Thinking of Strategy by Looking at the Past: 1960s Farewell Arabia Assignment

A few weeks ago (yes, I am a horrible marker and put it off as long as possible, even when I am curious as to what students think) we watched a video in class (above to watch) call Farewell Arabia. It documents the first years of Sheikh Zayed's reign as the ruler of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi (before the UAE was the UAE).

The assignment was to watch the video, watch what strategic tactics (or tools or methods or habits) were used by Sheikh Zayed and write a one page mini-essay of how they could be modernized - or if modernization was necessary! Most of the students had seen the video before (I have seen it several times before of course, I used it when I taught Leadership and in previous Strategy classes we just watched it and had discussions).

Through the pages chicken scratch (I say that with love of course) there was wisdom, pride and a deep understanding of the importance of maintaining the past and their heritage in building the future.

There were clear themes of how they understood that Sheikh Zayed worked at achieving his ambitious vision for the Emirate and later the country. They were, his clear vision, balance, strong communication skills, development of education, healthcare and infrastructure and the importance of heritage, culture and religion.

Clear vision

The first was that they all saw that the clear vision of what could and would be was the guiding light in all the decisions that were made. Also this vision was clearly communicated to citizens and to the experts that were brought in to advice, educate and build.


They saw and heard about the difficult balancing act of maintaining and holding on to the past and developing for a better, more prosperous future. This balance led to tolerance, gathering information from a variety of sources and making decisions with care and love.

Strong communication skills

Each student spoke of the daily meeting or majalis where really anyone could come and speak with Sheikh Zayed, to air grievances, ask for assistance and for any reason really. These are still held today and also twitter is used by many Sheikhs today to communicate ideas, decisions and hopes for the future with citizens, residents and the twitter sphere in general. Of course communication is more about listening than speaking - and my students made this clear to me.

Developing education, healthcare and infrastructure

Many students talked about the ways in which education (for both boys and girls) was a priority right from the beginning - of course it still is and now there are universities in the country and many scholarship opportunities for going to the best universities in the world for graduate and post-graduate degrees. Healthcare is also still a priority - and while the old traditions seem to be losing ground to modern medicine, there is still many wise women and men who practice the old ways. Ports, airports, highways and linking the people within the country and linking the country to the outside world are still priorities - and decisions in the past (and now) are made for decades in the future, not for next year.

Heritage, culture and religion

Above all, the students said that Sheikh Zayed was a Muslim and also a man of the desert, and with a strong love of tradition, poetry, and the old ways. The students all expressed the fears of too much modernization and losing the old traditions - and it all goes back to balance doesn't it?

Yes, this semester has really focused on traditions, traditional industries and looking at the past to help us build the strategies of the future. This semester is not done yet - I am not sure what will be next, but you are sure to hear about it shortly after I experience it.


Ajman Arabian Sand Stables: another adventure in learning strategy through experience

*Updated* here is a video of the after dinner traditional singing: Video

You must think we do nothing but field trips! This semester has been field trip full - but really they are done without missing classes, believe me (or ask the students) there are plenty of boring ppt presentations they need to suffer through and reading and writing and thinking!

Yesterday we went to Ajman, one of the smaller Northern Emirates, to visit a horse ranch. Of course, nothing is as simple as that and the following narrative through photographs will introduce you to another glimpse of the wonderful Emirati culture.

For regular readers I know you are beginning to see patterns in the strategic fundamentals of these traditional industries - if not, no worries I have and intend to spend some time writing this summer about it. Most likely academic writing, but maybe some blog writing too!

Without further blah, blah, blah here is the story!

Canadian water, Canadian timbits, excellent driver :)

Arriving in Ajman, didn't recognize my students dressed in Western clothing!

Ajman has lots of green and smells very fresh :)

The BEST legaimat I have ever tasted, thank you to all the Moms who are spoiling us with delicious food!

Emirati donut hole vs. Canadian legaimat!

I need the recipe for this! Seriously wanted to bring the leftovers home!!!!

We couldn't go from the house to the farm like normal people - I  rode in the dune buggy through the dunes. Sand EVERYWHERE - scary, but I even rode back so it wasn't that bad :)

Stuck (yes, there is a theme of getting stuck in the sand on these trips!)

No tow rope - so they used what was on hand - or on their heads!

This is sooooooooooo not going to work!!!!!!!!


Go this way - turn turn!

More digging, sun setting! 

Thomas - might have bucked me off because I scared him when he scared me!

The gang!

Horse feed!


The stables

Wow - pretty horse!

Hay from the US - the hay from Sudan gives the horses worms!!!!

Tack - the farm (like the camel farm) is so well organised! 
wonderful moment - camel rancher talking to horse rancher about medicines, traditional and Western!

Where we were!

I bet she is wondering when we are leaving....

Preparing the bbq! (Yes, no trip is complete without a diet busting meal or two or three!)

Yousef reciting one of his poems...

Soooooooo yummy!

And the oud and drum come out after the meal to cap a wonderful trip!


Solar desalination: Award winning project from Khalifa University undergraduate students

I had the pleasure of attending the group project presentations of Dr. Victor's (yes, my partner in research!) Introduction to Management class at Khalifa University. Their group project is of great interest to us and concerned the who, what and where of management research in the Middle East. For sure when we get all the results there is a blog post in there... but I will leave that for another day!

Khalifa University is an engineering school - and it is gender mixed (although the there seems to be self-selected sides in the lecture hall) - and there are a mix of expatriates and locals. I had visited once before with my brother-in-law to speak about how to go about getting Master's and PhD scholarships in Canada (and since they are all SUPER bright I hope many come and that many become Canadians and invent wonderful things in our universities).

After class one of the students (who is still looking for a Master's by the way) asked if we would like to see his team's award winning solar desalination project. Of course, Dr. V knew that 40 degree heat wouldn't keep me away from checking out something like this - so we gladly went.

The award the team won was the 4th Engineering Students Renewable Energy Competition 2013 (ESREC’2013) and they won from among 30 teams from GCC universities. Mohammed Humood gave us the tour and his other team mates are Ammar Alsheghri, Abdullah Al Hammadi, Abdul Rahman Farraj and they are being supervised by Dr. Mohammad Abutayeh.

The winning team, their prototype and trophy! (l-r Mohammed, Ammar, Dr. Mohammed, Abdul Rahman and Abdullah)
They have a prototype set up outside in the campus yard - I love how students and student projects are supported at KUSTAR by the way!

Mohammed kindly showing two nerdy professors his project!

The pump that creates the vacuum to make the sea water boil at a lower temperature 

The solar panel - actually not that big

The prototype in all its glory!

Sea water straight from the Arabian Gulf! (btw, Gulf sea water is very salty and has lots of other chemicals in it - the Gulf can almost be considered an enclosed body of water)

The brine after the desalination process - wonder if it is good for a detox bath?
The winning concept involves creating a vacuum within the water tank (where the salty water boils) to reduce the temperature at which the water boils - so that it requires less energy to separate the salty brine from the "pure" water. Now, how much fresh water do you think this prototype could produce? Well, they produced 11 liters of freshwater in 3 hours and half. In a prototype - that is actually super cool. This has so many potential applications - including for remote villages where water needs to be trucked in...

You will really need to contact them to find out more - and seriously, if you are looking to award a Master's scholarship, any of these four would be PERFECT candidates! (Masdar Institute I am looking at you!)

I am grateful that Mohammed offered to show us the project - and I look forward to hearing about his teams academic adventures in the future. Until then, Bravo gentlemen on an awesome project and deserving win!


Operations Management field trip to Khasab-Oman

Sometimes field trip are not so much about experiential learning and more about experience. My awesome colleague Batoul Modarress teaches Operations Management and the year end project for her senior class is to investigate the shipping traffic in the Straight of Hormuz. This is one of the busiest pieces of "water" in the world - where most of the oil from the Arabian (Persian for the Iranians in the crowd) Gulf traverses on its way to markets in the East, West, North and South.

I was luck to have been invited by Dr. Batoul to act as a chaperon for the 20 male students who attended the two day trip. It was a lot of fun and there were too many highlights to name... As with some previous "adventures" I will tell the story through photographs and captions.


I "stole" this photo from twitter - thank you Ibrahim for capturing our friend  :)

Gathering in the morning - almost everyone on time too!

Pit stop at my favorite coffee shop with my carpool buddies! (Hamad is just stretching, don't worry!)

A tour of the Palm Island information centre

Boat trip around the Palm

On our way to the part of Oman which is entirely in the UAE - this is in RAK

After less than well trained border guards on the Omani side (sorry to say a woman), we enter Oman!

View from my room... the food wasn't great, but the views and staff were excellent!

Friday after Juma prayers we left for our boat trip - the boat we were on looks like this

I love that fruit is available everywhere and is always so good!

The Straight of Hormuz - no need to have been scared Mom about the trip! (She asked why I couldn't just call in sick!)

so, so, so, so lovely


Trying to take a photo of the dolphin... I had no luck!

Kings of the world! (And their official photographers)

All three passengers tweeted "Back in the UAE!" at the same time...  btw, Salem is an excellent driver!

If I had a better camera on my phone you would see the Burj Khalifa!

Almost home - ending the trip as we started it - at an ADNOC!