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Omar K. Alghanim Headshot

The Arab World Has Talent -- Now Let's Help Them Showcase it

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Kuwait City, Kuwait -- How many graduates of Harvard Business School can say they have held the job of "used car salesman?" I would say very few, but I am one of them. It was my very first job after I left Harvard, spending endless hours in the sweltering heat of Kuwait's summers, getting to know my fellow peers, and understanding the importance of team work. It quickly taught me how to be fully cognizant that every single person who works at a company deserves the same chance and opportunity to express their thoughts and participate in the creative process to build and grow the business. Simply put: I learned to listen, and I learned firsthand about the importance of investing in people and giving everyone a fair opportunity to succeed.

After graduating from NYU, I worked at Morgan Stanley in investment banking on a few multi-billion dollar deals. It was an exhilarating experience to participate in closing large deals. I headed to Harvard afterwards. Some of my fondest memories were at Harvard -- it was a truly transformational experience for me. It was simply not feasible to learn every detail. It was physically impossible to figure it all alone, so working with others was essential. This is where I truly learned the power of team work and realized that harnessing the power of a group was infinitely more powerful than trying to figure it all by myself.

Being invited to speak in Dubai this week at the Harvard Arab Alumni Conference titled "Crossroads of the Future: Harnessing Opportunity in the Arab World" provided me with much food for thought and reflection in terms of the impact I want our youth in this region to have. With over 60 percent of the population under the age of 25, we have a huge resource to invest in: human talent. But that investment in our youth has to be approached differently to the "business as usual" approach this region has grown accustomed to. Here's why.

I believe that in our region and in our businesses, we are typically not constrained by capital. There is abundant capital available and in many cases there is a capital overhang. That's the good news. The buck doesn't stop there as we see an abundance of ideas generated for our region. Of course, there is talent in the region, but opportunity outside our region has outstripped this talent.The bad news is that there is one true scarce resource in our region is what I refer to as "Talent for Execution." This may sound a little like Hollywood, but it is my belief that the firms that win the battle for "Talent" and know how to harness it appropriately will be the winners.

As CEO of Alghanim Industries, I have implemented a very "out of the box" talent investment program for all my employees across the thirty businesses I see around the globe. Bucking the usual Arab trend of hiring relatives and family members, I have picked a team based on their merits. To empower the next generation of business leaders in the Arab world, we need to abandon the long held belief team members wont challenge decisions (especially those made by the more senior members of the team in respect of their seniority and position), and give a voice to junior people in the team who have a tendency to withhold opinions.

For instance, in my office now, a junior analyst will put up their hand and state opinion on "Straight Talking" which in turn acts as a catalyst and method of generating open feedback. Before junior members of the team would walk into a manager's office, express their opinion and it would be up to the manager to decide whether or not to relay that message along the decision making chain. That's not something to me I see as the way to encourage innovation thinking. Infact, just the opposite. Part of our company's DNA now is to have vigorous debate on topics. People layers down can challenge people layers up. I believe that without a meritocracy on ideas, you just can't become great.

It's another reason why I am a huge advocate for open plan offices. It's all about that equal playing field, and coming together as a team to get the best team goals and performances. Everyone wants to shine, so let's do our best to help work with each other and empower that philosophy. Such environments help create a highly meritocratic system which is more likely to attract the best talent.

With the eyes of the world so often focused on the Arab world, particularly after the recent regime changes we have seen in many countries across the Middle East, let's give the world something else to talk about. Let us as the new generation of business leaders in the Arab world lead with more innovation, more trust in human capability and junior level achievements. Let us encourage, empower and lead. Let's change the current, business as usual approach. To take a line of the book "Winning," by Jack Welch the former CEO of GE, "When you were made a leader you weren't given a crown, you were given the responsibility to bring out the best in others." That's what I intend to do.