Engineering local careers: Interview with Huda Al Ghoson of Saudi Aramco, part one

Written by
Changeboard Team

18 Jan 2017

18 Jan 2017 • by Changeboard Team

Why did you choose to work at Saudi Aramco?

My mother introduced me to the company as she was helping me search for a job. She was determined that us girls got a good education, and taught me to be independent, confident and responsible. She was resourceful and creative in addressing family issues, and that helped me expand my imagination, develop critical thinking, and build sensitivity to human emotions and inner feelings.

There were not many diverse opportunities for women in the job market 30 years ago. Saudi Aramco was the best choice that provided women with a wide range of career opportunities. 

What issues did you face early in your career?

Thirty years ago, there were few women entering the corporate workforce and they mainly held clerical and support jobs. Many men at that time believed women didn’t seek long-term careers and would quit once they got married. Time after time I had to prove my commitment and capabilities because there was no extensive history of accomplished and successful young Saudi women to demonstrate women’s leadership skills and innate talent.

How does it feel to be a female HRD in KSA?

It feels great! Diversity in the leadership team creates a harmonious work environment and balances the male and female creative power. Research indicates that women tend to adopt participatory and visionary styles and have a stronger drive for achieving results. Having female leaders strengthens the capabilities and effectiveness of the leadership teams and provides different perspectives and approaches to decision-making and problem-solving.

Women tend to share power and information, and make decisions not only on the basis of facts, but, equally important, on the basis of a high level of intuition, empathy and people skills. The main challenge is the difficulty in networking due to cultural and societal sensitivities. 

What's your key career advice?

Build credibility and trust early in your career, and maintain high ethical standards and professional conduct at all times. Learn and expand your knowledge in the business, work hard, believe in yourself, be confident, assertive and a team player.

Develop the ability to overcome challenges and tackle complex issues. See things from different perspectives and be flexible, tolerant and resilient. Broaden your cultural, social and intellectual horizons beyond the usual experiences; develop curiosity and critical thinking, share and seek knowledge and information from a variety of sources and expand your professional and social network.

Seek a credible mentor or coach to guide and support you. Step out of your comfort zone and venture into new territories, and do not be discouraged or disheartened by setbacks and failures. 

Tell us about Saudi Aramco.

Saudi Aramco was established in 1938 and currently employs more than 60,000 people, 86% of whom are Saudi nationals. The company’s headquarters are located in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, with operations spreading throughout Asia, Europe and North America. Saudi Aramco’s mission as an integrated international company is to engage in all activities related to the hydrocarbon industry on a commercial basis and for the purpose of profit.

Its business ranges from the exploration and production of oil and gas, oil refining and chemicals, to sales and marketing and industrial support in aviation, transportation, marine and medical. As the largest oil producing company in the world, Saudi Aramco plays a central role in the local economy in Saudi Arabia as well as in the global markets.

How is the HR team set up in Saudi Aramco?

The HR team is organised around a number of departments and teams responsible for executing HR strategic functions including talent acquisition, talent development, performance management, organisation effectiveness, talent retention, HR systems and services, and business partnership. The HR organisation has about 1,500 employees in total.

What are the challenges you face in your role?

Our HR strategy must reflect the vision and ambition of the company’s transformation programme. Understanding the business and future direction of the company is critical for the successful performance of HR. A major challenge is ensuring we have a solid pipeline of leaders and talent with the required skills to support current and future businesses.

It’s imperative that we assure a steady flow of qualified, productive and engaged people whenever and wherever we need them for business continuity throughout our operations. We can achieve this by maintaining a competitive, dynamic employee value proposition (EVP). This can be challenging when you have a highly diverse workforce and four generations of workers, each with their own aspirations, needs and values.

How is HR viewed by the rest of the business?

The role of the HR team has evolved from a transaction- and process-based function focusing on personnel administration into a strategic partner that delivers HR solutions to the whole business.

Our HR professionals work with line organisations to provide strategic-level expertise in subjects such as manpower planning, talent management, organisation effectiveness, and efficient and cost-effective HR services. The focus of our corporate HR strategy is to create people advantage by providing a continuous flow of talent regardless of labour market conditions and talent shortages. HR plays a central role in building a performance culture by enhancing performance management and employee engagement.

Our strong HR capabilities have, over the years, assured the company’s prominent position as a reliable oil supplier, an employer of choice, and one of the most admired companies worldwide. 

Why are your people important to you?

Human capital is what constitutes the real basis for prosperity. Research has shown that the difference between successful and not-so-successful companies is the quality of their talent and strength of their human resources capabilities. Companies that fail to develop the talents of their people or don’t utilise them effectively risk losing their competitive advantage to those who do.

Ultimately, it’s individuals and their remarkable skills and talents who drive organisational performance to new heights. We have been successful in this area because we consider our talent development a central element in our business strategy and it’s placed at the top of our business goals, along with maximising profitability and sustaining reliability of supply.

Our success and sustained prosperity ultimately comes from the minds, hearts and hands of our people.