Persistence pays

Fahad Al Maawali, Chief Dealer, Foreign Exchange, Bank Sohar and a winner of the NTI BizPro Awards 2015 shares his excitement and reasons for his success.

Can you give us a brief background of your education and professional career?

I did my high school in Oman from The Sultan’s private school in Seeb. After finishing my high school education, I convinced my mother to sponsor my higher education in the UK and she agreed. I went to The University of Manchester – which is considered to be amongst the top three universities in the UK- and graduated with a BA (Honours) degree in economics and politics. I came back to Oman and worked with the tourism industry to later move on to the banking industry. I then decided to do my post graduate degree from the University of Bedfordshire, in the UK. It was an executive MBA and I had to juggle between my studies, work, family life and social life and it was difficult, but I completed it, and it has helped me grow in my career, as I continued to pursue economics and finance in the treasury section. Bank Sohar sponsored me for a leadership and management course from Harvard Business Publishing (HBP), which has also been really helpful. Prior to joining Bank Sohar, I worked with Oman International Bank (OIB), now known as HSBC Bank Oman and BankDhofar. At OIB I did a full job rotation in various departments, and then I finally landed in the treasury department and decided to make a career out of it.

You have worked in the treasury department for most of your career. What made you choose this particular field?

At OIB, as a part of my job rotation, I was placed in the IT department. Having studied finance and economics, IT was completely alien from my field of study, but I took it up as a challenge. I follow the advice of one of my role models, Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group who said, “If you are presented with an opportunity to do something that you do not know, never say no, take the opportunity and learn afterwards.” While working in the IT department, I got a call to go to the treasury department, to fix a particular problem. The moment I walked into the department, I was amazed by the place — the figures were quoted in millions, currencies were bought and sold in seconds and the teamwork was very efficient. I was quick to realise that this was the heart of the bank, and the place that I wanted to be in. That’s how it all started. Since then, I have completed 10 years working in the treasury department.

You mentioned that Bank Sohar sponsored you for a HBP programme. Can you tell us more about the programme and what you learnt from it?

The course was spread over six to eight months and it consisted of 20 modules focused on dealing with people, soft skills, innovation, motivation and strategic planning. It also taught us how to use business language, communicate with virtual teams, because with companies becoming more global, virtual teams are involved. The programme has helped me to deal with virtual teams in a more effective way.

How was the experience of participating in NTI BizPro 2015 and were there any learnings from it?

It was a very exciting, challenging and a motivational experience. Having to go through the management aptitude and psychometric tests was something different and it opened up my mind. The group work was something that we were used to, but what made it challenging was the great minds that were a part of the group. At an individual level the presentations and interviews with KPMG – the assessors challenged us mentally and physically. I got a lot of time to interact with the other participants and found them to be well educated and from very strong industries and companies from all around Oman. NTI BizPro Awards picks up young Omanis who are very knowledgeable and fit to be the leaders of the future. I wanted to win the award from the day that I was nominated, but since the people who I was up against were also of a very high caliber, one could not be sure. I was extremely excited when they called out my name as one of the three winners.

You have achieved a lot at a young age. What would you count as your strengths?

My strengths are persistence, commitment and adaptability to change. I would credit a large part of these strengths to the period that I was studying in the UK, as I learnt from failure, and picked myself up after falling. The lesson that I learnt was that success was moving from failure to failure, without the loss of enthusiasm. When I went to the UK, it was the first time that I was away from my family and I had always been sheltered by them. So when I went there, I did not do my best in the first year as I played a lot and my results were not what they should have been. I had not fulfilled my objective and I had to break the news to my family. My failure lit a spark in me and I committed to myself to being more persistent. I was determined not have a life like this and decided as to what I wanted my life to be. I worked hard and did well in my academics. After the first year, my parents decided to be stricter and told me that they will fund only my tuition fee and I had to earn my own pocket money. It led me to get student jobs, like being an assistant chef and selling timeshares. In terms of commitment and persistence, there is where it all started.

Have you had mentors in life who have shaped and influenced you?

My father Mohamed Zahran Al Maawali was a lawyer by profession, who became a judge and went onto be the CEO of a bank. His professional transition taught me that once a person focusses on something, he can be anything that he wishes. My mother too was a very hardworking person, though she did not have to be, she decided to be a role model for all of us. She was the president of her Toastmasters group and took it to international levels. My brothers have also been a big influence, though both of them were educated in the UK, and could have gone in for a professional career, they choose to be entrepreneurs.

Do you think that Oman has enough opportunities for young Omanis?

Yes, there are numerous opportunities for young Omanis. Oman is a country that is growing rapidly, despite oil being our main source of revenue. The government wants the country to be less dependent on oil, so there are a number of opportunities for Omanis to pick up.

What would your advice be to young Omanis?

My advice to young Omanis is to be persistent in what they are doing, to do it day after day, because perfection does not come at the first try. They should focus on making an effort every day and that is what is going to help them bring about transformation or positive change. While leaders and mentors tell us to think outside the box, I have learnt from my brothers that there is no box, so free your mind and grab the opportunities that are waiting for you.

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