Tag Archives: Education

What does it take to have a co-founder spirit?

What does it take to have a co-founder spirit? Let me start with a personal story first. In the story, which is personal, I will give you an implicit answer; i.e., read between the lines. Then I will be more explicit.

Early Childhood

The Civil War

I grew up in a small village in Lebanon. I was in my early teens when the civil war started (1975). At the end of the 9th grade, I wanted to give up school or go into a vocational training school. My dad, being an independent “entrepreneur,” was supporting the idea to quit school and come work with him. In those days, we had lost almost everything we owned, our house was burned, the villa we were building was demolished, my dad lost all of his business, and we became refugees. That is why I wanted to quit school.

A turning point

A family friend convinces my dad not to let me quit and continue to high school, which I did. That moment was a turning point in my studies since I transformed from a mediocre student to being among the top three of my class. After high school, I left Lebanon, still in a civil war, and came to the US to study, and later worked. I had never thought of myself as a risk-taker or an entrepreneur. Sometimes, I was mad at my dad for some of the risks he took and did not understand them. I did not know, or understand, or even accept that risk-taking is part of life. I thought my dad was making mistakes when he would do something risky. So I wanted to be different.

Ahmad Mounir Ajam, my dad! A man of honor, tolerance. So words can be enough to show my respect. Rest in Peace

Education & early career

I focused on my studies and worked my way through college when my parents could not send me money anymore because of the collapse of the economy in Lebanon. I did well in my education, got a job, went back to uni for a masters’ degree that was 1990. Graduating from the University of California Berkeley and with top grades, provided me the necessary education to join Exxon and later other companies. All along, I was choosing the safe route, good school, top university, excellent working environment, and global companies. However, something was missing.

Risk Averse

I guess the risk-taker blood was running in my veins. I never thought of myself as a risk-taker, on the contrary, I felt I had a neutral attitude to risks, and maybe even averse to risks. About 8 years into my career with Exxon, I was frustrated. Exxon offered me a great opportunity and excellent salary and benefits, but I was not satisfied. In the early summer of 1998, I decided to quit, without any alternative in mind. In those days, entrepreneurship and startup were not a hot topic. Fortunately for me, I started freelancing and got an opportunity to work on a megaproject (in Texas), and later officially registered a company. The company was a legal structure for my self-employment.

Passion for project management

I am sharing all of the above to share how life was framing my future. Many of the steps that I have taken up to that point were mostly reactionary and not by design or long term vision. The only constant was my passion for project management and its value in all aspects of life.

After three years of self-employment, I was offered a job in Saudi, with Saudi Aramco. I did not want to take the job, but expecting my first child, pushed me into giving up on my US company-dream and go back into the corporate world. Being an entrepreneur was moved down on my priority list. However, two to three years into my “employee status,” my father’s blood started to drive me again.

a side note, for those who do know what it means to work for Saudi Aramco, here is a hint, wealth, and prosperity for the rest of my life, if I retire as an Aramcon.

The second startup

I started to plan to startup a company again. Everyone thought that I was crazy to leave the “Aramco Dream.” In 2004, we started SUKAD FZ-LLC in Dubai, UAE. I left a $20k/month total package to go into the unknown. A new company, in a new country, and with no real salary. I ran SUKAD from 2005 to 2019; earned many leading customers and their respect for repeat business year after year. During those years, we worked on the SUKAD Way, developed CAMMP, started our blog site and YouTube channel, and published a few books.

The third and current startup

That UAE SUKAD and the work we did during the period, allowed us to transform into SUKAD Corp, a USA Startup, working on developing an innovative project management solution, the Uruk PPM Platform.

The Moral of the story

Once again, I am sharing all of the above, a personal story, to reach the point of answering the question, the question that I posted as the title of this message. “What does it take to have a co-founder spirit?” What I shared is one example and the story of a “late-entrepreneur” if there is such a term. Other entrepreneurs started earlier in life, maybe even when they were still in school or university. So, what is the point?

So far, I gave you an indirect or implicit answer to the question of co-founder spirit. I used the term co-founder instead of an entrepreneur because most startups are teams, although triggered or driven by one vision. If you prefer, you can think of the “Entrepreneur Spirit.” What is the moral of this story? What is the explicit answer to this question?

The explicit answer

I do not know if there is an answer for everyone to subscribe to. To me, here is an explicit response to “What does it take to have a co-founder spirit?” It takes:

  • The courage to go into the unknown and maybe unchartered path.
  • To accept the threat of potential failure and seek the opportunity to serve.
  • The realization that we need to find solutions to problems and practice gaps
  • To understand that entrepreneurship takes dedication, hard works, and sleepless nights.
  • To be willing to reach the verge of burnout but the wisdom to realize that the exhaustion is temporary and to be expected. Of course, that requires the rebellious spirit to snap out of it.

The Co-Founder Spirit

It sounds like a horror story, so why would anyone want to be a founder, co-founder, or an entrepreneur. Well, not everyone wants to and some of those who want it might not understand what it takes. So, why do we do it? We do it because we have the spirit.

I do realize that many do it for the glory, being a Unicorn or a Camel (a new term that I am still trying to understand). Maybe we do it to be rich and famous. Each of us has different triggers. Even if one is at the highest level of the Maslow hierarchy of needs, one would still like the recognition. However, the real answer is here. Many of us do not do for glory, recognition, or wealth. We do it because we see a need. Founders see problems that someone should address. They see gaps that must be filled. We do it because we believe in a cause. We do it because we have the “Co-Founder Spirit.”

Co-Founder Opportunity, the Uruk PPM

In closing, our startup, SUKAD Corp, and the Uruk PPM Platform can benefit in growing our startup team and we are looking for someone with the spirit to join our working, co-founders’ team.

So, if you have the passion to excel and serve, you appreciate the value of project management, you have the business development skills to help us go to market, we would love to hear from you. You would be working with me and our CIO, Neville Goedhals.

The Uruk PPM Platform

Why ‘Applied Learning’ is vital in project management?

In the previous article, we touched on this subject and today we expand the discussion. The following is part of the SUKAD Applied Learning Program – Essentials (ALP-E).

Why Applied Learning?

Project management is an applied domain and the best way to learn it is on the job by applying the concepts. Secondly, project management must be performed in teams, and not by an individual or an incongruous group of individuals.

Numerous research by top professional organizations and SUKAD research and observations in the region suggest that classroom training, especially of a generic nature, is not enough. Even when the training leads to certifications from global project management associations, the desired learning outcomes have not been achieved. Some reasons for this may be:

  1. Most training programs depend on lectures and injecting knowledge. That knowledge is maintained until the exam, but quickly forgotten after, if not practiced on the job. Again, this is true even with generic certifications like the PMP (Project Management Professional) and PRINCE2. Unless those professionals who achieved these certifications are empowered to develop, or update, or enhance the Organizational Project Management system, then the return on investment from these training programs is reduced to a minimal.
  2. Most training, and in particular certification preparation (with the exception of the newly established PRINCE2 Professional), focuses on individual knowledge as the main requirement to pass the exam.
  3. Generic training often neglects the real life workplace dynamics in organizations, and often the techniques learned in class, even when participants buy into them, are quickly discarded by the work environment as wasteful and unnecessary.

At SUKAD we believe that learning has occurred when behavior has changed for the benefit of both the organization and the individual.

This means that the emphasis must be on creating shared workplace knowledge, leading to the formation of a collective mental model in a given environment. Such a model may include an organization specific OPM system, but also the tacit knowledge of which techniques should be selected and which team members are best suited to a particular project.

For project management, the ideal learning environment is to blend and integrates:

  • classroom lectures, with
  • practice through individual and group exercises on a real or realistic project, in the classroom, and
  • if the program supplements the classroom work with on-the-job practice on a REAL project, working with a project sponsor, and a mentor/coach if available.

In organizations where there is an established project management department or office, an internal mentor or coach would be helpful. However, if such mentors are not available, or the organization does not have a PM Department or PMO, then SUKAD Principal Consultant can fill that role. In either case, a sponsor, or project owner is necessary, and a real project would be preferred.

In other words, if organizations want the prevailing culture to change, high-level support is necessary to facilitate such change, and real life scenarios are needed to ensure relevance of the learning.

The SUKAD Applied Learning Program - EssentialsContact us to learn about this program, or leave a message and will contact you!


Is Management Education Still Educational?

Luc Bauwmans Leading a Workshop

Luc Bauwmans Leading a Workshop

If someone would have told me a decade ago that I would at some time in my life be unhappy about a decline in the oil price, I would have seriously doubted that person’s sanity. Lower oil prices in a consumer economy not only lead to a direct reduction in energy prices, but also to overall cheaper consumer goods, due to their transportation component. So my somewhat singular view was that it must be good for everybody.

But today I live and work in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as I have for the past 7 years. Of course, UAE is part of OPEC, the Organization of Oil Producing and Exporting Countries and our economy depends to a large extent on our energy exports, so the lower oil price leads to less government spending and consequently a possible downturn in the local economy.

This reminds me of the early 2000’s when I was working with a small project management consultancy similar to SUKAD in South Africa, an economy which is underpinned by its mineral resources, when the gold price hovered around an all-time low of around $260/Oz.

Paradoxically, this period turned out to be our most successful one, when a large gold producer asked us to intervene and help turn their balance sheets around, notwithstanding the low gold price, by optimizing their project management processes, as mining is a strongly projectized business.

I wonder if there is a lesson in this for us today. When times are good, we don’t seem to worry about improvement as much as when we feel the pinch. That’s human nature, so be it; but now is the time. I see this potential ‘downturn’ as a great opportunity to re-look at how we manage our projects and in general, our daily business.

Capital projects are usually the first victims of budget cuts, because they are direct investments and unique, risky endeavors, but I’d like to start by widening the angle a little bit and look at management in general, as this often falls between the cracks of scrutiny. Make no mistake; project management is a management discipline, and a very particular one at that. But more and more organizations today also subscribe to OPM, or Organizational Project Management, in other words manage their day-to-day operations as projects and therefore increasingly rate project management as a core management skill.

Dr. W. Edwards Deming once wrote: ‘our prevailing system of management has destroyed (the motivation of[1]) our people’ and that we have to replace our system of quota with a ‘System of Profound Knowledge’. He elsewhere concluded that ‘in order to transform our prevailing system of management we have to (also1) transform our prevailing system of education, because they are the same system’. This link between management and education appears to be an original thought on Deming’s behalf, and it throws a very different light on management education, of which project management training is a substantial component these days.

Add to that the fact that my eldest son started studying Business Administration this year and that I am less than impressed with the curriculum on offer, and you will see where this is going.  I will start by reverberating Deming and state that we need to critically re-look at our management education system.

Once I came to this realization I soon stumbled upon a book entitled ‘re-thinking management education’[2]. This excellent work is a compilation of highly academic chapters on different aspects of management and management education, and I was sold when I read the introductory chapter by the authors.

Since we’ve entered the globalization era – some say soon after the fall of communism when East and West truly merged – The global economy has become one single organism, where Europe and America sneeze when China has a cold. Or in more realistic terms, where a North American property slump led to a global financial crisis in 2009, or more recently where Russia and Iran suffer when OPEC refuses to cut oil production.

In such a volatile global economy organizations have to be extremely agile and light-footed to survive and thrive. Furthermore our whole concept of economic value has changed yet again; just think about some recent market capitalization of social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

In this environment it just doesn’t hold water that business schools only teach management techniques that are based on principles that were relevant a hundred years ago.

This is exactly what French and Grey argue in the above-mentioned book: That management education is no longer educational in many instances, in that what is traditionally taught can no longer be meaningfully applied. They do argue however that management education is needed and should not be discarded but that it definitely needs a good critical look.

To support this thesis they compare management to political science and conclude that most prominent politicians have never studied political science. It is more a science that is useful for political analysts than for politicians, but nevertheless a very necessary one.

Business school, they argue, are too pre-occupied with promoting a single approach whereas good managers, like good politicians, must sense what the right approach in any given situation is. So the school should treat different views in a divergent way rather than converge on a single approach.

This new view on management then also implies a new approach on management education: real-life problem solving, managing change and leading people should take preference over traditional academic lecturing. Practical and fleet processes are the tools, not lengthy analyses and stifling decision-making methods.

Crisp delegation of authority and common understanding of practical processes are the order of the day. Sharing of strategic objectives down the ranks is utterly beneficial as it will focus delegated decision making, while keeping just the right degree of control.

The good news is that these approaches exist in the form of project and programme management. We have known them in their current form since mid-20th century, and they have been successfully applied in many projects over the years; but I would argue that in management as a whole, we have not seen the need for them as we do now.

Unfortunately, even in the realization that these new techniques gain relevance, the way they are taught has often not been scrutinized, and herein lies our challenge today: We need to critically re-think our management education.

I am not saying we have not done anything. Smaller learning institutions and especially private training organizations have typically adopted a hands-on facilitating style for years; however the more established academic institutions are, even today, falling horribly short.

We may ask then, why not earlier, as in the crisis of 2009? Because 2009 was brutal and abrupt and spread across the globe Gangnam style. Many organizations went into survival mode; many commercial entities didn’t survive. In today’s downturn, which is regional rather than global, and largely energy-sector bound, we have the perfect opportunity to streamline, optimize; in other words, projectize not only our work, but also our education.

Today’s headline in the 7 Days UAE newspaper shouts in big letters: OIL IS HISTORY – EDUCATION’S THE FUTURE – Message form the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi to global summit.

I rest my case.

Author: Luc Bauwmans

[1] Author’s parentheses

[2] Robert French and Christopher Grey, Rethinking Management education, SAGE publications, 1996.

How can we make training more applicable to learners?

It is common to hear the following comments in feedback to classes and workshops: “it would have been great to link the materials to our own internal way of doing things”. Another comments, “it would also be great if the examples and case studies are from our own work.”

We agree with both of the above comments – that would be ideal but ….

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