LONDON: If Saudi Arabia is serious about the need for more
foreign direct investment in the economic transformation underway
in the Kingdom, it needs to enlist the support of more
world-traveled executives such as Michael Train, president of US
engineering group Emerson.
The 129-year-old company, based in the US heartland of St. Louis,
Missouri, has made Saudi Arabia a key investment destination ever
since it first got involved in the Kingdom 10 years ago, and is
looking to ramp up that presence significantly.
Train, in the Kingdom last week for what is becoming a regular trip
for him, summed up the US-Saudi entente: “I think US-Saudi
relations are pretty strong right now. Obviously there are
sensitivities here in the region between the different countries
and tensions, but I think there’s an awful lot right with the
US-Saudi relationship,” he said.
He was speaking on the sidelines of the Saudi Energy Forum
organized by information consultancy Gulf Intelligence in Riyadh,
on a day when there had been much fevered speculation about the
possibility of US legislation against the Saudi-led Organization of
Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and a possible Saudi response
by looking beyond the US dollar for future oil trading, which was
Train’s response was well-considered: “There are various things
out there and I don’t think they are necessarily majority points
of view. The good thing about having democracies and other types of
government is you get a chance to have those kind of conversations,
and that’s interesting. Its about our world progressing
forward,” he said.
Emerson’s investments in the Kingdom have been lower key than
some of the big joint ventures or projects other global firms have
announced, but give the impression the US firm is investing in
Saudi Arabia for the long term.
The Dhahran Techno Valley project, opened last year in partnership
with the King Fahd University of Petrochemicals and Mining, is an
example. “In the hub of the Eastern Province we’re helping to
create a terrific facility where we’re able to bring together all
the technologies we’re associated with globally … get people to
see them, touch them, experience them, taste them, and share some
vision for how they get utilized in the future,” Train said.
Emerson’s participation in the King Salman Energy Park (Spark),
one of the megaprojects created under the auspices of Saudi Aramco
to generate jobs and boost industrial output is another example.
Emerson will eventually have manufacturing capability on the
project, sited between Dammam and Al-Ahsa in the east. “We’re
making a major commitment there,” he said.
•Bachelor’s degree in science and electrical engineering,
General Motors Institute,
•Master’s in business administration, Cornell University,
•Executive, General Motors
•Emerson, various posts in Asia
•Emerson, group president and chairman of Emerson Automation
Train also saw potential in the megaprojects such as the
cross-border city NEOM, that are underway. “We don’t build
buildings or roads, so others will get those opportunities.
What’s interesting about the cities is that the planning
associated with those, and the ‘smart designation’, which
involves building infrastructure that’s pretty enlightened.
It’s going to use a lot of sensing, so that’s a good thing for
us. We’re pretty excited. I don’t think the word mega covers
the size and scope of these,” he added.
Emerson’s appetite for the Kingdom was first whetted a decade ago
when it opened a facility at the huge industrial site at Jubail,
which has proved to be a success for the American company.
“It’s very popular with petrochemicals customers. We also
support the customers in Yanbu from that side with an in-country
product and a fast response. That ability to serve customers well
to respond quickly is a good thing. These industries are running
24/7 operations and time is very expensive to them in terms of
missed opportunities, so having that capability and expertise is
very important for customers,” Train explained.
Most of Emerson’s operations in the Kingdom support the energy
industry in some form or other. Its new expertise is in the
handling and application of data in all aspects of the energy
production and usage processes, which can support one of the
central planks of government policy: To make Saudi citizens more
aware of the value of energy.
Change is hard. Sometimes the best form of learning is
The Kingdom is a huge producer of oil and gas, but is also one of
the biggest consumers of its own fossil fuel products. One emphasis
of the Riyadh forum was the need to encourage consumers to be more
aware of their energy usage, and Emerson’s high-technology
products — sensors, monitors and alert-systems — provide that
“I think we can help, certainly when they’re looking for
technologies that support how they run their operations, or if they
want more interesting things, like domestic sensors. We like
sensors. We’re trying to bring novel sensors to the market
place,” he said.
California-born Train has been at Emerson for most of his working
life, after an early stint with General Motors, in a career that
has seen him travel around the world, spending much time in east
Asia at the group’s offices in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore. He
speaks Japanese fluently.
The US firm, for much of its history a manufacturer of industrial
and consumer equipment from household fans to aircraft parts, is
riding the crest of the big data revolution and working out how its
technology can exploit it in the age of digital automation and
“Internet of things.”
“There has been a lot of talk about data. I can argue we’re
past “big data” now, we’re into huge data. It’s all about
collecting the stuff that came from the sensors in the past.
We’re trying to bring some new thoughts to the sensor space to
give more insight into what’s going on at these processes, these
facilities. It all plays together — the sensors, presenting that
information, moving that information to users, for analytics,
insight, sharing it. In the blockchain world there are different
ways of aggregating it,” Train said.
One of the ways it does this is via oil pipeline analytics, which
can measure flows and predict problems in deep level facilities, of
obvious use in the Saudi energy and petrochemicals industries.
There has been a lot of talk about data. I can argue
we’re past ‘big data’ now, we’re into huge
Train believes that this technology will help attract a new
generation of young Saudi engineers who might otherwise have been
lured to the more glamorous worlds of communications technology
with the likes of Apple, Google or Facebook. Emerson is on a
recruitment drive in the Kingdom to add to the current workforce of
220 employees, 60 percent of whom are Saudi nationals.
“It takes time. You have to build people’s skill sets, which
we’re actively doing. We’re in the market to bring talent to
these industries. We want people to understand and recognize the
high technology content involved in producing energy, producing
goods from the oils and gases, medicines, supplying energy to keep
our food safe, for transportation. These are noble causes that go
beyond the typical technology definitions around Silicon Valley,”
“Over time we’ll get there. We all need to tell our stories.
What’s great about our industry is we combine electronics,
mechanical engineering and chemical engineering,” he added.
Train is supportive of the economic transformation of Saudi Arabia
under the Vision 2030 reform plan, but warned that, like any
long-term economic plan, it could face hurdles along the way.
“There has been a lot of change, and the Kingdom has leaned
forward to drive that change. I think they’ve welcomed the world
to come join them, and encouraged their youth to step forward and
go toward a more modern world. They’re also subject to the
vagaries of the oil price and their economy gets pushed around a
bit because of that.
“But change is hard. Sometimes the best form of learning is
failure, right? Something that didn’t come off as planned —
sometimes you need that experience,” he said.
Regardless of any challenges, Train sees an increasingly close
relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia in the future. “The
two countries respect each other and embrace each other. There is
technology exchange and certainly there is educational exchange.
People live in each others’ countries. The countries come
together to some extent,” he said.
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Source: FS – All-News-Economy
INTERVIEW: Emerson president Michael Train — ‘Exchange of ideas key to US-Saudi partnership’