Optimistic about Iraq, Fueled by the Passion of Its People
By William Wakileh, President and CEO, GE Iraq and Levant
My very first field assignment with GE was in Iraq as a commissioning engineer for oil well drilling rigs. That was in 1981. Iraq was one of the few countries where from the moment I arrived to the time I finished, I was working with Iraqis, with very few expatriate workers. Whether in the field or in offices, these were men and women who represented a rich diversity of backgrounds. They were qualified and competent, and they loved what they were doing.
Twenty years later, the oil field we drilled in East Baghdad had become the primary fuel source for the Qudus power plant nearby; powered by GE Frame 9E gas turbines, the first 9E turbines in the country. When I returned to Iraq between 2003 and 2007, we helped to add many more GE gas turbines to supply urgently needed power to the grid.
During that time, I led the GE initiatives that covered all the activities across the GE businesses, from rebuilding clinics and hospitals, to providing water treatment plants, to powering oil fields, and to a larger extent rebuilding the electricity infrastructure.
Wherever we helped build a new power plant or refurbish an older one, I witnessed the passion and energy of young Iraqis who were eager to learn and to work, and who persisted in overcoming the challenges, no matter what difficult conditions faced them.
At that time, we found that we still depended on the expertise of many expats to perform most of the activities. We quickly recognized that we needed to take the time to recruit local employees and invest in their training.
In retrospect, this was the most basic element to building the foundations of our organization in the country, and going forward, this will prove to be the only sustainable way to serve the growing and longer-term needs across many sectors including power, oil and gas, and healthcare.
Fast forward to around six months ago when I returned to lead what we call a “team of teams” across the country and neighboring Levant region. I could see the progression of our localization efforts, with most employees, both in the office and in the field, being dedicated local nationals. Despite tremendous changes and turmoil over the years, one thing remains crystal clear: the passion and energy of our workforce. And that’s what keeps me optimistic about the future here.
Looking at our achievements in this region, I can see how our partnership with local customers in sectors such as power, oil and gas, healthcare, and aviation have grown into enduring relationships that will propel us into more opportunities for future engagements.
I also can see that delivering on our commitments and maintaining our reputation will depend on continuing our investment in training and developing our local workforce. Beyond developing the technical and managerial skills required to handle newer technologies and complex projects, we remain focused on embedding our company’s “timeless” values and culture.
Our focus on integrity and accountability is the one constant that will not change, regardless of time, and it remains at the center of building a deeper bench of leadership that is ready to take on bigger challenges and broader responsibilities
As we build on our track record, we see a growing list of landmark projects that takes larger local teams to support, such as the multi-year Power Up Plan which included a power enhancement program on a scale never before undertaken anywhere in the country.
As we engage in maintaining older units, we are deploying newer technologies such as GE Advanced Gas Path solutions for heavy duty gas turbines to enhance efficiency and reliability. Phase II of the plan added nearly 700 MW of new power this year, following Phase 1, which during 2016, also added about 700 MW of power generating capacity.
More recently, we completed commissioning of the Mansurya Power Plant in Diyala Province, adding around 780 MW of generation capacity. We also have been privileged to take more work, such as the new power plant for Halfaya oil field and the largest grid project in Iraq.
This month we are completing the commissioning of the steam turbines for Block 1 at the Basmaya Power Plant. This power plant includes the latest GE 9FA gas turbines, which began providing 1000 MW to the grid last summer.
When we complete the combined-cycle work, this plant will supply up to 3000 MW of generation. We’re also working closely with the Ministry of Electricity to serve the needs of the middle governorates by building two new power plants, Samawa and Dhi-Qar, that will add 1,500 MW of efficient and environmentally friendly combined-cycle power generation.
All of these projects will help the Ministry of Electricity move closer to the goal of providing uninterrupted electricity across the country 24 hours a day.
Meanwhile, next week, I will be joining the GE Healthcare team for a special event at Al Kafeel Super Specialty Hospital in Karbala. This hospital was equipped with GE’s modern MRI and CT scan machines a couple of years ago, and has been recognized as one of the leading hospitals in Iraq. To further enhance the hospital’s capabilities, we are inviting the top cardiologists in Iraq to a special training workshop to demonstrate the latest applications and new procedures around cardiac imaging. This will allow the hospital to serve more patients in-country; avoiding the additional burden and cost associated with travel outside the country for cardiac treatment.
My confidence in the future grows with every field visit I make.
These visits give me the chance to speak directly to our clients and to see the GE teams performing on the ground. The vast majority of our employees in Iraq are Iraqi nationals: gas turbine mechanics and field engineers, safety engineers and project managers, and service technicians working on the latest medical equipment.
Supporting our field projects, we also see a growing number of skilled staff, covering the full range of functions, from sales to finance, and from sourcing to logistics and security.
Moving forward, not only are we training our own new employees on the most advanced equipment and technologies, but also our customers’ employees, whether they be operators or maintenance teams, or finance specialists. It’s part of our broader long-term commitment to Iraq’s economic expansion and growth.
A few challenges and complexities remain, but that doesn’t divert our focus from the market potential, and what it takes to deliver on our commitments and build for the future. I am confident that with such enduring enthusiasm, we will pull together to achieve our goals no matter what challenges loom ahead.
This unwavering enthusiasm is driven by a genuine sense of purpose that everything we do here is helping Iraqi communities and fellow citizens. This is a point of inspiration and pride for me and the entire GE Iraq team. The best is yet to come, and I invite you to share in this brighter view of the future.
Read more about GE in Iraq by clicking here. For more stories on GE’s contribution to economic growth across the Middle East, North Africa, Turkey and Pakistan region, click here.