Fahd Al-Rasheed jokes that he always used to lose at SimCity, the computer game where you design and manage your own town.
He lost, he says, because he would run out of money.
He no longer has the luxury of losing that way. Now Al-Rasheed’s real life is a game of SimCity, and if he runs out of money in his town, he will have angry shareholders to answer to.
Al-Rasheed is the CEO of a publicly traded “smart city” in Saudi Arabia. It’s called King Abdullah Economic City, and if all goes as planned it will become a major logistics hub on one of the world’s busiest waterways.
Its creation is aligned with the much vaunted, derided, debated, plan to take Saudi Arabia’s economy beyond oil called Saudi Vision 2030.
HSBC called the program “nothing less than a complete overhaul of the Kingdom’s economic base – a program that involves the sale of state-owned firms, changes to Saudi Arabia’s financial and labour markets, the restructuring of its government and widespread cuts to welfare and subsidy programs.”
This at a time when oil prices are at record lows. That fact alone has made people skeptical of the country’s ability to commit to it.
So this city is out there for all the haters to check out if they so choose.
The idea is that this project – born ten years ago from an investment put together by a group of international private investors and government bodies – should take advantage of the Red Sea region’s exploding population. Al-Rasheed said this should reach an estimated 1.3 billion by *2050. It is now at about 620 million, he said.
“The biggest challenge of the project is it’s so complex,” the former Stanford graduate told Business Insider in an interview. “We want to be a global logistics and manufacturing hub.”
- Emaar The Economic City
Right now the city has a population of about 4,000, not bad for a place that didn’t exist 10 years ago. Companies invested in the project include Holiday Inn, Sanofi, Pfizer, Mars and Toys R Us, to name a few. The town has a culinary incubator and is working on one for art. It’s hosting start-up competitions – MIT just held one.
“Cities only succeed if they actually allow someone to unleash their talent and their potential,” Al-Rasheed said. “We move to a city because we think we can realize our dreams.”
He hopes that by 2020, 50,000 people will believe that they can realize their dreams in his city.
- Emaar The Economic City
“For me now it’s only a matter of growth… Can we grow at the 20-30% every year that I’m expecting or is it 15%? I don’t know.”
That’s where Al-Rasheed starts to sound like a CEO more than a city official – because that’s what he is.
“You have to be exceptionally transparent in everything you do,” he said. ” [There are] financial statements every quarter … all your dirty laundry is on the internet.”
And of course he has a stock price.
“I can tell you it’s undervalued,” he said.
Sounds about right.
*And earlier version of this post incorrectly printed that “the Red Sea region’s exploding population, which should reach an estimated 1.3 billion by 2015.”