Block and Bridge the SABIC way – an example from the World Economic Forum

Al-Mady is a media veteran and knows how to handle journalists through the use of techniques such as block and bridge (picture source:

There’s few companies which have a better reputation in the Middle East than SABIC. Founded almost forty years ago, Saudi Basic Industries Corporation has grown to become one of the world’s largest chemicals businesses and one of the top 100 corporations worldwide. SABIC is the largest public company as listed on Saudi Arabia’s stock exchange.

But no matter how well you try, there’s always some things that you can do better. SABIC’s CEO Mohammed Al Mady was at the World Economic Forum last week which was held in Jordan. Al Mady was speaking on a panel discussion alongside Saudi Arabia’s Princess Ameerah al-Taweel, the wife of Al Waleed Bin Talal and one of Saudi Arabia’s most outspoken women when it comes to female rights and the issue of change in the Kingdom.

Unsurprisingly, the issue of women’s employment in the Kingdom came up. This topic has been a major issue of debate over the past couple of years as the Kingdom has pondered how best to get women into work without upsetting cultural sensitivities.

The below quotes are from an article on Arabian Business which are a discussion between Princess Ameerah al-Taweel and SABIC CEO Mohammed Al Mady. It makes for an interesting if embarrassing read.

While a member of the audience during a separate WEF session on the Arab employment crisis, Princess Ameerah challenged Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC) CEO Mohammed Al Mady to explain why his company had not “opened the door” to Saudi women.

Al Mady defended the company by saying it had employed 50 women, but the audience laughed when it was revealed SABIC had 20,000 employees.

“We have been slow for sure,” Al Mady conceded.

“That was not really by design that we want to be against women or anything, but we want to get the best practice done in Saudi Arabia because there are many mistakes that have happened and it really gives bad names for the employees and the employers.

“Now we’re in a position to get the best practices and do it in our company and you will see a big change.”

Well, yes, it’s not the best publicity for SABIC especially when one considers that most of SABIC’s plants are in the Eastern Region where women have been employed in mechanical roles by Saudi Aramco. However, what Al Mady did was a classic public relations tactic; he blocked and bridged. The technique is well-known and allows the interviewee to switch attention back to a key message or talking point. And Al-Mady spoke about a perennial favourite, military conscription. Below are quotes from both Arabian Business and

“The countries have to work very hard in how to change the perception of their youth so that they can accept the existing jobs.

“How do we change them? Governments have to probably draft them into the military for six months before they go into the job market … [to] give them resilience, [teach] them how to be modest, how to work, how to take the ladder step by step until they reach what they want.”

“It gives them resilience… they have to take the ladder step-by-step before they get what they want. The countries have to work very hard and have to change the perception of their youth so that they can accept the existing jobs… The people themselves need to change.”

While I’m not completely sold on the concept of military service (it hasn’t done many favours to Egyptians, Syrians or Lebanese) Al-Mady’s block and bridge captured more headlines than the female employment gaffe and it says a great deal about Al-Mady’s media skills. If only more CEOs had his media abilities (maybe that’s a subject for another, future post).

Saudi-based journalists to follow – Reem Shamseddine

Following on from a recent post about one of my favourite journalists who covers issues related to the Kingdom, here’s a second piece for those interested in the media world of Saudi Arabia.

There are few newswires in the Kingdom (the most prominent are Bloomberg, Dow Jones, and Reuters) and the best established is Reuters. The venerable London-based news agency was the first to set up shop in Riyadh and has since expanded its bureaus to Jeddah and Al-Khobar.

Reuters has some stellar reporters working in and covering Saudi Arabia. For me, their star is the person who has been serving Reuters the longest in Saudi Arabia. Reem Shamseddine is Reuter’s main correspondent for Saudi Arabia’s energy sector and it’s a position that she has held for almost four years. During that time she’s broken every major energy story in Saudi Arabia, and in the process covering giants such as Aramco, SABIC, Dow Chemicals, Maaden etc…

Despite the size of the oil and gas industry and affiliated sectors in Saudi Arabia (the Kingdom is one of the largest oil exporters worldwide), there’s no more challenging assignment than trying to break through the myriad number of embedded public relations professionals to actually get to and report the actual story. Reem has consistently shown an ability to develop contacts and to understand the issues that are central to Saudi Arabia’s energy industry.

Reem is the type of journalist who will be thoroughly prepared for an interview and will question the interviewee on every subject. She’ll quite literally leave no stone unturned in her search for a story or piece of information.

If you’re eager to read more about Reem’s work, have a look at these articles online including interviews with the Deputy Minister for Electricity and Water and the Chairman of Saudi Electricity Company Dr Saleh Al-Awaji, an overview of Saudi Arabia’s mining sector, and of course numerous pieces with Aramco including this one on its production plans.

If you’re working in the energy or industrial sector there are a handful of journalists that you must know and deal with. Reem Shamseddine should be at the top of that list. Reem can be reached by email at Reem.Shamseddine(at) and at Twitter on the handle @shamseddine_r

Reem Shamseddine has met with and interviewed the good and the great of Saudi Arabia’s oil and gas industry and energy sector such as the Minister for Oil Ali Al-Naimi