In a candid and insightful interview with Saud Alsulaiman, CEO of Alsulaiman Group, we explored his remarkable journey from a passion for interior design to leading a diverse group of companies. Celebrating 20 years with Alsulaiman Group, Saud Alsulaiman shared experiences, challenges, and leadership insights that have shaped him into today’s leader.
“The start of my career was different,” Alsulaiman reflects. “My interest in art was sparked by my artistic mother, so I naturally inherited this talent.” He studied interior design in California and honed his craft. A part-time job at IKEA set his career in motion. “I attended university in the morning and worked night shifts at IKEA, initially in logistics and later in interior design.”
Returning to Jeddah, Alsulaiman joined the family business, Alsulaiman Group. He climbed the ranks, starting as an entry-level interior designer in IKEA, then progressing to Interior Design Manager and Sales Manager, eventually becoming CEO of IKEA Saudi Arabia & Bahrain and then CEO of Alsulaiman Group.
Along the way, Alsulaiman embraced continuous learning that led him to grow by pursuing an MBA and subsequently earned a second master’s degree in change: “This lifelong learning journey has profoundly reshaped my approach to leading organizations, managing people, and most importantly, myself.”
Under his leadership, IKEA Saudi Arabia achieved Top 10 stores globally and ranked #1 globally in Revenue out of 360+ stores globally. Alsulaiman established Flow Logistics and now it’s one of the leading logistics companies in Saudi. Under his leadership Alsulaiman Group expanded across various industries, forming global partnerships with companies like Circle K and Livspace.
Further investment and growth through regional startups like Salasa, and Cartlow; this expansion has created an ecosystem of diverse industries that compliment each other.
Reflecting on his 20-year journey, Alsulaiman mentions, “It’s been a rigorous, enlightening journey in learning, entrepreneurship, and leadership. The stakes are high; my decisions have ramifications not just professionally but also within the family—a responsibility that weighs heavily; being part of a rich and enduring legacy.” He added, “Among the most formidable challenges on this path are factors like trust and perceptions—whether with colleagues, within the family, or in the broader community. Stereotypes based on family background and identity can create invisible barriers. To colleagues, you’re the ‘privileged family member;’ to your family, you’re the ‘inexperienced youngster;’ and to the community, you’re perceived as ‘born into predefined roles and paths.”
Earning trust in your workplace takes a significant amount of time and patience, especially if you are working in a family-owned business where the scrutiny is elevated. “For me personally, the key to successful connections to reach to peoples’ hearts is humility,” Alsulaiman emphasizes. “I believe humility breaks down barriers and encourages openness and transparency, allowing people to engage”.
This year, Forbes recognized Alsulaiman Group as one of the top 100 Arab Family Businesses, reflecting the hard work and dedication of Alsulaiman and his team. “A leader has to select his inner circle wisely and carefully, populating it not only with skilled leaders but also with value-driven personas that can challenge you and contribute to your growth, both personally and professionally” Alsulaiman says.
In Alsulaiman’s opinion, “A genuine leader embodies character and virtues like ambition, growth mindset, humility, transparency, and deep passion for their work. Such an individual can truly elevate the company’s culture and drive business success.”
Alsulaiman underscores the importance of agility and a positive mindset within the organization. “Maintaining a hopeful outlook is vital to fuel a positive mindset, convinced that tough times will yield beneficial results. This optimistic perspective enables you to be agile, confront challenges with composure, and impart that same calm to others,” he says.
Alsulaiman’s unique approach involves actively engaging with his co-workers by periodically working alongside them, fostering connection and trust, and contributing to his authentic leadership style.
Alsulaiman offers sage advice for aspiring leaders: “Stay humble, be authentic, and continuously learn. Surround yourself with the right people, foster open communication and trust, be ambitious, set clear goals, be persistent, and treat others the way you like to be treated. Beyond monetary success, focus on contributing to the community.”
Another crucial aspect is stepping out of one’s comfort zone and establishing connections beyond immediate circles. “Reach out, get to know others, learn about their perspectives, and build trust,” he says.
Regarding failure, Alsulaiman encourages taking calculated risks and learning from mistakes. “I’d rather disrupt myself before getting disrupted to help evolve the business continuously,” he declares. Failure, he believes, is a stepping stone to growth and success.
Saud Alsulaiman’s journey is a testament to his unwavering dedication, adaptability, ambition and commitment to authentic and deeply caring leadership. His story serves as an inspiring example for aspiring leaders and underscores the power of embracing change and continuous learning. As Alsulaiman Group celebrates its 40th anniversary, the future looks even brighter under his visionary leadership.