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A Unique and Enduring Legacy - His Excellency Jammaz bin Abdullah Al-Suhaimi

Chairman of Gulf International Bank from May 2008 to November 2017

 

At certain times in history, a singular individual emerges from the crowd to address a particular situation or crisis, challenge existing norms, and serve as a paragon of visionary leadership and champion of change.


One such individual was His Excellency Jammaz bin Abdullah Al-Suhaimi, who is widely recognised as that rarest of men – a legend in his own lifetime. He belongs to an elite group of men whose destiny was not only to change the world around them, but also to irrevocably shape the future.

 

With his clear moral compass and personable nature, Jammaz (as he preferred to be known) touched the hearts and minds of all those he came into contact with. Humble, gentle, patient and perceptive, he was also passionate, energetic, enthusiastic and resolute. A devoted family man, he was a gracious host, well known for his generosity and loyalty, as well as his engaging sense of humour.

 

Jammaz exhibited all the traits of a great leader. A true visionary and innovator with strong strategic foresight and business acumen, he also knew how to turn a compelling vision into reality. As a broad picture person himself, he had the uncanny ability to identify and empower the right people to execute the vision under his guidance. He regarded the right mindset as more important than a traditional skill set, attracting people who shared his view of the future and who would help him achieve it, regardless of their professional background. 

 

Very knowledgeable, widely experienced and extremely well connected both regionally and internationally, he also had an extraordinary memory which never failed to amaze people. Naturally persuasive and charismatic, he was a fighter who relished a challenge, but was always magnanimous to his opponents, whom he would refer to as ‘my friends’. A supportive mentor and leader by example, he was an early advocate of the empowerment of youth and women, and the professional development of GCC nationals; together with the adoption of global best practice for corporate governance and risk management.

 

The professional career of Jammaz bin Abdullah Al-Suhaimi spanned more than 45 years, and embraced senior positions in both government institutions and private sector companies. His public sector experience in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia included the Ministry of Finance, Saudi Industrial Development Fund (SIDF), Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA) and Saudi Capital Market Authority (CMA). In the private sector, he was Chairman of Gulf International Bank (GIB), Vice Chairman of Sanabil Investments, and a Board Member of Saudi International Bank (which merged with GIB in 1999).

 

Among his many achievements, Jammaz will be remembered for successfully strengthening the supervisory framework, governance standards and technological infrastructure of the Saudi banking system during his time with SAMA. Initially appointed as Director General for Banking Control in 1984, he became Deputy Governor in 1989, during which time he also initiated the establishment of the Institute of Banking. 

 

As the first Chairman and CEO of the CMA in 2004, Jammaz spearheaded the development of a properly regulated capital market in Saudi Arabia, underpinned by a new benchmark for acceptable market practice and ethical behaviour, paving the way for the establishment of Tadawul in 2007. He also guided the introduction of the Kingdom’s Corporate Governance Code. His long-held belief that foreign investment in the Saudi market would eventually become a reality, was vindicated in 2015 when the Kingdom’s equity market finally opened up to foreign capital.

 

In 2008, Jammaz was appointed Chairman of GIB with the daunting challenge of deciding the future of the Bank, which had been seriously affected by the global financial crisis and economic downturn. Adopting a bold and proactive approach, he orchestrated the sale of a significant portion of GIB’s non-core investments portfolio to a number of shareholders, through which to de-risk and stabilise the balance sheet, and return the Bank to profitability. This was accompanied by a comprehensive restructuring and streamlining of GIB’s organisation and infrastructure, and associated costs; and a firm focus on strengthening the Bank’s risk management framework and culture. 

 

Jammaz will be remembered as the architect of GIB’s new sustainable business model and strategy designed to transform it into a leading pan-GCC universal bank. Notable developments include the launch of a pioneering technology-based retail bank in Saudi Arabia to provide a cheap and stable source of funding; investment in high-calibre human capital and state-of-the-art technology; the opening of a wholesale banking branch in Abu Dhabi; plus, most recently, the receipt of new licences for both a local bank in Saudi Arabia and a fully-digital retail bank in the Kingdom of Bahrain.

 

Following the untimely death of Jammaz Al-Suhaimi on 28 November 2017 shortly after his 71st birthday, glowing tributes to his unique achievements and legacy flowed in from friends, colleagues and admirers from around the world. These include those members of GIB’s Board of Directors and Management Team who worked closely with Jammaz at different stages of his distinguished career.

 

Dr. Abdullah bin Hassan Alabdulgader, who succeeds Jammaz as Chairman, worked with him as a Board member since 2009 and as Vice Chairman from December 2016. “I first came into contact with Jammaz in 2004, when I was appointed one of the first five Commissioners of the CMA,” he recalls. “He was an ardent advocate for what he believed was best for Saudi Arabia and the different institutions under his leadership. He was not your typical public officer but a modern-day technocratic leader, as well as a nationalist who cared deeply about Saudi Arabia’s future.

 

“As the first Chairman and CEO of the CMA, his early steps in enforcing the new rules and showing that the CMA really had teeth became the talk of the town. A fearless fighter, Jammaz was willing to take a stand regardless of the consequences of how it might affect his relationships with those major players infringing the rules. Personally, I found his unique leadership style, which embraced empowerment and delegation of ownership, to be highly refreshing and motivating; and a I learnt so much from him Without doubt, it will be an extremely tough challenge to attempt to follow in his footsteps.”

 

According to Dr. Yahya A. Alyahya, who was Chief Executive Officer from January 2009 to January 2016 and a Board Member since 2015, Jammaz was “a true legend, with a unique number of positive traits and skills rarely found in the same person. My association with Jammaz began in 1989 when as Deputy Governor of SAMA, he recruited me to set up a new Institute of Banking. This literally changed my career – from academia to financial services – and also helped me understand the real difference between education and learning. He was constantly learning himself, and never afraid to admit that he did not have all the answers. 

 

“For example, when tackling any new project, he was adept at choosing the most appropriate consultants or advisers from whom to acquire the requisite knowledge and information. He was resolute in discovering what was the current position and best practice, and what were the likely future trends. Had he played chess, he would surely have been a grandmaster, always many steps ahead of everyone else, with his eyes set firmly on the end game. His death has robbed GIB and the regional banking industry of a true icon.”


 
Mr. Abdulaziz A. Al-Helaissi, who took over as Chief Executive Officer in February 2016, came to know Jammaz first as a regulator and then as a chairman, and subsequently as a valued mentor. “A true visionary, he really stood out as a leader, innovator and strategic thinker; and was very clear about the next chapter in GIB’s strategic and business evolution. Jammaz was very ambitious for GIB – always looking at the long term – and determined to preserve the integrity and reputation of the Bank. Personally, I found him very supportive – whether on the phone, in person or at board meetings. Firm but fair with everybody, regardless of rank or status, Jammaz was truly someone to look up to. I will miss his invaluable counsel, his unique out-of-the-box approach to business, and his wonderful sense of humour.”

 

The final tributes come from two of GIB’s longest-serving employees, and the only members of the Executive Management team to have worked with Jammaz Al-Suhaimi throughout his tenure as Chairman of the Bank, and are therefore able to put his achievements into the context of GIB’s long and chequered history.

 

According to Chief Financial Officer Stephen Williams, Jammaz was pioneering and innovative but also very practical, with exceptionally high standards. “He had a true passion for the Bank, and its success was really important to him personally. During the financial crisis, when the Board was reviewing GIB’s future options, for Jammaz there was only one way forward – to save the Bank and place it on a firm future footing. His two-step approach involved firstly addressing the fundamental problems facing GIB at the time, and then developing and driving through a new sustainable business model and strategy. As Chairman he constantly challenged me, expecting me to have the requisite knowledge at my fingertips; and regularly contacting me for feedback on the Bank’s financial position and related topics. It has been a rare privilege to work with him.”

 

Chief Risk Officer Masood Zafar describes Jammaz as being highly respected for his integrity and shrewdness, and his tremendous vision. “He was a firm advocate for a strong risk management framework and culture throughout GIB, and across the regional banking industry. Jammaz was also extremely knowledgeable due to his wealth of experience in the financial services sector, and always up to date with the latest market and geo-political issues and trends. I therefore really had to be on my toes when he called me, which he did two or three times a week, to discuss risk-related issues and topics. He was a true visionary and key driver of GIB’s strategic development, and I consider myself fortunate to have known him.”

 

As these tributes illustrate, the enduring legacy of Jammaz bin Abdullah Al-Suhaimi encompasses his outstanding and pioneering contribution to the regional financial services industry, together with providing unique lessons in leadership and setting an example for personal integrity. Universally respected and highly influential, he worked tirelessly to put Saudi Arabia on the global financial map, and counteract the negative perceptions of the Kingdom in the international media. His achievements have provided a solid financial and institutional base through which to support the ongoing implementation of Saudi Arabia’s groundbreaking Economic Vision 2030 and National Transformation Plan 2020; and will also have far-reaching socio-economic benefits for the entire GCC region. In decades to come, this will likely prove to be the most important legacy that Jammaz left behind.

 

May God rest his soul in eternal peace.