Mr. Bakr earned his BS in Civil Engineering from MIT in 1971, and an MS in Engineering and Economic Planning from Stanford University in 1972. After completing his studies, he returned to Saudi Arabia and was thrust into service immediately – he took up the role of Head of Industrial and Petroleum Division and the Central Planning Organization (Now the Ministry of Planning). Mr. Bakr was one of a handful of college-educated Saudis who were responsible for the preparation of the guidelines in the Kingdom’s second national development plan (1975-1980) for the industrial, trade, electricity, petroleum and mineral resource sectors. He was also responsible for following up the implementation of the plans of these sectors. Indeed, part of the plan was drafted in a case study published by the MIT Press in 1973 (http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/energy-and-development). One of the major recommendations of his work was to use previously-flared gas to produce petrochemicals, and indeed, this resulted in the creation of the Saudi Arabian Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC), a global chemicals behemoth with annual revenues today exceeding $50 billion/year.
In 1976, Mr. Bakr was appointed as the Vice Chairman and first Director General of the Saudi Ports Authority, a position he has held for almost 20 years. Before the organization was established (before his tenure), congestion in the ports of Saudi Arabia had steadily increased, and by 1976 the waiting time for vessels averaged six months, with a severe impact on the economy. The Saudi Government’s efforts to ease the problem, including the use of helicopters to offload cargo, proved futile and costly. The Saudi Ports Authority was established to solve the problem and develop the ports. In less than six months of his appointment, the congestion was eliminated. A program for port development costing around ten billion US dollars was executed. It included the introduction of pioneering ideas in port management and cargo handling, and a successful turnaround was achieved.
Between 1995 and 1999, Mr. Bakr was the Acting Chairman and President of the same organization. He designed and implemented the privatization of all eight ports in Saudi Arabia, the largest port network in the Middle East. It was the first privatization program undertaken by the Government of Saudi Arabia.The program was launched to increase efficiency in port operations and resulted in participation by the private sector on a commercial and competitive basis, transparent public tendering of contracts, one of the earliest built-in incentives for the private sector to invest in new facilities and equipment in the Kingdom, and most importantly, training and hiring of Saudis to increase their share in the skilled labor force from 15% to 70%, within 10 years.
In addition to privatization, new port services were introduced, including free trade zones, transshipment and transit of goods. The ports of Saudi Arabia were the first to be privatized in the Middle East thanks to extensive reviews and bold decisions on Mr. Bakr’s part, resulting in a 30% increase in productivity in the first year of the program. A private sector investment commitment of more than a billion US dollars in new port facilities and equipment resulted in a 39% increase in total revenue between 1995-1999, a 65% increase in net revenues to the government in the same period, and the establishment of the Jeddah Islamic Port as the lowest cost port in the Middle East, granting Saudi exports a competitive edge.
Between 1999 and 2001, Mr. Bakr was again the Vice Chairman and Director General of the Ports Authority, before accepting a role with the Kingdom’s prestigious and influential Shura Council – the formal advisory body of the King of Saudi Arabia. Some of Mr. Bakr’s other board memberships include:
- National Shipping Company of Saudi Arabia (1990-1995)
- Chairman,Tabuk Electricity Company (1977-1978)
- The First Saudi-US Joint Technical Committee (Sept. 1974)
- The Technical Committee for Petroleum and Minerals (1973-1976)
- The Foreign Investment Committee (1973-1975)
- The Technical Industrial Bureau (1972-1976)
Beyond his professional achievements, Mr. Bakr is deeply committed to advancing the mission and values of MIT in Saudi Arabia. He is a founding member of the Disabled Children’s Association (since 1982), a board member for Riyadh Schools (between 1989-1991), and the Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Abdulkarim Bakr Medical Center for Dialysis.