Strategy Bites is a series of interviews that LIRA Strategy Partners founder and Managing Director Raffaella Campagnoli is conducting with some of Saudi Arabia’s most notable business executives for Entrepreneur.com. In this edition, Bander A. Mogren, COO, Public Investment Fund, gives his take on what it means to be doing business in the Kingdom.
Can you give us an introduction to PIF, as well as its its role and mandate in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?
The Public Investment Fund (PIF) is one of the largest Sovereign Wealth Funds in the world, and one of the main pillars driving the economic transformation envisaged as part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030.
We look at long-term investment opportunities in promising industries that are driving both local and global economic development: the Fund is working to diversify and enhance the Kingdom’s wealth, help drive its economic transformation, and support the country’s ambition to become a global investment powerhouse. To achieve this, PIF’s strategy is designed upon two main objectives:
> Maximizing PIF’s assets locally, launching new sectors in Saudi Arabia, and localizing modern technologies and knowledge
> Being an international, patient, and impactful investor that aims to drive global economies.
The Line, NEOM. Source: Public Investment Fund
As the COO of one of the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world, what can you tell us about your role in supporting the achievements of the Fund’s goals?
As part of my role, I oversee operations in shared services including information technology, digital transformation, human capital, and investment operations. Being part of PIF since 2016, I have witnessed the growth of the Fund from operations, processes, systems and employees in the past years. I seek to enable PIF to grow internally and support PIF’s portfolio companies and projects to run smoothly and effectively on multiple perspectives, for example:
> As part of what we call the “PIF Way,” ensuring that our portfolio companies follow PIF standards and guidelines and that the new companies and projects are up and running in a timely manner. We act as an incubator to upcoming companies and projects by providing our full services in setting up the company and helping develop its institutional capabilities in an expedited manner.
> Supporting the tremendous internal growth, especially in human capital, where our employee base grew significantly over the last four years from approximately 40 employees in 2016, to now over 1,000 staff members from both Saudi Arabia, and, at last count, 33 countries from around the world.
> We launched our Graduate Development Program (GDP) –one of the top programs in the country– in 2017 to develop local talent and facilitate skills transfer for young Saudi men and women, while creating new job training opportunities for the next generation. We have hired around 120 candidates across the organization since the start of the program.
In addition to our strong support standards, PIF also ensures significant support to employees and their families outside of the workplace. This translates into benefits which are benchmarked against the highest international standards, providing support to the whole family, employees’ parents included.
I am very proud of PIF’s commitment in upholding a diverse workforce of local and global talents, which underlines the Fund’s focus on delivering on its ambitions.
This year has been unprecedented challenges for organizations globally- how did you ensure operations run smoothly despite those circumstances? What changes have you introduced as part of those solutions?
This year definitely saw unprecedented circumstances with the COVID-19 pandemic challenging local and global economies in a way that has never been seen before. Our hearts go out to all those individuals and families affected by this terrible pandemic.
I am proud of how PIF was able to seam – lessly navigate with restrictions during lockdown, and operate in “business as usual” fashion, without disrupting our work and commitment to achieving our goals and to our partners, all while upholding and enforcing the proper measures for a safe environment.
To ensure the Fund runs smoothly during the pandemic, we worked with our crisis management committee around the clock, so work could continue as planned despite the challenges. We actioned some contin – gency plans offering support both to all PIF employees to help them achieve their goals, and with it the wider goals of the Fund. Also, we enhanced our support to all our portfolio companies and projects in order to make sure that the pandemic would not affect our strategies and development plans.
PIF employee. Source: Public Investment Fund
You have been a part of PIF since 2016. What excites you most about your role?
What is most exciting about my role is the multiple functions I oversee from differ – ent operations such as in investment to infrastructure and corporate functions that provide services to upcoming companies and projects. We have achieved incredible outcomes over the past four years including during the difficult times of the pandemic.
Some examples include:
> Launched 10 new sectors and more than 30 new companies, including in real estate, entertainment, tourism, agriculture, and sports.
> Continuously supporting our many portfolio companies at all stages of their development, to ensure they implement global best practices around governance.
> In 2019, initiated the PIF Way to formalize our approach to enhancing value in its portfolio companies, and building on PIF’s independent governance and operational framework.
> Appointed well over 300 PIF Board representatives on our portfolio companies’ boards, onboarding both local and international according to the required expertise.
Qiddiya is set to become the Kingdom’s capital of Entertainment, Sports and the Arts as part of Vision 2030. Source: Public Investment Fund
What impresses you most about PIF’s plans for the future?
PIF has a unique mandate that is beyond just being a sovereign wealth fund. For every investment, we consider its future impact on the domestic market; for every new global partnership, we consider the return on our economy’s growth like new technologies, knowledge and know-how transfer, etc.
Over the past four years, we’ve grown our assets under management to nearly $400 billion, and continue to increase this number as we launch new sectors and companies. PIF actively supports and enables the development of the private sector as it helps build economic resilience while creating new job opportunities within the country and benefits the country and its people. As Saudi recently opened its borders to tourism, what message would you send to all the people who have never visited your country? Saudi Arabia is an incredible country where people are welcoming, generous and polite.
Take, for example, this recent and humble story. The Rally Dakar took place recently in Saudi. Racers sometimes have challenges with their cars as they get damaged during the competition: one of their challenges is to fix their cars themselves. What is happening a bit behind the scenes (also because it’s not really allowed by the Rally’s rules) is a high number of Saudis are actually heading to the racers to assist and help in fixing their cars, providing support to the drivers, and helping them get out of trouble.
This generosity and openness is infused in our culture: I am sure tourism will be a great part of our future economy, as people around the world will appreciate and recognize how nice and hospitable our people are.