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Revealed: Top 10 tech executives in the MENA region

Revealed: Top 10 tech executives in the MENA region

Technologies such as AI are shifting the way the world works, with the Middle East region striving to be at the forefront of this new era. As public and private sector organisations embark on digital transformation strategies, we highlight the regional executives leading this technological revolution

Digital transformation is no longer a clichéd term used at events – it’s the reality for public and private sector organisations in the Middle East, especially in the Covid-19 era.

The pandemic has further propelled organisations to rapidly streamline and restructure their digital policies to ensure business continuity as remote working has become more commonplace amidst health-related restrictions.

IT spending in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is expected to total $160bn in 2020, an increase of 2.4 per cent from 2019, tech consultancy Gartner said in a March report.

Businesses in MENA are anticipated to increase their IT budgets across all segments, the report stated.

“Non-oil economic initiatives such as the Dubai Expo; the Al Qiddiya entertainment, sports and arts complex; The Red Sea Project and NEOM in Saudi Arabia are boosting business activity in MENA, which will heavily influence IT spending locally,” said John-David Lovelock, vice-president at Gartner.

Another report by IDC released in January found that investments in digital transformation and innovation will account for 30 per cent of all IT spending in the Middle East, Turkey, and Africa by 2024, up from 18 per cent in 2018. Government enterprise IT spending is increasing at a compound annual growth rate of 5.7 per cent and will top $8bn in 2021, while spending on artificial intelligence (AI) will top $600m in 2023, doubling from 2018 levels.

“The digital economy is at a critical tipping point. In just a few short years, IDC forecasts that nearly half of all GDP worldwide will come from products and services offered by digitally transformed organisations,” said IDC’s chief research officer Meredith Whalen.

As local organisations continue to invest more resources and allocate more of their IT budgets on digital transformation initiatives, dependence on technology consulting will also increase.

In 2020, IT services spending is expected to total $13.1bn, an 8.4 per cent increase year over year, according to the Gartner report.

The level of spending on IT services in MENA is the fourth highest in the world – after greater China, emerging Asia/Pacific and Latin America, the report added.

Growing demand for technology providers has led to a proliferation of players in the market – from established global multinationals to smaller homegrown companies – offering services ranging from end-to-end solutions and niche IT products to consumer tech platforms.

Among the bigger players in the market, companies that identified the potential of the MENA region early on have now managed to establish a strong footprint in the region and are continuing to invest in growing their presence.

In our special report this month, we have highlighted 10 leading executives from top global technology companies that have a significant presence in the MENA region and are investing heavily in expanding operations.

We have also looked at leaders within industry verticals who are spearheading the region’s technology revolution.

Samer Abu Ltaif
President, Microsoft Middle East and Africa

Microsoft has been vocal about its focus on this region – last year, the company opened its first regional data centres in the UAE and last month, in a virtual event, it also inaugurated a new centre of excellence for energy in Dubai.

Launched in collaboration with 10 founding partners, the facility aims to accelerate digital transformation, build coalitions for responsible innovation and drive skilling initiatives in the energy sector.

The aim is to drive “positive impact in our communities” said Samer Abu Ltaif, who has been head of the MEA region for Microsoft since February 2017. 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.

Having lived through war in Lebanon, Abu Ltaif has come a long way and has since emerged as one of the key executives driving the region’s digital agenda.

Abdul Rahman Al Thehaiban
Senior vice president, Technology, MEA and CEE, Oracle

“The UAE is a priority market for Oracle and we have made significant investments to enhance our infrastructure, physical presence, human resources and other support capabilities in the country,” Steve Daheb, global senior vice president of Oracle Cloud told Gulf Business earlier this year.

Having opened two cloud data centres in the UAE last year and one in Saudi Arabia this year, the tech company has made clear its intentions of growing its presence in the region.

And leading this is Abdul Rahman Al Thehaiban, senior vice president – Technology for Oracle in the MEA and CEE region.

Having joined Oracle in 1996 as sales director for the Saudi Arabia operation, Al Thehaiban helped propel the kingdom among the top revenue earning countries in the Middle East for Oracle. He was appointed to his current position in 2016.

He also serves as an executive board member of the Young Arab Leaders (YAL) group and is a member of the Sawa’ed mentoring programme of the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation.

Takreem El Tohamy
General manager, IBM Middle East and Africa

In January, global tech giant IBM became the latest to launch two data centres in the UAE.

Located in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the centres will help companies “shift to a hybrid cloud model”, the US-based company said.

The company has also been expanding in other parts of the region – in July, it launched two new regional centres in Egyptian capital Cairo – including an innovation and industry client centre and a MENA marketing services centre to aid the country’s digital transformation agenda.

Launching the centres, Takreem El Tohamy, general manager IBM Middle East and Africa, stressed that the company, which has been in the region for “almost a century”, is looking to boost local research to develop solutions to the region’s challenges.

An IBM veteran, El Tohamy, who joined the company in 1984, has been at the helm of regional operations since 2005. A man with strong connections, he was re-appointed to the US President’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa in September last year.

Charles Yang
President, Huawei Middle East

One company that has been spearheading the rollout of 5G infrastructure – despite facing controversy in some parts of the world – is Huawei.

Regionally, the company has launched the Middle East’s first multi-tenant Internet of Things (IoT) hosting centre to accelerate IoT business development and has also opened joint innovation centres for technologies research in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Spearheading its aggressive regional growth is Huawei’s Middle East president Charles Yang. Having joined Huawei in 1999, Yang has held a number of senior positions in the company. In his current role, which he took on in 2015, Yang oversees Huawei’s carrier, enterprise and consumer business group activities in the region, encompassing around 5,000 employees.

Overseeing its growth in emerging technologies across 5G, AI, big data, IoT and cloud computing, Yang was also instrumental in bringing Huawei’s global ICT competition — which aims to support local ICT talent — to the region for the first time in 2017.

Mohammed Amin
Senior vice president, Middle East, Turkey and Africa, Dell EMC

The ‘future of work’ has gained significant traction during the current pandemic, with organisations in the region – similar to their global peers – attempting to cognise new ways of working using advanced technologies.

One company taking a lead in this area is US-based tech firm Dell EMC, which offers digital transformation solutions to clients. The man leading regional operations, Mohammed Amin, is a well known face in the regional tech scene, having been a vocal advocate of digitisation and technology adoption for several years now.

Before the historic merger of Dell and EMC in September 2016, he spent 10 years at EMC, driving its growth in the region. Prior to that, Amin held management positions with major hardware and networking vendors. He is now also playing a key role in education and training for the future – in September 2018, Amin signed a deal with the UAE Minister of State for AI, Omar bin Sultan Al Olama, as part of which Dell EMC pledged to train 500 Emirati students under a specialised AI programme set to run for three years.

Reem Asaad
Vice president, Middle East and Africa, Cisco

In March, Cisco signed a multi-million-dollar advisory agreement with Saudi’s Red Sea Development Company to design a smart destination services platform and ICT master plan for the mega tourism and hospitality Red Sea project.

Meanwhile, as the official digital network partner of Expo 2020 Dubai, Cisco has been working closely with the entity since 2018, achieving a number of technological milestones, including successful wide-scale deployment of its intent-based network at the expo site in September.

As the company expands its regional remit, leading its next stage of development will be Reem Asaad, who was appointed as its new vice president for the MEA region in February.

With over 20 years’ experience across the tech, finance and customer experience space, Asaad previously served as CEO of Raya Contact Center, a business process outsourcing service provider based in Cairo.

In her new role, she will focus on strengthening collaborations with governments, customers and partners to accelerate their digital agenda.

Fadi Pharaon
Senior vice president and head, Ericsson Middle East and Africa

The deployment of the 5G network is expected to reach 80 million subscriptions in the Middle East and North Africa region by 2025, representing 10 per cent of total mobile subscriptions, Ericsson revealed in a report last month.

Ericsson has been one of the major players in the region leading the move to the new network, having partnered with UAE telecoms operator Etisalat to deploy 5G across the country.

The man at the helm of regional operations is Fadi Pharaon, senior vice president and regional head of MEA.

Having joined Ericsson in 1998, Pharaon has held several leadership roles in the company across the world and took on his current role last year. Also serving as a member of Ericsson’s executive team, he reports directly to the CEO.

Lino Cattaruzzi
Managing director, Google MENA

In 2019 alone, Google announced plans to strengthen its presence in Egypt; launched its Assistant service in Arabic in December; and introduced YouTube’s music streaming services across the MENA market.

That Google – part of Alphabet, one of the biggest technology companies in the world by market capitalisation, is expanding its remit in the region is not surprising.

The Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia, is among the most lucrative markets for its video platform YouTube. In March, Google Cloud Platform also signed an agreement to launch in the Middle East, with a new cloud region in Doha.

As Google MENA’s managing director, Lino Cattaruzzi, who has been in the role since early 2017, is tasked with driving its regional development. His efforts are focused on enabling local business partners boost growth online and helping the wider digital ecosystem through scalable programmes and initiatives.

Previously country director for Google in Mexico and Argentina, Cattaruzzi also worked with AOL Latin America in senior roles.

Ronaldo Mouchawar
Vice president, Amazon MENA

The news of Amazon acquiring Dubai-based e-commerce site Souq for an estimated $580m in 2017 made global headlines. And since its official entry into the region, Amazon has been rapidly expanding.

The company has reportedly boosted its workforce by 30 per cent since March to meet growing demand for e-commerce, while Souq Saudi also officially rebranded as Amazon last month.

Meanwhile, Amazon Web Services (AWS), which offers cloud storage facilities, opened three data centres in Bahrain last year, marking its entry into the Middle East region.

Some of AWS’ clients in the region include Dubizzle, Anghami, flydubai and Fetchr.

The man leading the company’s expansion in the region across all segments is veteran Ronaldo Mouchawar, who founded Souq.com in 2005 and expanded it across the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Hailed as one of the region’s entrepreneurial success stories, Mouchawar earlier worked with Maktoob – the first Arabic/English email service provider that was sold to Yahoo! for $164m in 2009.

Ramez Shehadi
Managing director, Facebook MENA

While not part of the traditional IT industry, it is hard not to acknowledge the growing clout of social media platform Facebook in the tech industry.

Facebook is the most used social media platform in the UAE (eight million active users), Kuwait (2.7 million active users) and Egypt (38 million active users), a recent report by Dubai-based data intelligence firm Crowd Analyzer found.

Boosting its expansion in the region through its growing portfolio of apps, services and businesses is Facebook MENA MD Ramez Shehadi, who was appointed to the role in late 2018.

With a background in consulting, Shehadi has expertise in establishing, scaling and running cross-industry portfolios.

He was earlier senior partner and managing director, MENA at Booz Allen Hamilton, lead partner of the MENA Digital Business and Technology practice at Booz & Company and global co-lead of Booz Digital.

While taking on his role at Facebook, he stressed that he would focus on ensuring that the MENA market remains prioritised and a source of information globally.

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