Rumayyan: Right man at the right time to lead Aramco
It will be the biggest initial public offering (IPO) in history. Of course, we are talking about Saudi Aramco, the world’s most profitable company and one of its best run.
When Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced that he intended to list 5 percent of the Saudi national oil company, interest among investors and advisers was great. International stock markets queued for an opportunity to host the IPO. The first-ever bond offering of Aramco earlier this year served as a good litmus test. It was 10 times oversubscribed.
IPOs are hard work and fraught with hurdles regarding valuation, disclosure and other legal requirements. At the same time, it is important that management still focuses on the day-to-day business and does not drop the ball amid preparations for the big event. Needless to say, it is crucial to have the right team in place to undertake such a mammoth task. The latest rotations at the helm of Aramco and the Energy Ministry can be seen in that light.
It is quite usual for national oil companies to give government ministers a prominent role on the board, particularly if they have risen through the ranks of the national flagship company. Alas, that may not necessarily be what international investors and markets expect. Corporate governance experts prefer an arm’s-length relationship between ministry and company.
The appointment of Yasir Al-Rumayyan as Aramco’s new chairman has to be seen in that context. He runs the Public Investment Fund, so he is used to dealing with investors and their bankers. As a former investment banker, he is a deal man and understands what it takes to get transactions across the line. Very importantly, he is trusted by the crown prince.
As a former government adviser, investment banker and senior executive in industry myself, I cannot stress enough how important it is for a chairman to have a “sense of the deal” when a company wants to do an IPO or is planning a major merger and acquisition (M&A) transaction. One can also not underestimate the importance of good communication between the key shareholders; or shareholder, as is the case with Aramco.
New Energy Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman commands respect in most governments. He will be an important interlocutor and leader when dealing with OPEC+ and beyond. His name recognition and calm demeanor will do a lot to support investor confidence in the IPO.
One of the chairman’s key raisons d’etre is to look out for the interests of the shareholder(s), and translate what is required and happening in the line of the transaction to him/them. Potential investors will also look to the chairman and CEO to explain the company. In that sense, it is helpful if the chairman “speaks their language.”
Al-Rumayyan may not be an industry expert, but he does not need to be. That is not his role. The board already boasts several former CEOs of major international companies in the oil and oil service sectors. In Amin Nasser, Aramco also has an extraordinarily capable CEO. The company has a deep management culture with well-rounded, competent executives at every level.
Aramco’s executives exude competence due to its tradition of hiring only the very best. A tag team between highly competent Aramco lifers who understand the company and the sector, and a more shareholder-focused chairman, seems like a good idea.
Over the weekend, there was another change: Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman was appointed as the new energy minister. This role traditionally went to technocrats and former Aramco CEOs, never to a scion of the royal family. Prince Abdul Aziz is a royal, but every bit the technocrat his predecessors were.
He has devoted the last 30-plus years to the Saudi oil industry and Energy Ministry. He is also a brilliant strategist who spearheaded the strategy initiatives of both the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the Riyadh-based International Energy Forum, which owes a lot to his guiding hand.
Prince Abdul Aziz is well known and highly respected in OPEC circles. He is the one steady fixture at OPEC meetings, and has an excellent relationship with its Secretary-General Mohammed Barkindo. The prince is highly regarded by all oil ministers in OPEC and its 10 allied nations, which together form OPEC+.
This will be crucial. The price of oil features high in the valuation models for Aramco. It is therefore important that OPEC+ continues its steady course of balancing the market. Investors do not like to commit to companies with wild income fluctuations. The efforts of OPEC+ to balance markets has managed to taper some of the volatility commonly associated with the commodity.
Prince Abdul Aziz commands respect in most governments, well beyond the energy portfolio. He will be an important interlocutor and leader when dealing with OPEC+ and beyond. His name recognition and calm demeanor will do a lot to support investor confidence in the IPO.
Big undertakings require good senior teams that can work together like a well-oiled machine, each contributing their core competencies to the task at hand. The new team for Aramco achieves just that.
• Cornelia Meyer is a business consultant, macroeconomist and energy expert. Twitter: @MeyerResources