Behind the veil of Saudi Aramco

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IF SAUDI ARAMCO is a state within a state in Saudi Arabia, then the blandly named Oil Supply Planning and Scheduling (OSPAS) is its deep state. To enter it, you pass tight security at Aramco’s suburban-style headquarters in Dhahran, in the east of the kingdom. The transition is eye-opening. Suddenly, English is the common tongue even among Saudi “Aramcons”, as its workers are known. Female employees, their faces uncovered, lead meetings of male colleagues. The crisp banter is common to engineers everywhere. A toilet break is called a “pressure-relief” exercise.

Because Aramco has all its “upstream” oil-and-gas operations in one country, it says it can justify investing big sums—and a lot of computer capacity—on such technology, because it helps cut costs. “ExxonMobil operates in 40-plus countries. It just can’t do that,” the executive adds, before apologising lest he appear to bad-mouth a client and partner, one of Aramco’s American founding former shareholders.

Such comparisons will become more pertinent as Aramco opens itself up for an initial public offering (IPO). Until recently it was just as cloistered from outside scrutiny as the kingdom itself, giving it more of a mystique than a good reputation. This week it invited The Economist for a visit. It only partially lifted its veil; its finances remain off-limits to everyone except the government, its only shareholder. Affable executives dodge almost every attempt to wheedle out useful ways of comparing the firm with its listed peers (it has no peers, they dissemble).

Source Credit: The Economist
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