A Chronicle of Expertise, Leadership, and Continuous Learning!
Life, much like the ocean, presents countless chances, each capable of leading us to new and thrilling destinations. It requires a combination of insight, adaptability, and a willingness to explore uncharted waters. Just as a seasoned sailor learns to read the currents and set sail in the right direction, understanding the potential in opportunities allows us to chart a course toward growth, fulfillment, and the discovery of unexplored territories in our personal and professional journey.
Saleh Al-Wallan stands as the financial architect, steering the Saudi Esports Federation into uncharted territories. As the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), he has not only embraced the challenge but transformed it into a realm of untapped opportunities.
His journey began in 2020 with a pivotal engagement with the Federation’s CEO, leading to an invitation to join the team. Al-Wallan’s financial acumen played a pivotal role in identifying and capitalizing on opportunities that not only closed economic gaps in the kingdom but also propelled the Saudi Esports Federation into a new era of financial prosperity.
“In the gaming and esports sector, we’re not just playing games; we’re rewriting the rules of economic engagement,” says Al-Wallan. His strategic vision goes beyond balancing the books; it extends to maximizing the value of the organization, the sector, and the broader economy.
As the CFO, Al-Wallan is not merely crunching numbers; he is scripting the financial narrative of an industry on the rise. His journey is more than a professional venture; it’s a testament to the symbiotic relationship between finance and the thrilling world of esports.
Below are the interview highlights:
Could you please tell us about yourself and what motivated you to embark on this sector?
Saleh Al-Wallan has diverse work experience in various roles and industries. Saleh has been the Chief Financial Officer at the Saudi Esports Federation since September 2021 and previously served as the VP of Business and Shared Services from July 2020 to September 2021. Prior to that, they worked as a consultant at the Ministry of Finance in Saudi Arabia from February 2020 to August 2020. Saleh also had a role as the Director of Business Development at the Social Development Bank from May 2018 to February 2020. In addition, they worked as the Director of Finance at Al Emarat Al Arabiah Est (Wallan Group) from April 2011 to December 2012.
Saleh AlWallan completed their Bachelor’s Degree in Finance at King Saud University from 2004 to 2009. Saleh then pursued a Master’s Degree in Project Management at the University of Washington from 2009 to 2011. In terms of additional certifications, AlWallan obtained the CME1 from the Saudi Capital Market Authority in June 2013. Saleh also acquired skills in coaching, managing, and mentoring through programs offered by HRDF, ILM, and Meirc Training and Consulting in 2019 and 2020. Additionally, AlWallan completed a course on innovation at the Stanford University School of Engineering in February 2016.
What made you decide to take finance at a young age?:
The first steps in my journey started before graduating from college in the auto industry, specifically in car maintenance. Engaging with people during my early career has fascinated me, igniting a curiosity that led me to explore deep into the world of finance.
I was always passionate about the financial industry, recognizing that within finance, there exists a fundamental element in every story, initiative, or project. Finance is the cornerstone upon which organizations thrive and prosper. It’s a field where the right practices translate into profits; the profits will lead to growth, and with that growth, we ensure a promising future.
Could you please brief about Saudi Esports Federation and its inception story?
The Saudi Esports Federation is the regulating body in charge of nurturing elite gaming athletes and developing the gaming community and industry in Saudi Arabia.
The federation’s activities are categorized into two complementary streams. The first stream works to develop all levels of competitive gamers, starting with the grassroots community level and moving up to professional esports athletes who can achieve global excellence. The second stream works to develop the entire gaming and esports value chain by catalyzing the industry and enabling talent.
At the moment, our federation is working on multiple initiatives to make esports a viable career option. These include official legal recognition of both esports’ athletes and esports clubs, establishing training facilities for esports clubs to organize more professional training, and, of course, coaching esports clubs to navigate within the esports ecosystem.
Since its establishment in late 2017, our federation has organized multiple world-class national and international tournaments and events, such as the Saudi eLeague, Gamers Without Borders, the largest charitable esports event worldwide, and, of course, the incredible Gamers8, the biggest gaming and esports festival worldwide. All these tournaments and events have attracted investment from local private sector actors and worked with international developers on opportunities in the Saudi market.
Can you describe your experience and background in finance and accounting?
I would say that working in the automotive field at a young age was the key that honed my skills. I discerned the nuanced distinction between finance and accounting. Finance, I learned, is about maximizing wealth, while accounting is about protecting this wealth. This understanding propelled me into diverse opportunities and fascinating narratives, showcasing the integral relationship between these fields.
Fueled by passion, I ventured into entrepreneurship, establishing two companies. Later, I delved into the realms of finance and business development, eventually serving as the Head of Business Development for a $45 billion Riyal fund. My journey continued as I led the Treasury Rights within the Ministry of Finance.
Now, my path has led me to the Saudi Esports Federation. Here, I bear the fruits of my varied experiences in the promising gaming and esports sectors.
Can you share your experience managing cash flow and working capital?
I would describe my answer in three layers:
- First is Fostering Financial Fluency: Our success lies in our belief in enhancing financial awareness across all departments. Every leader within the federation possesses a keen understanding of finance. We equip them with accurate and timely financial information, enabling them to make smart decisions without affecting working capital. We provide comprehensive financial guidelines, ensuring our team comprehends the cash flow.
- Secondly, will be our Strategic Collaboration with other entities: We foster strong collaboration both internally and externally. We align our plans with various stakeholders. This synchronicity is vital for our financial strength. We invest significantly in our federation’s strategy, crafting a visionary roadmap spanning five years. Addressing cash flow complexities in our financial strategy and elevating our reports and financial performance.
- Last will be Proactive Planning and Visualization: Visualizing the future is a key aspect. We don’t just predict, but we plan meticulously. By anticipating challenges and opportunities, we integrate cash flow considerations directly into our strategic vision. This proactive approach helps us to ensure that our financial reporting remains not just accurate but always one step ahead.
How do you ensure compliance with financial regulations and standards?
We focus on following financial rules and standards closely. Our approach is proactive, aiming for high precision and excellence. In Saudi Arabia, where law stands as a north star of guidance, we have chosen a team that is well aware of the financial rules and regulations. Adherence to these laws is not just an internal affair; we subject our compliance to external auditors who are well aware of their knowledge to verify it.
We continuously check our financial records every quarter, which show everything. Once there is anything considered a yellow flag, we are always aware of it and address it at a very early stage.
Crucially, we have always ensured to empower our employees to excel in their field and to be well-known in financial compliance and financial regulations and standards. We do this by helping them obtain esteemed certifications in the finance domain, such as the CFA and SOCPA.
Can you provide an example of a successful cost-saving initiative you implemented in a previous role?
Certainly, when it comes to the world of financial optimization, my heart truly belongs to the digital aspect of it. I firmly believe that implementing digital solutions can significantly minimize human intervention.
One of the experiences I encountered while examining the financials of one of the largest energy companies in the Middle East. While I was leading a small financial firm, I uncovered a critical data issue that translated into billions in losses for the company. This eye-opening discovery prompted me to collaborate closely with the company’s administration. Leading to a more optimized financial future for both parties through a tech-driven solution.
Finance strategies connect with areas such as technology and legal policies. Integrating these ensures the organization works efficiently and reaches maximum effectiveness.
How do you approach financial forecasting and long-term strategic planning?
Navigating the realm of financial forecasting and long-term strategic planning demands a sturdy financial compass, a guiding light that illuminates our path. For us, this begins with three approaches:
- The National Gaming and Esports Strategy: Our work commences with a comprehensive national gaming and esports strategy. Within its goals, every initiative is outlined, serving as the foundational cornerstone for our financial projections.
- Organization Strategy: Beyond individual initiatives, we analyze opportunities, economic advantages, and industry progress, shaping our financial strategies.
- Detailed Assessment: We leave no stone unturned. Through a detailed assessment, we discern every element necessary for our financial forecasts, creating a strong foundation for our strategy. Once these strategies receive the green light from our administration and sponsors, our forecasting capabilities sharpen into crystal clarity. However, we are propelled by an unyielding pace, often outstripping the current strategy. To ensure alignment with the dynamic needs of our leaders, we dedicate ourselves to continuous development. This means translating the aspirations and requirements of every leader in the federation into actionable strategies, integrating them seamlessly into our long-term forecasts, and reflecting the ambition of our leaders in every financial plan, ensuring that our strategies mirror their vision and drive our success forward.
Can you discuss your experience leading financial teams and developing talent within the finance function?
As we are moving forward towards making the Kingdom a global gaming and esports hub, the need for adept leaders has never been more crucial. We recognize that behind every success story lies the dedication and passion of our team members.
We embraced our team members, not just as employees but as individuals with unique talents waiting to be honed, creating an environment where our members can learn, develop, and excel in their areas. We harnessed our resources, deploying funding and training capabilities to empower them with the skills necessary for their roles.
Additionally, we immersed ourselves in various networks and organizations, absorbing the industry’s best practices. By staying abreast of the latest trends and methodologies, we ensured our team was equipped with the knowledge to lead effectively in the future.
Today, within our financial domain, you witness not only leaders steering their respective areas but also emerging talents meticulously preparing to assume pivotal roles in the years to come.