Challenge the Status Quo

Ahmed Al Shaibani, Project Manager, Ras Al Hamra Development Project, who graduated in the first batch of the prestigious National CEO Programme, shares his vision for leadership and Oman’s economic development

Give us a brief on your educational and professional background…

rr0_1391A graduate in mechanical engineering from University of Leeds, I started off my career with Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) in 1992. After working in multiple projects and handling various responsible roles, I moved in 2010 to Brunei Shell where I worked for three years as engineering head for hydrocarbon processing asset and head of onshore projects. I came back to PDO in 2013 as a project manager, and in 2014 I was appointed as project manager of Ras Al Hamra Development.

In 2015, I submitted nomination to the National CEO Programme (NCP), an initiative that was launched by the Public Private Partnership Taskforce (Sharaka) aimed at developing the next generation of private sector Omani leaders and executives. I joined the programme after being selected through a stringent selection process which included online tests, competency interviews and panel interviews, and graduated in May 2016.

Can you elaborate on your experience with NCP?

It has been very interesting as well as quite challenging, an enriching 12-month educational journey. In the first cohort, there were 30 of us coming from different industry sectors and professional background. I was the only one from PDO. NCP provided a powerful learning experience built on three key methodologies. It has been a six-module, 12-month programme delivering latest leadership thinking and research, including individual one-on-one and team leadership coaching. It involved a powerful application process focused on developing strategic projects for the country and creating a cross-sector, cross-region community of senior private sector leaders. The programme managed by the Institute of Capacity Development at the Diwan of the Royal Court in cooperation with Switzerland-based International Institute for Management Development (IMD), one of the world’s premier international business schools and McKinsey & Company, a highly specialised global management consultancy, was immensely helpful to enhance our leadership skills, broaden business knowledge, and acquire strategic capabilities.

We were divided into five groups handling strategic projects in key industry sectors such as Fisheries, Logistics, Oil & Gas, Tourism and Hospitality. I was in the Logistics team. We met and worked with people we never knew before. They were all executives of high-caliber who excelled in the corporate world or proved their mettle as entrepreneurs. It’s been an interesting experience as we were together for one year exchanging information, building network, supporting each other and building trust etc. It was a six-module programme. The first module on strategy and leadership was held in Switzerland, while the second one on understanding innovation and value creation was in Oman. We went to Singapore for the third session on leading in a global context and came back to Oman for the fourth module on marketing and change. We again flew to Switzerland for the fifth module on inspirational leadership and the sixth on competing for the future was held in Muscat. There was an official steering committee for the programme which included undersecretaries and CEOs of private companies, who guided and challenged us simultaneously.

As NCP graduates, how are you expected to contribute to Oman’s economic growth in the future?

We were selected from as many as 1,400 applications after three stages of selection process. The programme was looking for people who are experienced in the private sector, could bring innovation and make a change, work together in a team, transfer knowledge etc. The programme was all about how we can bring innovation to the business and economy, change the status quo, be more creative in generating jobs and help meeting the national agenda of diversifying the economy. As executives, we are constantly expected to get more out of our teams, grow organisations and find new revenue streams. There is the expectation not only to manage, but also to lead.

How did your experience with PDO help you to be selected for, and do well in NCP?

My experience in PDO has been immensely helpful. There were six ex-PDO employees among us. People always appreciate the level of calibre PDO has and the systematic way in getting things done. In PDO, we already have this process in place and people realise that we are really way ahead in nurturing leadership capabilities and raising business leaders. PDO helped me a lot in acquiring those leadership skills, and provided me with the opportunities to grow and challenge myself. I have been transferred from oil and gas project to Ras Al Hamra Development, a real estate project, which requires a shift in mindset and focus. However the PDO eco system and governance system helped me in negotiating this change smoothly.

What are your takeaways from NCP and how are you going to implement them?

It came on the right time. In the current economic situation, we need a shift of mind. We can no longer do things the conventional way. We need to challenge the conventional wisdom and bring fresh outlook and ideas. The NCP helped me learn a lot of new things which I was not familiar with. In addition, it was a great opportunity for cross learning. I got an opportunity to learn from and interact with specialists on real estate. That’s especially important when we are in the process of transforming our project from being a conventional PDO project to an integrated real estate development and make it externally funded.

What advice would you like to give to  young Omanis, who are looking at embarking upon a career?

The youngsters need to learn to sync up their technical knowledge with practical wisdom. They need to go out and understand things by seeing and experiencing them. There is a difference between what you learn in college and what you need to do in a real life situation. They need to acquire technical and leadership skills as well as communication skills. Communication is the key for leadership. They need to be innovative, learn to do things in a different way and constantly challenge the status quo.

What is your vision for Ras Al Hamra Development to steer the project ahead into its second phase?

We have a very beautiful site in Muscat, with a blend of pristine beaches and gorgeous mountains. This is a very unique area in Muscat and a lot of people are emotionally associated with it. We are focused on developing this area into a unique integrated facility, because as you know integrated facilities are need of the hour and there is huge popular demand for them. Real estate could bring a lot of value to people’s life by providing high-quality accommodation and explore the beauty of the county. My vision for the project at this current economic situation is to sustain the project and make it attractive for prospective investors to support it.

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