Haifa Al Dosari

Haifa Al Dosari

Journalist

Saudi women win P&G’s CEO Challenge over 3,500 contenders

Competing against 3,500 participants from across the globe, an all-female team of Saudi students landed a major win at P&G’s (Procter & Gamble) CEO Challenge, walking away with the competition’s first prize in a remarkable performance.

Malak Mously, Rawan Baik and Linah Hussain,  who are currently pursuing their industrial engineering studies at the King Abdulaziz University, came in first place at the competition, beating contestants from 40 countries. They had competed against students from Middle East and Africa, before facing off in the final stages with their global contenders.

Saudi pride

For Mously, Baik and Hussain, the win made for a far bigger statement than their technical competence and capabilities; through their performance, the three students commented, they were able to change stereotypical perceptions of the Kingdom at large, and of female engineers in particular. Theirs was a message to the world that Saudi women were capable of anything, and of outdoing at it too.

Baik’s ambition is to continue to her skill set and professional development through multinational experiences. She is looking at the larger picture of Saudi’s transformative turn of events, particularly when it comes to women’s state of affairs and growing clout in the workforce under the National Vision 2030.

Hussain pointed to the Arab world’s common stereotype of the engineering field as one that is dominated by male manpower. While it may have been the case historically, the past few years have disputed these stereotypes as women in the region strongly broke into the field, Hussain said, and took part of mammoth projects and achievements in the sector.

“There are many stereotypes that are propagated in our culture around women not being able to cope with the intense pressures of the engineering field; chiefly because it is a rather tough environment with often, grueling working hours,” she added.

Mously added that the competition offered her and her peers the change to work in a collaborative international environment; a learning experience through which they were able to represent the Kingdom and demonstrate that the competitive capabilities of Saudi female engineers at par with and against standards of developed markets.

A billion-dollar idea

The competition makes for a rather tough and large assignment. Participants are offered the chance to put in place a high-level strategy for a billion-dollar brand; end-to-end in-depth market and business solutions for real-life case studies by P&G – from marketing, to administrative management, to human resources, to growth strategies, to budget allocations. In the final round, students presented their solutions to P&G CEO David Taylor in Panama.  

During the competitions, teams were treated each as a separate independent company, tasked with making 40 critical managerial and business decision at every stage. The decisions are then run against an electronic program that simulates real-life outcomes and repercussions on the business.

The decisions tested are extremely detailed and comprehensive, covering product design, pricing, procurement for raw materials, staffing, equipment management, quality assurance, storage strategies, and marketing budgets, among others; factors that, once manipulated, can radically make or break the business outcomes. Chief among which is the “price share”, against which competitors are assessed and the final winner was determined.

Big wins

The competition included three qualifying stages for the final win. The first round, held in Saudi Arabia, saw the participation of students across Saudi universities. The second stage was held in India, with the participation of the hosting country, as well as of Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa. Second-round winners were chosen before a jury based on the best strategy put in place for the case study proposed; the Kingdom and Egypt were close to a tie before the three Saudi students won the overall round.

The third round shortlisted countries from key participation region, namely  Canada (North America), Mexico (South America), France (Europe), Thailand (Asia). The Kingdom represented the Middle East region during this round, before qualifying for the final five-fold round; the latter, the toughest part of the challenge, puts contestants to the test with tight timelines and countdowns – with a duration of 45 minutes for each stage of the round.

In the last stages, Saudi Arabia and France competed head-to-head with very close results across stages. But it was the Saudi female engineers who landed the win in the final stage, coming in first place in the name of King Abdulaziz University.

Tech-powered future

Hani Ismail, P&G’s country manager for Saudi Arabia, said that the future of the country is being shaped by technology in unprecedented scale and magnitude, bolstering the participation of youth in STEM fields – ones that he believes are at the core for any developmental growth in the world. In this, P&G is committing to the development of the next generation of business leaders across the globe, Saudi Arabia included, Ismail added. One example has been the CEO challenge, which offered young business talents the chance to take part in multinational decision-making.

On a broader level, Ismail said that the conglomerate had big ambitions and is extremely proud to play a key role in the massive transformation the Kingdom is witnessing today, particularly on women’s rights and roles.

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