Back to top

News

News__details

Olayan Directors Participate in US-Saudi Business Forum

Hutham Olayan and Lubna Olayan played key roles in the Second Annual US-Saudi Business Opportunities Forum held Dec. 5-7 in Atlanta, Georgia. More than 1,100 people from government and business attended, including a number of ministers from Saudi Arabia.

Lubna Olayan, CEO and deputy chairperson of Olayan Financing Company, keynoted the conference with an opening address on the long, sometimes bumpy, but enduring relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. She was introduced by Sam Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.

“The links forged from education have been one of the key factors that has allowed us to rebound from serious challenges and strains in our relationship,” said Lubna Olayan in the conclusion to her remarks. “Today we have a record number of over 55,000 students, our future leaders, studying in this country, 47,000 of whom are here on government scholarships, of which 30 percent are females. This makes me optimistic about the future of our two countries and confident that despite all that is going on around us, and all the challenges that we face, we are two countries that will continue to build on the cooperation of the last 80 years and further strengthen the ties that bind us.” (See full text of the speech below.)

Hutham Olayan, president and CEO of Olayan America, led a plenary panel discussion on “Maintaining a Stable Global Financial System: Shared Responsibility.” Panelists were H.E. Dr. Muhammad Al-Jasser, then governor of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency or SAMA (subsequently named the new minister of Economy and Planning in Saudi Arabia); Philip Bleser, head of Global Corporate Bank-North America at JP Morgan; and Fahad Al-Mubarak, then chairman and managing director of Morgan Stanley Saudi Arabia (subsequently named the new governor of SAMA).

Summing up the discussion, Hutham Olayan noted: First, developed economies need to convince the market that they have a long-term plan to fix structurally difficult issues. Second, counter cyclical policies are critical. Third, the regulatory environment needs to be as unified as possible to avoid arbitrage over jurisdictional differences. Fourth, global efforts should be closely coordinated. And, finally, on an optimistic note, there are already signs that the crisis may produce positive change for the long-term good of the financial system. (To hear the full discussion, click here.)

To view Lubna Olayan’s keynote address, please click here.

Text of the keynote address:

Good morning. Mr. Mayor, your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen:

It is a pleasure to be here in Atlanta to discuss how we continue to strengthen the longstanding economic cooperation between Saudi Arabia and the United States. So for all of us the starting point on which we should base our discussions over these next two days is the long, tried, and tested friendship and trust between our two countries.

I am especially pleased to be here at a conference co-organized by the Committee for International Trade, because my father was a founder of this organization many years ago and its first chairman. And I am sure that he would be very happy to see us gathered here in Atlanta today to further the cooperation between our two countries.

And what an interesting time for us to meet together. It is the final month of a year that I’m sure will go down as one of the most interesting in recent history, in which we have seen the financial crisis gather strength. Five governments in Europe have fallen. And an American friend observed that two of those bypassed the democratic process to install technocratic governments. Major cities around the world are “occupied.” And, finally, the landscape of the Middle East has forever changed.

The reasons varied. The reactions varied. And the outcomes varied. Or in some cases remain unknown. But there are lessons to be learned. First, progress requires change, and real change requires progress. The only logical conclusion therefore is that we are better served by cooperating in managing change rather than closing our eyes to it. And regardless of where we sit we are all certainly affected and impacted by what happens in this globalized world we have created.

With all this volatility around us I am pleased that for a change Saudi Arabia was actually a bit ahead of the curve as a result of King Abdullah having taken the view several years ago that it was indeed best to allow and manage change in a manner that reflected our needs, our traditions and culture, and our people’s ability to accept and deal with the change in a responsible manner.

Saudi Arabia is, you must remember, a relatively young country and if you look at our development over the last 80 years you will see that we in Saudi Arabia and the relationships between Saudi Arabia and American companies have come a long way. And since the first cooperation between our two countries in the ’30s, there has certainly been a strong American influence on our development — defense, oil, engineering, project management, financial regulation and medicine are all areas where there is a long history of cooperation. American institutions -- from universities to banks to multinationals -- have influenced our students, our future leaders, our businessmen, and our institutions, including one of our greatest institutions, Aramco.

It was actually his experience dealing with American colleagues at Aramco that prompted my father to approach US companies and later make trips to the US in the ’40s and ’50s, which resulted in his establishing trading and other relationships with a range of U.S. companies -- from Kimberly Clark to Cummins, Kenworth, and Bechtel --and many of those relationships have grown into real partnerships lasting more than half a century. Cooperation between our government agencies and private sector and American engineering and construction firms quite literally built our cities and our industrial plants. And as I look at my colleagues in the audience, including several of our government officials, it is striking how many of us have had our undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate education and in many cases even our training here in the US, myself included. For us, the US has been a source of knowledge, knowledge that we brought back home.

Today we are certainly looking to our East and we watch carefully the great potential of China and India but the connection to the US and the relationships we developed here as a result of personal, professional and corporate ties tend to pull us back in this direction and influence us in how we think, and who we partner with as we go about our business. But, like all relationships the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia has at times been strained and tested. And like all close partners, neither of us wants to be taken for granted.

In Riyadh, as well as the Arab street, the US has lost credibility, especially in relation to what has been and remains a central issue of concern, the Israeli-Palestinian situation. The broader interests of our two countries will be well served if business leaders from both countries made every effort they can to ensure there is some sense of balance, both in word and deed, to the US position on that central issue. But there has been perhaps no greater test of our relationship than 9/11 and for a period it looked as though the relationship was damaged beyond repair. But thankfully it was not. It rebounded -- a testament to the strength of the long-term relationship and shared values that bind our countries together, and to the persistent efforts of several officials, educators and businessmen from both our countries.

But some politicians in the US still argue that there is an urgent need to move away from Saudi Arabia and break the dependence on Saudi oil. But in reality over the last five years, the US got on average less than 12 percent of its oil from us. And that argument ignores the fact that we get a whole bunch of things from you in return, ranging from F-15s to Coca-Cola, to a master plan for King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, to Xerox copiers and printers, to Colgate toothpaste and to assistance from most of your leading universities.

As in any successful relationship it has always been a two-way street that works to our mutual benefit. Today bilateral trade between the US and the Kingdom has grown to over $42 billion encompassing trading, manufacturing, and services. Saudi Arabia is the United States’ 14th largest trading partner, and there are currently about 360 joint ventures between Saudi and US companies with a value in excess of $20 billion. But the Saudi market has even more potential to offer. 

Today, ours is the largest free market economy in the Arab world and we are a member of the G-20. Our nominal GDP for 2011 is forecasted about $540 billion, just shy of that of the UAE and Egypt combined. We have a young and growing population with relatively strong buying power. Aramco is the largest oil company in the world. SABIC now ranks among the top three petrochemical companies in the world. Our banks are among the top-rated in the industry based on capital adequacy, liquidity and profitability. Our government remains focused on attracting and retaining FDI and by diversifying the non-oil sectors and encouraging local manufacturing. We are the largest industrial producer in the Arab world, and the World Bank’s 2011 report on “Ease of Doing Business” -- we were ranked 12th in that.

I can assure you that I and all of us who have come from Saudi Arabia want to see our growth, development, and success lead to even closer ties between our two business communities. 

Mayor Reed, we certainly look forward to what you have to say to us and I’m sure we all look forward to the discussions over the course of today and tomorrow, which will focus on a range of topics of interest to all of us such as how we are weathering the financial storm in which Dr. Al-Jasser, the governor of SAMA, will share his views; health care delivery, in which Dr. Rabeeah, our minister of Health will outline what we are doing in the Kingdom; an exploration of the opportunities for finance and investment, in which Secretary Cohen will share his experience; the future of oil and petrochemical industries and opportunities in water and electricity and renewable energy; an exchange of views on the state of the relationship from a diplomatic perspective, in relation to which we will hear this evening and tomorrow from Ambassaor Al-Mouallimi, General Smith, and Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Saeed. I’m sure there will certainly be some rather interesting exchanges.

Given the importance of education to our progress in the Kingdom and to the relationship between our two countries, it is fitting that our first session this morning is on education and that Prince Faisal will have the opportunity to share with us his insights into the way he is managing changes to the educational system in the Kingdom.

Finally, as I said earlier the links forged from education have been one of the key factors that has allowed us to rebound from serious challenges and strains in our relationship. Today we have a record number of over 55,000 students, our future leaders, studying in this country, 47,000 of whom are here on government scholarships, of which 30 percent are females. This makes me optimistic about the future of our two countries and confident that despite all that is going on around us, and all the challenges that we face, we are two countries that will continue to build on the cooperation of the last 80 years and further strengthen the ties that bind us.

Thank you very much.