In our series Conversations with Executives, executives share some of their triumphs, challenges and wisdom with regards to making bold career moves. In this feature, Arsalaan (Oz) Ahmed, Chief Executive Officer of Al Rajhi Bank, shares what he has accomplished in the first 30 days as the bank’s new CEO, as well as what he has planned for the next two years.

Q: What kind of person are you? 

If I told you what kind of person I am, it would be very different from what other people think. I’d like to think that I am the type of person who believes in the ability of humankind to progress. That’s really at the core of me as a person.

When the Page Executive team approached me, they were very professional and came prepared with good briefs and lists. That gave me the confidence I needed to pursue this career move and assured me that I could smoothly start my career in the new company. 

Q: What motivates you? 

One thing that really motivates me is making progress and making a positive impact on the society that we all live in. It’s about being a part of that change and, in this case, working within the banking industry.

Q: What fears do you have? 

My biggest fear is stagnation and just wading through treacle in my working life, as well as my personal life.  

Q: What was your first reaction when you were approached for this new role? What made you decide to move to another CEO role, especially during a pandemic? 

My first impression, when I was first approached for this role, was actually very positive. I get approached on LinkedIn quite a lot for roles, but I seldom respond to them. Even if I do, it’s after a very long time. However, when I responded to Michael Page, I received one of the nicest notes that I have ever received from a recruiter. I just felt compelled to respond. I need to thank Michael Page because had it not been for that note, I would have dismissed it. I wouldn’t be on this journey.  

Also, I think this is the best time to take on a new leadership role. You can do a lot of things in a time when everything is flowing fine. And you can ride on the coattails of an organisation. But to come to an organisation during a time when there’s trouble from a macro perspective, and then be able to lead a transformation and change the agenda there — that’s really exciting. That’s the type of leadership role that I look forward to and thrive in.  

Q: What have you done in your first 30 days as a new CEO? 

My first 30 days was very exciting here at Al Rajhi Bank. The first thing I did, which I always do in new roles, is to try to meet as many of the employees here as possible. Actually, because of technology, it’s been a lot easier. I think it’s really important to do that. Firstly, you need to hear from your people. Secondly, you need to tell them some things that are going to happen, though not right away. The last thing is that you need to bring people along for the journey, the one that you are taking yourself. Typically, when there is a new CEO, you do take the organisation in a different direction, and change is challenging for all of us in our professional and personal lives. I think it’s really important in the first 30 days to meet as many of them face to face as possible.  

Q: How do you see Al Rajhi changing in two years, and how do you see yourself creating that change? 

Within two years, Al Rajhi Bank will be an award-winning bank in Malaysia. In order to make that happen, the best thing that I can do is to set out with a very ambitious agenda. Or, as I like to call it, our greatest imaginable challenge. The second thing is to bring people along for that journey, which I mentioned earlier. But I want to take a quote from Alfred P. Sloan. He roughly said, and I paraphrase, we pay people for their hands but imagine what will happen if we unlock their minds. Bringing people along for the journey is not just saying, look, we want to get here. How we get there and how well we do on that journey is really a function of the people that work within an organisation. And the last thing I can do is to provide a mirror and a challenge.    

So, what we are going to do is to run the bank, constantly challenge ourselves and find better ways to do it. Also, along with running the organisation, we need to face the challenges the sector and industry are experiencing, particularly around technology, and provide an exciting agenda and process to ensure that we are always relevant in that space. That is what I hope to accomplish in the next two years as we seek awards in this space.    

This interview was conducted by Ean Teh, Associate Principal at Page Executive, Industrial practice. With over 4 years of executive search experience, Ean has participated in numerous senior executive-level assignments for both privately held and publicly traded companies. She is the now the specialist for all IT & Professional Services, Communications & Convergence, Platforms (Digital, Cloud, Software), and Systems & Devices.

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