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Dohaland for Qatar Today

Dohaland for Qatar Today

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Published by Vani Saraswathi
Interview with Dohaland CEO Issa Al Mohannadi
Interview with Dohaland CEO Issa Al Mohannadi

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Published by: Vani Saraswathi on Nov 03, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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outwith qt
outwith qt
efreshingly candid, and not in thehabit of sugar-coating harsh truths,
Issa Al Mohannadi
refuses tohide behind cultural comforts andstereotypes.He sees in people, the struggleto keep up with the socio-economic developmentof the nation, and says the pressure on nationalsto be ‘managers’ is unhealthy for the individualand the country.Over a cup of strong coffee with
Qatar TodayManaging Editor Vani Saraswathi
, the CEOof Dohaland matches the caffeine kick drop fordrop, with his strong and untraditional opinions.Armed with a degree in natural gas engineer-ing (from Texas A&M, Kingsville) Al Mohan-nadi thought he had found his niche on the tech-nical side at RasGas, till a fateful combination ofquick career growth; a natural knack to managepeople and projects with ease; and not to men-tion societal pressure to become a ‘manager’,found him donning a different role.Though reluctant initially to shift from techni-cal to the management side, over the years he hasheld a variety of leadership positions, primarilyin oil and gas and real estate sectors. Now as the
Chief Executive Ofcer for DOHALAND (a
subsidiary of Qatar Foundation) and the Found-er and Chair of Qatar Green Building Council(QGBC), he says he wears his engineer’s hat onlywhen technical counselling and discussions arerequired.
‘Sustainability’ is the word of theday. Do you think in wealthy, af-
uent countries like Qatar, this be
comes more of a challenge?
Yes. Denitely. But things may change in the
next few years, and it may change in favour ofsustainability. I strongly believe we could puta lot of effort into creating awareness. We needto stress that wealth comes with responsibilitytoo. Then we need to go beyond awareness. Theconcept of sustainability should be embeddedwithin curricula at schools. The next generationwill hopefully grow not only reading about sus-tainability, but make it part of their everyday lifeand action.Equally important, we need to work with regu-lators to enforce a few sustainability aspects – hopefully you will see some of the Green Build-ing Council requirements becoming a part of themandatory regulations.
Personally, when did your interest
in eco-conservation begin?
I’ve been interested in it since my schoolingdays, but serious work started with the idea of‘Heart of Doha’ project some three years ago.One of the aspirations of HH Sheikha Mozah bintNasser Al Missned was to build green and mini-mise the impact on the environment. When wewere putting together the master plan for Heartof Doha, we started deliberating on what ‘green’meant. It triggered a lot of thoughts – then we ar-rived upon the idea of establishing a Qatar GreenBuilding Council (QGBC) here.Everything just fell in place; all work-ing towards achieving Vision 2030,which has sustainability as one of the keycomponents. QGBC will be a vehicle that willfacilitate our journey towards that. The focus isalso on bigger picture of sustainability, not greenbuildings alone.‘Sustainability’ could mean anything – itcould be revenue, green, development. Qatarwants to be a sustainable economy by 2030, andif you don’t plant the seeds now, it’s not going tobe possible. We need more people to be aware ofhow to protect the environment, and give themoptions so they can choose the method that suitsthem best.
The building boom started at least
eight years ago. A lot has already
come up. What goes through your
 What Qatar needs to do diffe
Glassy buildinGs to ‘manaGer’ syndrome 
“Maybe six years fromnow you will come backand sit at the sametable and tell me ‘you were right’ or ‘you were wrong’ (about Heart of Doha project)... We canonly guess and predictbased on the facts andinformation we havenow.”
“And I don’t like glassybuildings... in this region. I like it  in Europe, but not in Doha. It’s out of context here.” 
outwith qt
outwith qt
mind when you see what’s al
ready built?
I feel sad at times. The question in mymind is: Was it done properly? I am notclaiming I would do it right. Yet, when Isee how some parts of the city has beenplanned, it does upset me. The mistakesare obvious, you don’t have to be an ex-pert to identify it. No public amenities, noparking, no walkways.And I don’t like glassy buildings... inthis region. I like it in Europe, but not inDoha. It’s out of context here.That’s a personal opinion, but whatmakes me sad more than the buildings it-self is how poorly the areas surrounding ithave been planned. When you go wrongwith a building, it can still be corrected;but when you plan the streets wrong, the
setbacks wrong, it’s difcult to rectify. I
am not saying this is true of the entire city,but you have to admit that we have got itwrong in some parts of the city. That’s theother thing that bothers me; we have toown up to our mistakes.This is a role that the media and thepublic have to play – in raising theirvoices in times of concern. If we blindlyaccept everything or keep silent, thingswill go real bad.. Though we have goodvisionary leadership at the top , we need asecond, third and fourth layers of leader-ship that will translate this into action. Ifwe get this right, a lot of our problemswill go away.
Talking of leaderships, for you
how easy has the transition
been from the technical side towhat you do now?
Before my current role, I was involvedin project management for the last sev-en-eight years which was a leadershipposition.If you peel away all the other leader-ship skills, the core of good leadership ishow well you interact and motivate oth-ers working with and under you. That issomething I like doing and am good attoo. I wear my engineering hat when Ineed to counsel or give direction to myteam. But normally it is the leadership hatthat I enjoy wearing.
Can you learn managementand leadership from a book?
Leadership? No, it cannot be learnt. If
you don’t have it within you, no bookwill help you become one. There has tobe some innate leadership qualities withinthe person. Books, education and trainingcan then help hone that. But you can’tbecome a leader without that core under-standing of humans. Not everyone canbe made into one (leader), though I amaware that there are theories that state theopposite. I am not convinced.It’s like training 22 people for a foot-ball team – all receiving identical train-ing, under similar conditions etc. Onlythree or four will shine and excel, the restwill be average. You need to have the in-nate talent already, to soak in the trainingand reach a different level. That’s my takeon leadership too.
As a leader, who inspires you?
Outside of Qatar.
Quite a few really, but one person above allelse – (Mohandas Karamchand) Gandhi.It’s incredible how he was able to achieve
his goal without an ofcial role. He was not
the President of India. Yet, the British wereforced to negotiate with him.To me that’s very strong leadership.The style of Gandhi, how he forced thecolonialists to sit across the table and talk.He had an entire nation behind him, andthe way he was able to lead them. To methat’s very inspiring.Stephen Covey is another man who in-spires me. I learn a lot from his books.Then business people like Jack Welch,GE CEO and Steve Jobs of Apple.
The last names you mentioned
are not traditional leadersreally...
You need to keep in mind there is no one‘kind’ of leader.They each create a style...Take exam-ples from the old economy, then duringthe period of industrialisation, to postWorld War economies, to globalisation – each era had its own assumption ofhow leaders should behave. The globaleconomy – which is what we lived in tilla year ago, there was a different take onleadership.
What we live in now still dees a deni
-tion – that will come two years down theline when there is a better understanding ofwhat happened. But the current situation re-quires a radically different leadership styleand thinking. The meltdown, among otherthings, has proven many leadership theorieswrong.
One thing is clear, though. Leadership
is all about innovation, thinking on yourfeet – it’s an art, not a science. You askedhow I adapted from fact-oriented reason-
Issa Al Mohannadi is alsothe Board Member of Turner International Middle EastQatar, Board Member of Qatar  Leadership Academy and VicePresident of Al ThakhieraYouth Centre.
Quick Takes
Qatar in 10 years...
Hopethey get it right. We need to takeserious action on how we do things.
That we don’t lose our iden-tity. That we be known as an educat-ed and open minded society, withoutlosing the core values.
The most satisfactoryassignment in my life:
Career-wise, I have been lucky ingetting challenging tasks. The shiftfrom technical to management po-sition was a turning point. But Do-haland is probably by far the mostinteresting assignment so far.
The person who has made mewhat I am:
My mother, and my wife
 A clićhe I dislike:
People using ‘I’ all the time. ‘I’ didthis, ‘I’ did that... I don’t like to hearit. I prefer ‘We’.
 Places I like to visit:
Anywhere with my family. Prefer-ably places where nature is rich, withcamping opportunities.
ing, precision and scientic thinking of an
engineer to that of a leader. That’s how.
Then how does one make theright moves, to get it right?
As a leader, you are merely predictingan action or a reaction. You get it rightby how well you understand people.You need to constantly reinvent your-self, within your organisation, the wayyou look at things; you have to be ableto take a call on what’s best at a certainpoint of time. You may evaluate some-one’s decision three years down the line,and say it would have been better if ithad been done differently. Hindsight isafter all 20/20, but the important thingis the situation when the decision wastaken, based on the information available.Maybe six years from now you will comeback and sit in the same place and tell me‘you were right about the Heart of Dohaproject’ or ‘you were wrong, you shouldnot have gone ahead with it’. We can onlyguess and predict based on the facts andinformation we have now.
You are a role model on howto use education as a platformto reinvent yourself and go
ahead. You think there is a lot
of pressure on Qatari young
-sters to all be ‘leaders’ and
‘managers’, whereas there areso many other critical roles, atdifferent levels.
Yes, everyone wants to be a manager.That’s a cultural problem, and willchange with the changes in education andthe corresponding opportunities that havecome up.Traditionally, the thought is, if youare not a ‘manager’ after a certain timeserved on the job, you are a failure. Thatis totally wrong. You cannot expect ev-eryone to be a manager or a leader. A sus-tainable society needs to have the citizensemployed in different disciplines andat different levels. We are a society thathas some gaps. Vision 2030 cannot beachieved without people being more openabout employment possibilities, and be-ing more accepting of the fact that maybefor the next 15 years you will continue tobe a technical person; not everyone is go-ing to be a manager.
Let me be frank. I did not wish to be
a manager at one point. I was hoping tocontinue what I was doing, because Iloved what I did as an engineer, as a tech-nical person. The turning point in my ca-reer was when I was ‘forced’ to accept aleadership role. Everybody looked at meas an oddity – ‘who on earth will rejectbeing promoted to a senior managerialposition?’ I told them I was one of them. Iliked what I was doing. That’s the wholepoint isn’t it? If you like what you are do-ing, you can be innovative. You will behappy.Having said that, I ended up enjoy-ing the new role too. However, young-sters need to realise that if you do thingsbecause of pressure placed by the societyor your family or anyone; or if you arestressed because others think that if youare not a manager you are a failure, thenthe problem is with them, not with you.There are various skills we can develop;management is only of the many.
But why this obsession?
This obsession with being a manager hasbeen handed down the generations sincethe time we were a British protectorate.Managers were viewed as the one withpower, the one who made the decisions,he was English, and everyone respectedhim. So our forefathers thought if you areof any worth or need to have power, youhave to be a manager. But somehow, wedid not see the worth or the power of thetechnician (for instance), and handed thatthinking down over generations.Without people being effective andgood at all the levels below, the manager
counts to nought. Little credence is given
to the people who build the foundation ofan organisation, the ones who make ‘Mr
Leader’ look good. It’s not about being
good alone, you have to create leaders atlevels below you who in turn will inspireand motivate.
What would you do differentlyto reach out to the youngstersnow?
I cannot adapt the style or principles ofthe leader who inspired me 20 years ago;to reach out to the Qatari youngsters to-day, I have to think differently – their in-
uences are dramatically different from
what was prevalent a decade ago.Each generation – X, Y or whateverelse we have now – has a unique char-acter. It’s about speed of information and
living, about instant gratication, online
presence – you have to understand whatdrives them to inspire them. Accord-ingly, we have to provide opportunitiesthat will interest them, unlike some de-cades ago where people were happy be-ing part of a factory line, doing routinemonotonous jobs every day. The fact thatwe create machines to take care of these
 jobs reects this generation’s reluctance
to accept those jobs. Youngsters are nowlooking for something that challengestheir mind.

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