Dr. Saad al Barrak, chairman, Zain

The man behind one of the most remarkable growth stories of recent years, Saad al Barrak has built Zain into the dominant cellular force in the MEA region. He now boasts operations in 22 countries and a customer base approaching 65 million at the end of Q109.

His preparedness to spend eye-watering sums of money when necessary—most famously more than $6bn for the third licence in Saudi Arabia—has, on occasion, called his deal making into question, though. Critics have suggested that the once bottomless Zain coffers now echo in emptiness, and argued that Al Barrak has taken the firm to the point where it is dangerously over-leveraged.

His ambitious plan to turn Zain into a truly global player in three, three-year evolutionary steps looks to have hit stumbling blocks in the current financial climate and it became clear in the early summer that the firm was looking to offload its painstakingly built African portfolio.

Spoken about with reverence by Zain employees, perhaps Al Barrak’s greatest achievement has been the creation of a borderless African network, where roaming charges are not incurred. This has attracted attention from the likes of Viviane Reding, who sees it as a potential blueprint for Europe. But, again, detractors have asserted that the project has cost the firm financially.

Whether he will find the funds to carry on growing, or whether he will look to break up his rapidly built empire is what onlookers are waiting to find out.

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