Career UnCovered: Mounir Ajam, CEO of SUKAD

In this post, we decided to share an interview that Bayt.com (“The Middle East’s #1 Job Site) conducted with our CEO, Mr. Mounir Ajam, as part of their Employer and Careers Insights. The interview is from November 2009. We include here without editing!

Biography

Mr. Ajam is a senior professional with 25 years of professional experience in engineering, construction, and project management. His experience covers the globe; including the United States, United Kingdom, South East Asia and the Middle EaMounir-Ajam-SUKAD-Co-Founderst. Mr. Ajam is the senior partner and co-founder of SUKAD FZ-LLC (SUKAD), a leading professional consultancy and training service provider that is based in Dubai, UAE but operating across the Middle East. Mr. Ajam is currently serving as SUKAD Chief Executive Officer and lead consultant. Mr. Ajam is also a co-founder and the chairman of the Board for the Global Project and Process Management Association (GPPMA), which is based in Dubai, U.A.E.

Best career advice I ever got

I can recall two:

  •  Be consistent in your performance and in writing: This sounds like a very simple advice that my Project Director (Mr. John Moore – USA) shared with me when I worked with him from 1998 to 2000. However, since that time, not a single week passes by without me remembering his statement. I also use his message now with my own team. Consistency is not easy and it is an essential element of quality work.
  • Water in the river goes around a rock and not through it: Mr. Hesham Al-Musaid, my manager at Saudi Aramco shared this with me a few years back. His advice was basically about implementing change in an organization and it has been quite useful when working on a project where there is resistance for change or adversity in a relationship.

Favorite Job task I ever had to do 

The favorite task (or position) for me goes back to 1994 to 1996 when I was part of a team managing the construction of a mega petrochemical plant; I was the Project Control Engineer and my role involved monitoring cost and schedule performance for the project which was being built on an island in Singapore but I also had to make weekly trip to a small island in Indonesia where we were fabricating and assembling our equipment and also similar trips to Malaysia to an old shipyard. The project was very challenging for me as a young engineer but it was also a great learning opportunity for me that I cherish today.

Most dreaded job task I ever had to do

Early in my career I was working on a huge construction site where we were doing environmental cleanup at the site. That site was in the past part of a refinery where oil was stored and the tanks were removed and our job was to clean the site from oil contamination since the site was going to be converted into a large residential community in Northern California.

Best career decision ever made

Resigning from my previous job in KSA leaving behind a nice income and benefits and venture and moving to Dubai to manage SUKAD a company that I co-founded a year earlier. Most of my friends thought I lost my mind for doing this – my wife did not want the move either but she was totally supportive of my decision.

The transition from Engineering to co-founding a training service provider has been

I had transitioned from engineering to project management after my master degree in 1990. Although my project management experience was still related to engineering and construction (petrochemical and oil & gas) but it was more of a management position than a technical engineering position. By the time I arrived in Saudi Aramco at the start of 2001 I was already fully into project management. While at Aramco – the last three years were predominately working as an internal consultant for my department and also conducting numerous training sessions; many I developed on my own time. Therefore, when I left Saudi Aramco to lead SUKAD, there was no real transition in the type of services I was doing — the difference was mostly changing my services from internal clients to external clients. The transition was harder in other areas which I will share below.

My Biggest Professional Challenge 

My biggest challenge was the transition from an employee to a business leader and CEO of a company that I co-founded. Although I had management roles before but they were “project management” but managing a start-up business has many challenges especially where many of the tasks were new to me and way out of my comfort zone.

Icons who have influenced my career progression/Role Models

I think about this often and I really do not have any business icons or role models who influenced my career progression. May be because my mind was always going beyond those who were my supervisors or managers; although that was subconscious to me. The biggest influence on my personality and my characters are two people who I never met and both were dead long before I was born and those are Gibran Khalil Gibran and Antoun Saadeh. The teaching of Saadeh is also helping me manage my business where a huge part of my life and business is about community and sharing. Saadeh had said that “Society is Knowledge and Knowledge is Power” which to me means knowledge means nothing if not used to serve a society. That was said in 1936 but is not that what many Arab countries, including the UAE are aiming today to become knowledge economies?

Most recommended readings (Websites, books) for people interested in my field of work/industry

For project management – excellent books to read:

  •  My two books  but those are not out yet [since the interview, published The Inheritance and five eBooks] – the first should be published by the end of the year or January 2010 and the second will be out by February or March at the latest. If I am not mistaken these would be the first books on project management published from the region.
  •  The Human Aspects Series for Project Management – 3 volume series by a professional colleague and a friend Mr. Vijay Verma, from Canada
  •  Project Sponsorship also by a good friend and professional colleague from Spain, Mr. Alfonso Bucero
  •  Patrick Lencioni books – a few of them.
  •  Mr. Max Wideman website is an excellent source
  •  PMI website has a Members Only section that includes a virtual library and it is free for members; which means you have to be a member to access.
  • The SUKAD website is also expanding to include a great deal of useful information and in the near future we will have a community website – dedicated to sharing knowledge with the community.

In another life, my perfect job would be

Without a doubt – project management. My dream is to retire (semi-retire) early (in 2-5 years) where I would dedicate more time to write and research on project management. However, I am already working to set the scene for a SUKAD foundation dedicated to using project management for “life projects”. Basically, using what I am good at to serve society on a not-for-profit basis. We are already doing some of the things that the foundation will do but at this time is being done from SUKAD the business.

My living and working in UAE experience has so far been

Rewarding and challenging. There are not many places in the world where a foreign national could enter a country and start a business and the free zones such as Dubai Knowledge Village and TECOM is a great place to be. The challenge is as non-nationals, we do miss some great opportunities that are offered or restricted to nationals only; which is understandable. However, that makes it difficult for someone like me to make the UAE as a permanent home if I chose to do so.

A successful career thought/ Motto that I live by ( and advise others to consider)

Do everything in your power to “Discover your Genius”. This is something that I learned in a course back in 1996 and I often advise others to do so. Basically to “discover your genius”; in other words excel – you must be (1) good at what you do, (2) love what you do, and (3) do it in a place where the core business is about the thing you love. For me, it is project management so when I was working with previous employers,I had 1 and 2 but not 3 since those are companies where their core business is oil & gas and project management was a function but not a core. So for me, I had to get into a company that is about project management and there are a few of them around. However, I have a better deal – my own project management company where I have the chance not only to discover my genius but to be passionate about it and I do often radiate passion – which I hope will inspire others.

At SUKAD we also have a similar saying and it is about “Awakening your Giant” in this case the giant is project management – read my first book “The Inheritance” and this would be clearer. We also have a published paper on this subject which we will incorporate into our community website.

A recent quote I read (from the book “The Monk who Sold his Ferrari”): “those who look outside dreams; those who look inside awaken”. So I close with an advice – look inside to awaken your passion. Life without passion and giving is a life not worth living.

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Mr. Ajam is not only our CEO but he is also our Principal Consultant, Author, Speaker, Social Entrepreneur.