Passport to success

Strategic Relations -
When TAQA needs a “point man” to help clinch a deal, Khaled Bader Al Sayari is the man it calls. The only certainty about his job is that when the opportunities arise, they are never niche

It is not TAQA policy for employees to turn up for meetings when there is still gunfire on the streets or to have rifles pointed at them by nervous soldiers when they stop to buy petrol.

But when yours are the first boots on the ground, sometimes it can’t be helped.

Khaled Bader Al Sayari’s role as Executive Vice President of Strategic Relationships and Public Affairs means he “walks point” for TAQA.

Not the dealmaker, but the man who makes the deals possible. And because, in the global energy industry, opportunities can occur anywhere in the world, he has to move fast to places where the environment is not always stable.

“We are right at the cutting edge,” says Mr Al Sayari. “Everything we do is about establishing relationships and then building on them.”

To underline that point he was in Tripoli one month after the Libyan revolution in 2011. The UAE Government wanted to show support to the new Libyan administration and Tripoli wanted to talk energy. “We were there to add economic direction to our country’s political direction; to match that relationship,” says Mr Al Sayari. “And while we were talking, there was still the sound of gunfire from the streets.”

Business and diplomacy

The only certainty about his job is that when the opportunities arise, they are never niche, and the players are always big. Which is why, when Mr Al Sayari goes forth, his brief is not just to talk business, but also diplomacy.

Most of TAQA’s business is global and that means that most of the time Strategic Relationships and Public Affairs is dealing with governments and entities representing governments.

“Our existing portfolios in the countries where we are already established nearly all involve major infrastructure projects, so they are of particular interest to our host governments,” says Mr Al Sayari. “So we keep open contacts at all the levels, between the host government and TAQA and with the Government of the UAE. We make sure everyone knows what everyone else is thinking and what they are doing.

“These relationships are for the full duration of the contracts, and it is only by maintaining them, by keeping the host government close, that we can assure them that we are there to stay, and not just to take the money and run. Some of these contracts can run for 25 years or more, so it is all about relationships, about working in partnership.”

Dedicated department

The job of maintaining this network began with the Abu Dhabi Water & Electricity Authority’s Special Projects (Technical) department. Then in 2011, as TAQA embarked on a new strategy, it was decided a new, dedicated department was necessary to manage the existing portfolio and to work hand in hand with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to seek out new opportunities.

“Today, we go where our UAE passport can open investment doors for us,” says Mr Al Sayari. “From that relationship with the UAE Government there are many opportunities arising. The role is crucial. We do our homework before we go anywhere. We evaluate a country, its tax regime, political stability and relations with the UAE. Country risk is one of the most important factors in our investment criteria.”

This work is then fed back into strategy session meetings at the top in TAQA, where the future direction of the company is thrashed out.

“If the board sees potential, then the next step is, we visit. But first of all we start with a protocol briefing, because it can be very embarrassing if you make a gaffe in your first meeting,” says Mr Al Sayari. “We visit the ministers of the foreign government, then all the local companies that represent the sectors we are in.

“But even if we see economic value and it fits our overall strategy, and we get UAE and foreign government support, it’s not over. We arrange further meetings between our teams and those of the other country, always digging deeper. Last year, we visited 15 countries, covering Asia, Europe, Africa and North America, always looking for the next opportunity,” he adds.

Another level

This job has certainly proved an opportunity for Mr Al Sayari, a BSc graduate from the UAE University, who never dreamed he would one day add government and boardroom-level relations to his technical skills. “I started out as an electrical engineer and now my job is more like a diplomat,” he says. “But that is working for TAQA – you are always being taken to another level.”

The downside is that his wife and three daughters do not see enough of him. “‘You’re not flying again?’ That’s what my oldest daughter, Shaikha, is always saying,” says Mr Al Sayari. “She is six and, like the other two, doesn’t see enough of me. And I certainly miss them. But it means they get lots of presents, lots of chocolate. They like that.”

Currently, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs believes there is great potential in Africa. “In Kenya, just after a terrorist attack, people were nervous,” Mr Al Sayari recalls. “There were soldiers everywhere, and once when we stopped at a petrol station for our driver to fill the car, we must have attracted suspicion, because the next thing we knew there were guns being pointed at us.

“But it is what we must do if we are to continue to keep opening the doors for TAQA. It is all about opening new doors with new countries, working hard to get the trust of the new governments.”