are training and certifying more than a 100 fresh graduates every year, enhance our channel partner ecosystem and advance our four-year SAR 285 million investment plan for the kingdom.
What advice would you offer somebody aspiring to obtain c-level position in your industry?
For someone aspiring to become a c-suite position in the IT field, there is not one standard career path. It’s important to build up a wide range of experience – whether in sales, consultancy, finance or the academic sectors. People should follow their own path, or blaze new trails, and remain authentic and eager to learn something new every day.