Having spent more than 35 years working for General Electric (GE), Nabil Habayeb has witnessed the company shift from being primarily an equipment provider to developing digital industrial solutions. That hasn’t been the only shift. “We are investing in countries – becoming part of their fabric – and being looked upon as more of a local than a global company,” Nabil says. When he took over as President and CEO of GE’s Middle East, North Africa, Turkey and Pakistan (MENAT) region in 2004, Nabil’s mission was to do things differently.

“We wanted to change the way we looked at the region from the traditional way of thinking ‘I have a product, how can I sell it to the market?’ to ‘I have a market, what does it mean to GE?’,” he says.

Because then you identify the key themes that are critical from a geographical point of view and translate them into growth opportunities, localisation plans, or a roadmap that adds value.”

Identify the key themes that are critical from a geographical point of view and translate them into growth opportunities.

Nabil adds that the common theme for GE MENAT is to bring stability to countries in the region. “It is about driving efficiency and how fast the government is able to respond to people’s needs,” he says.

“It means delivering affordable, quality health care, clean water and reliable power to every part of the country; providing energy, food and water security; and looking at capability. How do you create jobs for the 60% of the population that is under 30 years old? How do you make sure that they have the right skill sets to do these jobs? How do you make sure that the education system supports the development of these skill sets to fill these jobs?”

A focus on strengthening relationships

Because of these requirements, GE wants to develop strong relationships with the locals. “In our part of the world, relationships matter a lot,” Nabil says.

Nabil Habayeb President & CEO of General Electric MENAT
Nabil Habayeb President & CEO of General Electric MENAT

“We build those relationships to make sure we have a clear understanding of the main needs that we can help address.” This understanding subsequently drives GE’s three internal priorities.

“First, how do we drive top-line growth? Second, how do we execute for this growth compliantly? Third, and most importantly, how do we hire, train, develop, retain and build the culture that we want in the region to address the first two?” Nabil continues. “Over the years, I have helped my company look at the market differently, while keeping the same focus on these priorities.”

GE’s investment in different countries has proved beneficial over the years. “In the mid 90s when Algeria was going through tough times, we were the only multinational company that stayed in the country,” Nabil notes.

“Not only did we stay, we invested in the country and built its own venture that has now become our largest oil and gas service centre for our oil and gas businesses globally. Around 20 years later when it was developing major power projects, our Algerian stakeholders and decision makers remembered how important it was to have a partner that stuck by them during the bad times. We were local, we did not get out, and frankly that is the model we have implemented everywhere.”

Another example is GE’s support in Saudi Arabia. “We developed a women’s training centre in Saudi Arabia in partnership with Tata Consulting and Aramco,” Nabil says.

Considerable growth opportunities

“We built a business process operation that is not part of the products we sell and it is 100% run by Saudi women. We have up to 1,000 Saudi women running the centre, and this number will soon grow to 3,000. These women are skilful and talented and are doing work for 50 countries outside Saudi Arabia. They’re exporting a service and doing it much better than many other centres we have around the world.”

In the coming years, GE MENAT will focus on addressing the growing need for power. “Power is becoming more diversified,” Nabil says. “Traditionally, it used to be more hydrocarbon based; now, renewables are picking up. So we see considerable growth opportunities.”

The company is also planning to ramp up its efforts on two other fronts: “One is the digital implementation of software and data science across all our industries, to improve efficiency, reliability and productivity,” Nabil says.

“That’s a major trend that is important to GE. The second priority is around additive manufacturing. As you think about material science and building new industries, this becomes increasingly important.”