Game-changers: Top 10 tech executives across MENA
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Game-changers: Top 10 tech executives across MENA

Game-changers: Top 10 tech executives across MENA

As organisations across the MENA region march ahead with technology-centric transformations, we profile 10 senior executives from global technology firms with a substantial presence in the region, and who play an influential role in the regional tech industry

The ICT market in the Middle East is anticipated to witness exponential growth owing to governmental digital transformation objectives and the adoption of disruptive technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI). The widespread availability of 5G services, as well as their importance in a variety of business applications and industrial verticals, is also driving market growth.

According to a recent report by Frost & Sullivan, the Middle East’s ICT market is expected to reach $95.05bn by 2025 from $84.23bn in 2020. “Rising demand for technologies, including AI, machine learning, and IoT will drive market growth. 5G, classrooms of the future, e-governance, next-generation healthcare, smart cities, smart mobility, and smart tourism are key focus areas for governments and enterprises,” said Shibapriya Saha, programme manager at Frost & Sullivan.

As more Middle Eastern businesses migrate to the cloud, the region is also poised to become one of the most profitable markets for cloud and data centre providers, she added. The next wave of expansion in the Middle East will be led by Iraq, Oman and Egypt. Qatar, along with Egypt, will have the greatest growth, but Saudi Arabia will continue to be the largest market. Furthermore, the research stated that the restoration of diplomatic ties between the UAE and Israel, as well as the revival of relations between Qatar and other GCC nations will offer a substantial boost to the regional economy.

Jyoti Lalchandani, group vice president and regional managing director of International Data Corporation (IDC), also believes that spending on digital transformation is set to gather even more pace in the post-pandemic period. Spending on public cloud services and professional cloud services is estimated to top $3.7bn and $1.6bn respectively in 2021.

“In the first quarter of 2021 projects such as ‘remote work visas’, ‘Smart Dubai 2021’, and other economic policy regulations were launched. These are expected to boost technology investments in the region,” said John-David Lovelock, research vice president at Gartner.

With the launch of the UAE Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the establishment of a Ministry of Artificial Intelligence, the country has solidified its position as one of the top players in global technological innovation. The UAE’s thriving technology organisations are a key driver supporting the nation’s vision, helping to unlock the potential of the economy, and providing growth and innovation. Organisations that recognised the MENA region’s potential early have now managed to build a significant footprint in the region and are continuing to invest as the market booms. In our special report this month, we profile 10 senior executives from prominent global technology firms with a substantial presence in the MENA region, who play an influential role in the regional tech industry.

We have also looked at leaders within industry verticals who are playing a major role in driving the future of the technology sector.

Samer Abu-Ltaif
Corporate VP and president, Microsoft Middle East and Africa
In 2019, Microsoft achieved a key milestone in delivering Microsoft cloud to governments, organisations and entrepreneurs in the Middle East by establishing two cloud region data centres. It also opened 14 new data centres globally last year, nine of which were in Europe and MEA. But it’s not just technology that the company is focused on; by 2025, Microsoft wants all data centres to run on renewable energy and wants its direct operations to be water positive by 2030, according to Samer Abu-Ltaif, who oversees 40 offices in 79 countries across three continents. His job entails forming relationships with governments and businesses in order to boost productivity and implement digital transformation plans. Having joined Microsoft in 2004, Abu-Ltaif has held several senior roles and previously served as the general manager of Microsoft Gulf, where he led landmark initiatives to support governments, revolutionise education and stimulate SME growth and entrepreneurship. During his long stint in the region, Abu-Ltaif has emerged as one of the key executives driving its digital agenda.

Saad Toma
General manager, IBM Middle East and Africa
IBM joins a growing list of tech corporations aiming to expand their Middle East footprint. The company opened two new data centres in the UAE last year to provide managed cloud services to businesses in the Gulf nation. The local data centres in Dubai and Abu Dhabi will assist companies in shifting to a hybrid cloud model, allowing them to move selective sensitive data to a secure local cloud environment hosted in the UAE while maintaining mission critical data on premise. Leading this region’s vision is the recently appointed general manager for IBM Middle East and Africa, Saad Toma. With over 30 years of experience at IBM working across numerous regions, Toma has extensive industrial, services, and technology knowledge. He is now in charge of IBM’s entire business operations in the Middle East, Africa, and Turkey and is tasked with boosting revenues and increasing customer satisfaction. Toma previously led IBM’s Global Technology Services (GTS) business in MEA from 2011 until 2016. He also previously served as the global COO of GTS.

Leopoldo Boado
Senior vice president, Business Applications – ECEMEA, Oracle
For over three decades, Oracle has had a strong presence in the UAE and this long-term commitment has resulted in significant investments to assist businesses of all kinds, both public and private. Oracle has built a first-of-its-kind innovation hub in Dubai to expedite the deployment of AI in the UAE and has also formed a partnership with the UAE’s Higher Colleges of Technology to train 1,000 students in technologies such as AI, blockchain, IoT, and machine learning. Last year, the company also announced the opening of the first of two planned second-generation cloud regions in the UAE. Located in Dubai, the new cloud region will offer all Oracle cloud services, including Oracle autonomous database and Oracle cloud applications. Leading the charge in the region is Leopoldo Boado, who was promoted last year to his current role. A veteran at Oracle, Boado previously served as Europe SVP for applications prior to which he was the company’s country manager for Spain and regional VP Eastern and Central Europe, Iberia and Benelux.

Charles Yang
President, Huawei Middle East
At the Milipol Qatar Summit, Huawei Middle East reaffirmed its commitment to supporting digital transformation across the Middle East by building stronger ICT ecosystems supported by co-operative cybersecurity mitigation programmes. “The Middle East has been an exciting region for us given the enormous scale of developments that are underway that can be empowered by technology. This is epitomised by the rapid development of 5G that has exceeded many expectations. The region today is more connected than at any point in history,” said Charles Yang, president of Huawei Middle East. The Chinese company has been expanding its operations regionally and last year launched its ‘LearnOn’ online learning platform, which has been used by more than 35,000 people to date. “Huawei will continue investing in programmes such as its ‘Seeds for the Future’ initiative and ICT Competition, as well as in Huawei ICT academies and laboratory funding to develop 70,000 ICT talents and build 100 joint innovation centres for the Middle East by 2025,” Yang said. Having joined Huawei in 1999, Yang has held a number of senior positions in the company and plays a key role in encouraging and facilitating strategic change across the ICT ecosystem.

Mohammed Amin
Senior vice president, MEA, Turkey and Russia, Dell Technologies
With end-to-end digital transformation offerings, Dell Technologies has a strong footprint when it comes to technology across the MERAT region. Driving this technological revolution forward is Mohammed Amin. With over two decades of experience in the IT industry across emerging markets in the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe, Amin has in-depth knowledge about the drivers of the digital economy as well as the opportunities and challenges within these markets. Amin’s key priority is to help organisations evolve their business through a holistic strategy of digital, IT, security and workforce transformation. Before the historic merger of Dell and EMC in September 2016, Amin spent a decade at EMC, driving its growth in the region. Prior to that, he held management positions with major hardware and networking vendors. Earlier this year, Amin was also selected as one of the members of the advisory council of the newly formed Dubai International Chamber. The chamber is tasked with developing plans to boost partnerships with global corporations and facilitate their operations as part of the efforts to establish Dubai as a global trade hub.

Reem Asaad
Vice president – Middle East and Africa, Cisco
As the official digital network partner of Expo 2020, Cisco has been tasked with the mammoth responsibility of managing, operating and maintaining expo’s entire IT network – representing one of the most advanced operations of its kind in the region. Cisco will drive the end-to-end network services delivery across Expo’s three thematic districts, pavilions, parks, and arrival plazas, as well as the Dubai Exhibition Centre, which is co-located at the site. “The path to the digital future is paved through the power of intelligent networks. We’ve partnered with Expo 2020 to help ensure their infrastructure delivers on that promise,” the company says. At the helm of Cisco for the MEA region is Reem Asaad, who comes with over two decades of expertise in the industry. Leading a team of 2,500 Cisco employees and contractors, Asaad – who was previously the CEO of Cairo-based business process outsourcing service company Raya Data Centre, is now responsible for strengthening partnerships with governments, clients, and partners to assist them accelerate their digitalisation agendas. She was also appointed to the board of directors for Egypt’s Information Technology Industry Development Agency earlier this year.

Fadi Pharaon
President – MEA, Ericsson
Ericsson has been one of the major players in the Middle East spearheading the move into 5G technology; a report by the company late last year forecast that there will be 130 million 5G subscriptions in the MENA region by 2026. To drive that, the company partnered with UAE telecoms operator Etisalat for 5G deployment and also teamed up with Oman’s Ministry of Finance last year to establish a centre of excellence aimed at boosting the development of 5G and IoT in the sultanate. Ericsson has also been running a three-year fresh graduate programme in Saudi Arabia since 2018 that has created an open ecosystem for research and implementation of innovative projects enabled by 5G in order to accelerate the kingdom’s digitalisation in line with Vision 2030. Fadi Pharaon, as Ericsson’s head of Middle East and Africa, is leading the company’s regional expansion. Pharaon has held numerous management positions with technical, sales, and marketing responsibilities in markets throughout Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America over his two decades at Ericsson.

Lino Cattaruzzi
Managing director, Google MENA
Google announced an initiative in 2020 to accelerate the MENA region’s economic recovery through digital transformation. ‘Grow Stronger with Google’ offered tools, training and financial grants worth more than $13m to empower local businesses and jobseekers in partnership with Saudi Post and the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Meanwhile, to develop and manage cloud data centres in Saudi Arabia, Google Cloud also partnered last year with Saudi Aramco Development Company, a subsidiary of oil giant Aramco. Recently, Google once again collaborated with Dubai Chamber of Commerce to launch ‘Business Online Presence’, a digital platform aimed at assisting UAE companies in expanding their online reach to attract new consumers. As Google MENA’s managing director, Lino Cattaruzzi is driving its regional development. Prior to joining Google MENA, Cattaruzzi was the managing director for Google in Mexico and Argentina. He formerly led the worldwide sales strategy team for online media solutions at Google’s headquarters in California. In his current role, he has managed the launch of new products and programmes tailored to the region, such as Google Assistant and YouTube Music in Arabic.

Ramez Shehadi
Managing director, Facebook MENA
The MENA region – not surprisingly – is a major focus market for Facebook with the social platform enjoying strong adoption among youth across the various regional markets. Beyond its consumer reach, Facebook has recently been focusing heavily on the SME sector in the region. In September last year, it launched the LoveLocal programme to assist local small and medium businesses (SMBs) in the MENA area. The initiative provides business owners with access to the MENA SMB training centre, a platform with up to 40 free online webinars that companies can use to learn digital technologies, including digital marketing and e-commerce, as well as establish and grow their online presence. Facebook MENA MD Ramez Shehadi oversees Facebook’s commercial growth as well as that of its other businesses in the region, such as Instagram and WhatsApp. Shehadi comes with experience in building and expanding regional businesses as well as cross-industry portfolios; previously, he worked as a senior partner and managing director of Booz Allen Hamilton’s MENA portfolio, lead partner of Booz & Company’s MENA digital business and technology practice, and global co-head of Booz Digital.

Ronaldo Mouchawar
Vice president, Amazon MENA
Amazon MENA is rapidly growing across the Middle East, even as the Covid-19 pandemic has provided an impetus to the region’s e-commerce industry. The company announced a huge expansion in Saudi Arabia with plans to create at least 1,500 jobs across the kingdom by the end of this year. Meanwhile Amazon.ae also launched an ‘international shopping experience’ in 2020, allowing delivery from the UAE for customers in Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait. In June this year, Amazon commissioned its first MENA on-site renewable energy project in Dubai as part of its commitment globally to be net-zero carbon by 2040. The solar photovoltaic rooftop is located at DXB3, its largest fulfilment centre in the UAE, with regional head Ronaldo Mouchawar calling on all MENA businesses to join the company as signatories to The Climate Pledge. Mouchawar, who founded Souq.com in 2005 – and oversaw its acquisition by Amazon in 2017 – is a key player in the region’s e-commerce and startup space. Mouchawar formerly worked at Maktoob, the first Arabic/English email service provider, which was acquired by Yahoo! in 2009 for $164m.

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