Moving to Riyadh: My experience as a procurement management specialist

Rachel Collins
When I started my career aged 17, in the UK civil service in the North West, I didn’t expect to one day be living in Riyadh and working as Faithful+Gould’s KSA Head of Procurement.

My career path has taken me through procurement in various settings: the prison service, a national housing provider, and several housing associations which evolved to become developers. Along the way I took on business development roles, studied to become chartered as a member of CIPS , and my work increasingly focused on procurement as a strategic function rather than its traditional operational role.

I’d reached a senior level in my last UK job, but I had itchy feet. My husband is a quantity surveyor and we both wanted the adventure of living in another country and trying a completely different culture. We had friends in the Middle East and we felt it could work for us too.

I was open-minded about KSA. Researching the possibilities, I could see potential for great career development experience while working on ambitious projects created by Vision 2030. There’s a government commitment to creating a different future for the country, and I thought it would be exciting to be in KSA at such a significant time in history.

My husband Jack came to KSA first, and I started job hunting. Initially I joined another international consultancy, working on large high-value residential renovations. A few months later, I was interviewed by Faithful+Gould, beginning a two-week process that included extensive discussions with my predecessor and future team members.

I joined the business in October 2018. I had to go home to the UK first, to sort out my visa, but Faithful+Gould was very helpful in making all the arrangements. The onboarding process was excellent, with an induction that covered life in KSA, including cultural practices, so you have some understanding of these before starting work.

There’s help available with accommodation. You can stay in a hotel initially, while looking at the options, and there’s transport available too, to the office and to sites. Jack and I were already living in Riyadh and we’d chosen not to live in a compound. Our first rented apartment meant that we had Saudi neighbours, could walk to malls and restaurants, and we felt more quickly integrated in the community. We’ve moved since then and are now living in a serviced apartment within walking distance of my office.

There have been changes here in the last 18 months and it feels like a time of cultural shift. I’m among the first women to be able to drive here and I’ve had only positive reactions—local people cheering when I was stationary at traffic lights, for instance!

People are very welcoming and friendly. I was cautious in my dress at first, with a black abaya and a scarf ready to cover my head if required. I’m now more confident—I dress modestly as that’s the custom, but I don’t need to cover my head. I wear open, coloured abayas and it feels like a work uniform. I go out and about on my own, without restrictions, and I’m comfortable going out for dinner with girlfriends and doing the stuff I’d do at home.

In my workplace, there’s a good mix of cultures and we’ve increased the number of women working in the KSA business. We hope to become a more gender-balanced workforce as the country begins to shift from its traditional male-dominated workforce, and we’re encouraging Saudi women graduates to explore the possibilities within our business.

We’ve launched a company-wide global diversity and inclusion network, and I’m the lead for KSA, Bahrain and Kuwait. Our most recent session was on cultural awareness in team working—exploring ways of getting the best from diverse teams. One of our corporate targets is to increase the numbers of women at senior levels, aligning with the UN women’s empowerment principles, an initiative that our business endorses.

My core work is really interesting—I’m developing innovative supply chain strategies that support future sustainable project delivery. There’s a big role for alternative construction technologies and it’s exciting to be here just as the industry is on the brink of new ways of working.  

Life outside of work is good too, with so many opportunities for meeting new people of different nationalities. I have to leave every 30 days for visa reasons, and I can turn it into a weekend mini-break to Bahrain, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Istanbul… more travel prospects!

So I’ve found the adventure I was looking for—and I’d definitely encourage anyone who wants to try working abroad to consider KSA.


[MJ1]Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply

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