I’m now into my second week as the new Head of Manpower Services at AEI Saudi.  I’ve had a very warm welcome and some great support and advice in my first days as a member of the AEI team.

Not only am I having to adjust to a new team of colleagues, I’m also adjusting to a new country, one which I had read a lot about, but rarely visited.  Apart from a couple of road trips through Saudi from Kuwait on the way to Bahrain, I hadn’t visited Saudi and never Riyadh, it’s capital.  So what was I expecting? And how did those expectations match up to reality?

It sounds a little unfair, certainly now, but I was a little nervous getting on the aircraft to come for the first time; would my visa work? would I be stuck in a queue for hours on, would my luggage be taken away and searched? Would I even make it into the “Kingdom”?

Of course, my AEI colleagues, with a great deal of experience in getting the right visas, had already arranged that process and when I arrived I was greeted warmly and professionally by a young Saudi guy who spoke great English.  Only a few seconds later I was waiting for my luggage, which was quickly scanned and I was on my way.  I was aware of the items that I shouldn’t bring and so I didn’t bring them.  Riyadh airport is clean, well-managed and runs smoothly. If you have done even a little bit of international travel, you will sail through. I was in an AEI car and on my way to the AEI Olaya Residence in moments.

On the drive in, I was struck by the size and scale of Riyadh.  The Princess Nourah Bint Abdul Rahman University for Women, just outside the airport has over 60,000 students in 34 colleges.  The campus is 8 million square meters in size, with pre-schools, primary schools, intermediate and secondary schools. As well as a central library, research centres, a university hospital and an automated metro system.  The University Metro system will link to the Riyadh Metro, which I saw under construction.  In 2019 when the Riyadh Metro is completed it will have six lines, 85 stations and stretch out 176 Kilometres.  We passed medical complexes and shopping malls. Office towers and 5-star hotels.  While there is a respectful feeling there wasn’t the tension I was expecting.  I ate out with a friend one evening and saw Saudi families, groups of friends and business people mixing together in a friendly and regular way.  It all seemed very normal….

And so far I’ve only seen Riyadh.  Saudi is a market of scale, with 30m population, three main business areas: Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam/Al Khobar and an economy almost the size of the other five GCC countries combined.  Granted, I’ve only spent a week here, but for international businesses looking to develop the opportunities clearly abundant in Saudi, the message seems clear.  Come and visit.  I’m sure if you do, everyone at AEI, like they did for me, will make you very welcome, help you avoid some of the common mistakes and offer you the best chance of success.