Riyadh turns to the technocrats

29 April 2015

Saudi Aramco CEO is the latest to be given senior government role

King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud’s government reshuffle has yet again indicated that the monarch is not afraid to make changes wherever he deems necessary.

A trend is also emerging where respected technocrats are being taken out of their positions within some of the kingdom’s largest companies and placed in ministerial roles aimed at benefiting the public sector with their business acumen.

This was first apparent in February, when the CEO of Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (Sabic), Mohamed al-Mady, was appointed chairman of the General Organisation for Military Industries (Gomi).

The move was a direct indication from the king that he wanted Gomi to be run by someone with high-level business experience and Al-Mady certainly brings that to the table.

This trend has now been continued with the appointment of Saudi Aramco CEO Khalid al-Falih as health minister.

Since becoming Aramco’s head in 2009, Al-Falih’s rise has been meteoric and he is now widely tipped to become the next oil minister.

The current oil minister, Ali al-Naimi, is approaching 80 years of age and is still cutting a swathe through his global competitors in the oil business, but succession has been an issue that has been floating around in the background for some time.

Al-Falih’s new role will allow him to gain vital ministerial experience, and the decision to also make him chairman of Aramco, replacing Al-Naimi, is a firm indication that the energy portfolio may soon be his.

Health is a sector that has been ring-fenced by Riyadh and is having tens of billions of dollars lavished on it. Al-Falih has extensive experience with megaprojects and is expected to utilise this and maximise the return for the country. Just do not expect him to be there for that long.  

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