Bechtel marks 80 years working in Saudi Arabia

21 June 2023

 

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Warren Bechtel founded the engineering company Bechtel at the end of the 19th century and, under five generations of family leadership, the firm has developed a reputation for taking on big projects. 

During the early 20th century, Bechtel worked on major projects across the US as it established itself as an economic superpower. 

Its most famous project during this period was the Hoover Dam, which Bechtel built as part of the Six Companies consortium.

The company then played a role in supporting US efforts during the Second World War, and before the end of the conflict it was contracted in 1943 to build the Ras Tanura refinery in what was then the little-known market of Saudi Arabia, where oil was just starting to be produced.

Making an impact

Bechtel found that Saudi Arabia was a market well suited to a company that works on big projects with a big impact. Today, Saudi Arabia is one of Bechtel’s largest markets after the US.

“We do projects. Yes, we are builders and engineers, but we are also trying to do projects that have a positive impact,” says Jake Mumm, senior vice-president of Bechtel. 

“We are selective about the projects we work on, and we try to find projects that have a long-term positive impact. If your goal is to have a positive impact in a community and to improve lives and livelihoods, then public infrastructure is what you should be doing. And if you are doing infrastructure, where is a better place in the world to do that?” 

Bechtel’s projects follow a lot of the economic and historical parallels of the country. 

After Ras Tanura, Bechtel was appointed to work on the first railroad in Arabia since Ottoman times and the Hejaz Railway. Then there were the kingdom’s early power projects, early telecommunications schemes and, in more modern times, oil and gas facilities such as Shaybah and Khursaniyah, Jubail Industrial City, Waad al-Shamal and Riyadh Metro.

“It is 300 projects and counting that Bechtel has done in the kingdom,” says Mumm. “I do not think of Bechtel as a multinational in the kingdom. I think of us as a local company because our largest population across all of our projects are Saudi nationals, so it is by Saudis for Saudi Arabia, and that is very important to us.”

Growing presence

Bechtel has over 2,500 employees working in the kingdom, of which close to 800 are Saudi nationals. More than 300 are women, of whom over 200 are Saudi women. 

“One of my biggest focuses is promoting gender diversity. We have something called Women@Bechtel, which is an employee-led group. 

“Our largest chapter for women outside of the US is here. It is all about helping women thrive in their careers,” says Mumm.

These totals will increase as Bechtel plays a leading role on some of the largest projects being delivered in the kingdom as part of Vision 2030. 

“We have two projects at Neom, which are project management consultancy (PMC) roles. One is on The Spine, which also includes a regional infrastructure component, which includes the roads and water. We are also doing the PMC scope at Trojena, which is a year-round Alpine resort with six clusters. 

“These two projects mean our largest concentration of professional staff in Saudi Arabia is now working at Neom,” says Mumm.

Working on projects in remote locations like Neom is typical for Bechtel.

“A lot of us spend big parts of our career on fly-in, fly-out arrangements. These are camp assignments, and it is something we are comfortable with,” says Mumm. “I spent about 40 per cent of my career living in camps in remote locations. Most recently, I was up at the Keeyask [hydropower project] in the Canadian Arctic, in Manitoba.”

Bechtel’s largest concentration of professional staff in Saudi Arabia is now working at Neom
Jake Mumm, Bechtel

Looking ahead

Bechtel will continue to take on new projects in the kingdom as it moves towards its next major milestone, 100 years in Saudi Arabia. 

One area of interest will be aviation. Over the past 80 years, Bechtel has worked on airports in Riyadh and Dammam, and with major new projects planned – such as King Salman International airport in Riyadh – there will be more opportunities for work in the aviation sector in the future. 

“We like the footprint that we have today. First and foremost, we want to deliver on the work that we have. Once that work is completed, we will replenish it with a similar backlog,” says Mumm. 

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Colin Foreman
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