GDA's first virtual conference reveals unique project management learnings from the pandemic; shines a spotlight on inclusive leadership

More than 1,500 attendees from 70 countries representing 680 organisations joined this knowledge-intensive two-day event

GDA's first virtual conference reveals unique project management learnings from the pandemic; shines a spotlight on inclusive leadership

Manama: The Gulf Downstream Association’s first virtual conference ‘TRANSFORM’, held late February, brought together industry senior leaders and the community, especially from operating assets; driving the agenda for a positive 2021 and beyond. More than 1,500 attendees from 70 countries representing 680 organisations joined this knowledge-intensive two-day event. 32 global speakers including thought leaders and project management experts leading mega-projects in the oil and gas industry have enriched the discussions focused on the future of leadership and project management in the industry.

Suleman A. Al-Bargan, VP, Global Manufacturing, Saudi Aramco opened his keynote address against the backdrop of Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia’s largest and one of the oldest refineries in the Gulf, an important part of the Kingdom’s refining sector.

On developing a pipeline for future leaders in the industry, he highlighted, “The real issue with many organisations is the fact that the qualities you are asking for, are not embedded in the leadership programmes running within the organisations. If there is any time we need these qualities, it is now, with all that’s going on in the world at this stage."

He added, “Personally, I believe that a true leader is a servant to its people. This concept is a little strange, because we always think of the leader being more dominant and more authoritative. In our culture, and I’m sure in many other cultures, a leader is always in the service of his/her people. I truly believe good leadership is how best you tap into your people, and that has to come through your own understanding, compassion and a clear appreciation for the efforts your people are making.”

When Nadia Al-Hajji, Deputy CEO – Projects & Business Development, Petrochemical Industries Company (PIC) was asked what does a transformational leader look like in 2021 and what his or her differentiating skills would be. She replied, “Such leader should be inspirational, develop and communicate vision to get buy-in, be proactive and manage employees’ motivation, be open and versatile to ideas, be good listeners, make tough decisions on what to be done and be humble looking for business success not personal or individual success or gains."

Hafedh Al-Qassab, Project Director, BAPCO Modernization Program (BMP), while moderating the panel: ‘How do you develop and distinguish a transformational leader’ said, “There isn’t one leadership model that is going to solve all problems. It depends on the time, circumstances and the people around you. You need to apply different strategies and different models, to optimise the outcome. The switch between transactional to transformational leader is an important one.”

Nada Abandah, Transformation and Strategy Consultant, Dubai Health Authority emphasised in the ‘Empowering Women in Leadership Roles’ session, “I don’t think that women need empowerment as much as they need equal opportunities to show how they can deliver value.”

In the Talent Management and Knowledge Sharing session, Michio Ikeda, former Executive Vice President of ENEOS Corporation advised the younger generation to continuously improve their capabilities. He suggested that a reshuffle at work could really help in building a diversified expertise, giving young talent the capability to adjust to a new environment.

Day 2 focused on the new reality of Project Management.  Ebrahim Talib, Deputy Chief Executive, Bapco delivered his keynote address in the context of Bapco’s newest and biggest investment in 91 years’ history – the Bapco Modernization Programme (BMP), one of the largest projects ever undertaken in the history of Bahrain, and Bapco. It will increase Bapco’s capacity from 267,000 to 380,000 barrels per day (bpd), and will allow the company to be more efficient and competitive in the modern market.

His advice for embarking on mega projects in the future, “You need to have a very strong partner, establish strong communications and alignment. Also, from a point of doing things differently, Bapco looked at doing many critical aspects virtually, under the constraints of COVID-19 pandemic. One such example is the Factory Acceptance Testing (FAT) that was carried out virtually without compromising on quality and standards.”

On the role of GDA, he elaborated: “If you look at the world before GDA, whenever we wanted to meet any other founding members, we had to go through odd channels, odd ways of setting up a meeting, mainly personal. GDA has brought us closer together than ever in well-structured ways. Further, the ten technical committees are providing a steady flow of knowledge exchange between all industry players. We have achieved a lot with GDA in such a short time and looking toward to an even brighter future.”

Other sessions’ takeaways included:

Long term refinery planning in an uncertain environment. Eric M. Wei, Sr. Refining and Petrochemicals Consultant, Saudi Aramco in his session: ‘What investment matters the most post COVID-19 pandemic’, explained, “While margins are currently poor, we cannot ignore that refineries play a key role in the carbon supply chain. Although the CO2 abatement curve is a relatively new area, it plays a central role in the development of new investments.”

He further added, “the next phase of the refining business is to be characterised by improved environmental performance, new approaches to resid upgrading and greater petrochemical integrations. While the current business environment is very challenging, it is important to recognise that the right refineries have become more important than ever.”

Eric also highlighted the benefits of circular economy in refining. He pointed out, “Although it is still very early, the option of recycling plastic waste into fuel and utilities offers the potential to remove plastics from the environment. In addition, Pet Coke is a very large potential opportunity case that needs to be studied further. Pet Coke is nearly 90% carbon, so Coke gasification combined with carbon capture may provide a way to generate clean energy to reduce CO2 emissions. It is a very complex and capital-intensive approach, so it is going to take a long time and a lot of resources to develop such cases, but it could turn out to be a very important opportunity.”

The panel discussion on the evolving future of managing projects, revealed key outcomes and processes the pandemic actually improved. Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez, Co-Founder, Strategy Implementation Institute on the notion of agile methods, that were previously considered not workable for a traditional industry, said, “I’ve been in Pharma for many years, I never thought the vaccine could be developed in nine months, it would be crazy to accept that. Pharma

products are developed over 12-15 years. But today you have a vaccine in nine months. What did we do right?  We used a hybrid application of Project Management and Agile methods. It is the future of implementation; the future of projects. Don’t think agility is only applicable to tech. companies.”

Other impactful sessions across the two days included: ‘Journey of EPC/Engineering Firms Towards Digitalisation; Where Are We Today’; ‘Enhancing Project Delivery through Modularisation and Advanced Work Packaging (AWP)’; ‘The Leadership Experience and Development Journey’. They covered and demonstrated exceptional insights and high potentials for solutions that should help in achieving capital efficiency and increased productivity.

The GDA Acting Secretary General, Khalid Hadi, who is also the Deputy General Manager – Engineering, Bapco, in his remarks, assured that GDA was committed to serve the industry in the best way possible and welcomed suggestions to further enhance its value deliveries.

The Conference Chairman, Emad A Al-Muhaisen, who is the Division Head – Jazan Economic City O&M Division, Saudi Aramco, in his closing remarks, thanked all participants and stakeholders for their overwhelming support in making this event a great success. The event statistics also revealed that over 500 networking connections were made, highlighting the fact that participants were eager to converse and discuss throughout the six networking breaks, despite being virtual.

Moderators included Reem Al Ghanim, Division Head, Chemicals - HR and Support Services, Saudi Aramco; Hafedh Al-Qassab, Project Director, Bapco Modernization Program (BMP); Haifa Ali Al- Youha, Team Leader - Talent Management and Leadership Development, Kuwait Petroleum Corporation (KPC); Ki Kuganesan, Executive Coach EMBA Dubai & EMBA Global, London Business School; Dr. Richard Charlesworth, Executive Director, IHS Markit; Dr. Saadi Adra, Founder and CEO, Advisors; Mohammed Hammad Operations, Executive Director, Jacobs Zate; Wael H. Aljasem, Team Leader - Mega Projects, PIC. View full list of speakers

Partners and event supporters included: Project Management Institute UAE Chapter, Project Management Institute Saudi Arabia Chapter, Kuwait Project Management Society (KPMS) and Advisors. Oil and Gas News were the official strategic communications partner. Oil Review Middle East, African Review, and Refining & Petrochemicals Middle East were the media partners.


About GDA

The Gulf Downstream Association (GDA) was established by its Founding Companies from Saudi Aramco, Kuwait Petroleum International (KPI), Bahrain Petroleum Company (BAPCO), Kuwait National Petroleum Company (KNPC) and Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC). GDA is a pioneering, non-profit association and “point of reference” for all downstream players including industry professionals, corporate executives and legislators seeking to foster excellence and drive advancement through mutually beneficial engagement and industry collaboration. The Association was established to aggregate the scattered wealth of knowledge that lies across

the global downstream industry in order to accelerate development and serve as a catalyst for strong and sustainable industry growth in the Gulf region and worldwide. For more information contact +973 1711 6000 or visit the Association’s website at

For More information, please contact:
Zahraa Taher
Managing Director
FinMark Communications

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