Global MBA experience helps KSA alumnus create the ‘X Factor’

Alumni Spotlight - Mohannad AlKalash

Mohannad AlKalash - Managing Director for Middle East, Turkey, Pakistan and Africa, Zoom and Founder of CyberX

Mohannad AlKalash started his early career as a fresh graduate with multiple roles, working across technology and sales, as he tried to discover himself and his passions. He was awarded a diploma from a technical college in Riyadh and then moved into sales, before deciding to continue with a BSc in Computing. Following this, he then moved his career forward as a security information engineer, then sales team leader. Today, Mohannad is the Managing Director for Middle East, Turkey, Pakistan and Africa for Zoom – and has other personal business and University interests that help make his story remarkable.  

Mohannad joined the 2017 cohort of the Global Part-time MBA and graduated in December 2019 – just before the pandemic struck. Fortunately, he was able to attend graduation on campus in Manchester.

Why the Global MBA and how was he planning to move his career forward? 

“I really wanted to own a business and had an idea but it was only half formed. I talked to the University and really wanted an MBA experience focusing on marketing – I knew I wanted to move from a technical career pathway but not in finance or HR, so marketing was the focus. At the same time, I was shaping my business idea and started pulling things together. The MBA experience certainly helped as I met a lot of amazing and experienced people, fellow students as well as faculty.”

According to Mohannad, his approach to the MBA was a little different: “I wanted to visit all the different centres – the Middle East Centre of course, but I also went to the Manchester campus, Shanghai and Hong Kong centres, and had planned a visit to Sao Paulo after graduation but it was not possible because of Covid. I hope to try again to go to Sao Paulo, when possible. I made a lot of new friends on my travels, from all over the world which was amazing.

“I loved the MBA programme and blended learning was a totally different ballgame –studying by myself with the support of faculty, who switch on the lights’ to help steer your learning and show you what you need to do. It was tough in terms of time management with the pressure of my sales management role and with sales targets. I forgot my weekends and vacations to study but it deserved all my time.”

What were Mohannad’s goals?

Mohannad’s plan was to develop his understanding of marketing and to become a marketeer not just a sales leader. He wanted to see business differently and think and act differently. 

“Along the way, my colleagues and contacts from different backgrounds, countries and motivations, helped me sharpen my own business idea during the two-year programme and I was able to move from idea to concept to execution, starting after the MBA programme and after consulting with friends about the concept. I then launched CyberX.”

CyberX is designed as a platform to build awareness of cyber security and emerging technologies, with rich Arabic content. It started as a very niche platform but when we introduced a series of modifications we broadened our audience and it went viral. Today, CyberX  is the number one awareness platform in the region with over 90 million views and followers.

Mohannad believes the MBA experience helped sharpen the idea for CyberX and after his graduation in 2019, things moved very quickly. He actually graduated in September 2019, launched CyberX in October 2019 (initially as a podcast and then as an online platform) and then attended the graduation ceremony on campus in December 2019, 

How does Mohannad view his working life today? 

Today, CyberX has a team of more than 40, including a Managing Director, Marketing Director and Creative Content Development Director, with full teams in four Arab countries – Riyadh (the company headquarters), Dubai, Cairo, and Amman. The company is performing well with a growing follower base and Mohannad has occasional direct personal involvement as a company media spokesperson.

Importantly for Mohannad, since graduation he maintains his close links with the University and leads the Alumni Group in Riyadh. The group, which consists of almost 200 current students and alumni, connects with each other directly and via social media for mutual support and to share career and other opportunities, and Mohannad hopes this will develop, as the student and alumni base continues to grow in the Kingdom. 

MBA highlights

For Mohannad, the contemporary business course in China was a really different subject and experience, and included a cultural orientation day with a well-designed range of perspectives and company visits.

“It was an amazing experience going back to the classroom and becoming a student again; there was a certain hesitation but once you’re in the programme, you get on with it. This two-year commitment is very different to a short course experience and you build strong relationships, great memories and it ends in a graduation ceremony with your family and friends.” 

Looking ahead

Mohannad expects to continue to get all the benefits of the MBA experience in future.
“It’s not about memorising everything – it’s more about how you think and analyse and describe the subject in your own words. You have to be committed and prepared to challenge yourself. It’s not about grades but using your personal investment to your maximum benefit, challenging yourself every day and in every situation. I don’t always want to be in a comfort zone and if you want to be extraordinary and different, you have to do something different. The investment is not just in money, it’s time, commitment, relationships, and hard work invested in a totally commitment to the programme. You don’t buy an MBA, you earn it.

According to Mohannad, the MBA is a ‘team game’: “The support team at the Middle East Centre is very supportive and helps push you along while the alumni are very open and accessible, creating great friendships. The centre is now focusing more on Saudi Arabia and we are very closely connected to Randa (Middle East Director) and Hiba (Careers and Alumni) in Dubai. I am proud and happy to be an alumnus and part of the University, and we use our word of mouth to spread the word with friends and colleagues in Saudi Arabia.” 

Mohannad sees a great future for blended learning for post graduate studies for professionals who have no time to attend full-time programmes and prepare for exams.

“Blended learning is a great story and opportunity in Saudi Arabia to help working professionals to upskill. There is a lot of young talent here and it needs sharpening and making aware of the great potential for them here both for Saudi women and men - I am very proud of the fact that the CyberX team is 80 per cent ladies. I am very happy to have this supportive University team in the Middle East and I am looking forward to being part of its continued success in Saudi Arabia, in future.”