CR Leaders: Mr. Jamal Malaikah, President and Chief Operating Officer, National Petrochemical Industrial Company (NATPET)

Mr. Jamal J. Malaikah is the President and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of National Petrochemical Industrial Company (NATPET) and has been in this position since 2008. Prior to joining NATPET, Mr Malaikah has held positions of Managing Director of Copak in Egypt, Senior General Manager of Saudi Carton Company and Senior Project Manager of several projects at Xenel Industries Limited, Saudi Arabia.

Mr Malaikah is currently also a member of the Board of Directors of AL AHLI TAKAFUL COMPANY (ATC), a Public Insurance Company in Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, he is a Member of the Petrochemical Manufacturers Committee (PMC), Saudi Arabia as well as a Member of Turkey B20 Trade Taskforce and previous Australia B20 Trade taskforce.

NATPET has won multiple awards for its sustainability leadership efforts.  What drives NATPET to make sustainability efforts one of the company’s priorities?

The way we look at responsibility and sustainability stems from an inner belief in our obligation to society. I personally believe, and the Board of Directors believes, that any corporate entity should give back to society. Businesses are all a part of society, so we at NATPET feel an obligation and a responsibility to make things better for everyone. By acting on that, we are simply showing gratitude to the society we are living in.

Can you outline your sustainability vision as COO and how this links to the legacy you’d like to leave?

The legacy that the Board and I want to leave is not technical in nature. The legacy we want to leave is the idea that businesses and individuals have to strive to improve society. For instance, I have seen our employees engage and volunteer to clean old Jeddah. It was very exciting for me to see that our employees are motivated, without any financial reward, to participate in activities for the benefit of society. At NATPET, in terms of sustainability, we have focused on environmental issues so far because of the strength of our knowledge base in this area. However, I want to see the company expand beyond environmental challenges and embrace social and economic-related sustainability issues, we are always thinking about what else we can do. This is the legacy we want to leave – to continue our responsibility to society in the best way that we can.

Can you briefly detail some of the primary projects that are part of NATPET’s sustainability efforts?

We are a petrochemical company, and environmental impact is our industry’s most material sustainability issue. Therefore, we work hard to protect the environment in several ways.

Firstly, we ensure that the emissions at our plant are within national, international and royal commission standards. We aim to continuously reduce the environmental impact of our operations as we believe this is good practice.

Secondly, we aim to improve the overall environment in our country. In Saudi society, we are faced with a number of environmental problems. We believe that the government cannot tackle the need to change attitudes and raise awareness of environmental issues alone; that’s why companies such as ourselves are active in this area.

For example, we work with an organization called Al-Nabta, an all-female, dynamic Saudi not-for-profit organization. Together, we have initiated a program where we join forces every year to teach a simple curriculum to children focused on protecting the environment. We want to make a difference. If more companies do something similar, in a few years you will see a change in people’s mentality and subsequently, their actions.

Waste management is one of the primary environmental issues in our country. One of our initiatives has been to bring divers to the coastline to clean the beaches and the ocean, again in collaboration with not-for-profit organizations. We very much hope that other organizations will follow our lead and thus enable more of the coastline to be cleaned.

Another one of our initiatives, this time more technical in nature, is focused on a by-product of our production. Previously we were incinerating the hazardous sodium hydrosulfide from our plant, and with the help of our Product Development team now we are converting this waste into a by-product, used in leather industry. Profit was not our major motivator, this material is a hazardous one and we have removed it from the waste stream and thus significantly reducing our environmental impact. I strongly believe that effective technical improvements benefit both the business in terms of saving money and also the company’s overall environmental impact.

Finally, we also do our best to be a good employer. We employ local people and actively engage in talent management. We want to retain and develop good people so that they become future sustainability leaders both of our company and within the Kingdom. That’s important to NATPET.

How important are your sustainability projects for your talent acquisition and retention?

What we see with the younger generation today is that they want to be associated with dynamic companies that are helping others. It is human nature to want to help people. If I were a young person making that decision today, I would prefer to go to a company that is active in society because it tells you about the style of management of the company. We believe that young employees stay with us not only because of the money, but because we try to be a company that does good things for society.

Do you think a strong sustainability performance contributes to competitive business advantage? If so, how?

We pay close attention to our profits, but to be honest, we do not calculate the financial impact of many of our sustainability efforts.  As a company, we believe firstly and foremostly, that we have an obligation and responsibility to improve our environmental impact. Nonetheless, we manage all our sustainability-related initiatives professionally and efficiently. We reduce costs, such as through reduced fuel consumption or water use and better handling of hazardous materials.

Our initiatives also provide us reputational benefits and increase our influence and standing within the industry sector and in wider society, which in turn makes us an attractive company to work with. We are not a huge organization, but everywhere we go, I hear a lot of respect for what our organization has achieved, whether from the government, the wider business community or from society. This is very important to me and to the Board and is impossible to measure. We feel that people look up to us and that we are making a difference.

What are the most pressing present and future sustainability challenges in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and how does NATPET adapt accordingly?

I think we will soon face a lot of sustainability challenges in Saudi Arabia. As a country, we have not diversified very well. We perform well in terms of GDP per capita compared to other countries, but we are oil dependent and are not as developed as we should be in terms of addressing sustainability topics. Many of the challenges we face will be based on our dependency and high consumption of oil.

Another pressing problem is water. We lack sources of freshwater and an effective water management behavior. I think this problem can only become more acute as we look forward. At NATPET we are starting to actively manage this topic and put in place measures to maintain efficiency.

Finally, youth employment is a challenge in the Kingdom. We play a part in the active employment of the younger generation and focusing on training and skills and capacity building.

We do what we can at NATPET to improve the sustainability situation, to encourage our employees and the younger generation to address and try to overcome these sustainability challenges that affect the Kingdom, however, ultimately these are matters that require visionary action by a multitude of different parties including the government, private sector and public at large.

What is the impact of your sustainability initiatives beyond the Kingdom, say within the GCC region?

I try to get involved in as many regional and cross-industry initiatives as possible. I have participated in the GPCA General Assembly and was told there that people view NATPET as a company that does good things for society. I think leading by example gives people more motivation and I hope that we inspire every company to play a small part so that together we can make a difference.

Two years ago, NATPET was invited to participate in the B20, the business offshoot of the G20. We are a relatively small company, yet we were the only B20 participant from Saudi Arabia. We took part because we want to make a difference in the wider world and represent the position of Saudi Arabia as a country. We are very proud of our participation given our size and exposure. Sustainability was one of the topics that was covered in this meeting.

What advice would you offer to other organizations in the Middle East who are looking for guidance on how to perform well in the sustainability area?

Every company has to choose what they can do from their individual knowledge base and the resources they have available; they should play to their strengths. Even if a contribution is very small, say a small financial contribution, then that is still worthwhile to the broader cause. Large companies, however, should leverage their young and creative employee base and come up with innovative ideas to help society, whether it is in the area of environment, unemployment, traffic or any other topic. The possibilities to make a difference are endless. We all live in a society that gives to us, and we have to give back to society.