Timing is everything as the Global MBA helps Saudi alumnus accelerate and diversify his career


Eng. Faisal Haddawi, MBA

CEO at Abdullah Abdulaziz AlRajhi & Sons Holding Co, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia


Timing is everything as the Global MBA helps Saudi alumnus accelerate and diversify his career 

Speaking to Faisal Haddawi, it is quickly clear that the timing of this Alumni Spotlight story could not have been better times, as he moves into the next phase of his extraordinary career. “For more than a decade, I have been waiting for the right time to tell my story and this is the perfect moment.”

Faisal has just been promoted to the role of CEO of one of the Gulf’s largest family-owned holding groups with three significant arms – a large real estate company with multi-billion dollar assets; a multi-billion dollar investment arm; and a diverse industrial manufacturing company (where Faisal was previously CEO before moving to the holding group role). 
It’s the pinnacle (so far) of Faisal’s 22-year career and, at the age of 46, he still has a lot to offer and a long way to go. His personal journey has been extraordinary and as he describes it, his career is a ‘journey not a trip’, and ‘there are no limits’.

Faisal Haddawi joined the Global Part-time MBA in 2007 and graduated in 2010 after completing the 36-month (as it was then) programme.

Faisal expected his MBA to boost my leadership skills, knowledge and career and this certainly happened; at the time, he had wanted to apply his new skills to diversifying his manufacturing company employer at the time but he also wanted to move away from manufacturing, which he believed he was very qualified to do thanks to his Manchester experience.

“I have always been proud of graduating from Manchester and always mention my University experience when I can; whenever I sit in any business discussion, I use the solid background in theory and case studies from the programme.”

“Coming into the programme (even on the engineering pathway) as a Mechanical Engineering graduate was challenging. I remember Professor Bob Ryan saying to us that engineers may not know the difference between cash flow and income statements but within the next three days we would be analysing the most complex financial statements in hours. He was right but it was tough.” 

As a top ranked University, Faisal believes the Manchester MBA gave him the advanced tools to succeed and helped him become a visionary.

“Back in the early 2000s, there weren’t many technical people in Saudi Arabia and it was challenging to learn and develop. I told myself I must do something different to reach a new level. Working with a number of Saudi companies and then SABIC helped me learn a lot. In 2005, while I was still with SABIC, a previous employer asked me to rejoin. It took time for me to settle and understand a business with more than 1,000 staff and a turnover of more than USD one billion. I was a technical guy and didn’t know much about sales, marketing and finance.  So, I made mistakes of course.”

Faisal developed in the role to the point when he confesses, he had reached a high level with a very good job and salary, a nice home and was able to provide his family with a very good quality of life. He also had enough money to buy some of life’s luxuries  - a Rolex watch and Chanel handbag for his wife, and a luxury car for himself.

It was at this point – when he had achieved the good life – that he asked himself the most important question: “What is the best investment in myself that no-one can take away and adds value but not to the bank account?” The answer was high quality education.

Armed with the answer to his question, the next challenge was to find the best institution, programme and learning format. Work was demanding so it was difficult to travel and too busy for a full-time programme but he was not interested in an online programme because he wanted the full experience. He looked at the FT rankings of course but blended learning options were limited at the time. However, the timing was right as he found the University’s new Middle East Centre in Dubai and the newly launched Global Part-time MBA, which pioneered blended learning in the region.
“In 2007, blended learning offered great value for money and Manchester was one of the pioneers. Of course, the University has a huge reputation and I am very proud to have attended and graduated from Manchester. I was very lucky that the Middle East Centre had just opened and I met Randa Bessiso (Middle East Director) and colleagues who were very passionate and helped make my life easier. I decided to join and made the total commitment by paying the entire course tuition fees up front in one shot – this was a total commitment with no going back. It was the best money that I ever spent in my entire life.”

Faisal believes the ‘pay back’ of an MBA is always difficult to measure. “It’s not really financial – it’s more about changing your attitudes and behaviours, expanding your horizons, along with the knowledge and education.” 

Faisal had access to a large and diverse network of fellow students with different managerial levels and all of them had a story to tell and learn from. “Without the MBA, my career journey would have taken me another two decades to reach this level. It gave me the right tools and every professor gave us something unforgettable helping us analyse and learn through the courses and face to face interactions. You really cannot overestimate the power of the MBA workshops with faculty from Manchester – they added something very special.”

It’s all a far cry from when Faisal started out on his career journey. “I started my career as a regular engineer. My three years with Manchester gave me the tools to manage any kind of company across all the operations, from HR to finance. It really changed the way I look at business and boosted my career from the outset, starting with promotion to Chief Commercial Officer with my employer at the time.” 

Faisal hasn’t looked back. Today, after taking the holding company’s manufacturing arm to profit, he became specialized in turnrounds and used all the MBA techniques and his previous experience. The group then gave him the leadership role for the real estate business before the board brought him up to the holding group level. According to Faisal, he is still learning and has recently completed an alternative investment course and is very happy to have moved from the manufacturing field to a completely new challenge. 

“Without the MBA, I would not be in this position and I’m happy with my 21 year career and look forward to more to come in the future. I already have my next milestone in mind with the top ranked Manchester DBA. I consider my life and career a journey and not a trip and the relationship with Manchester is still very important to me. For example, in Saudi Arabia we have been helping with charity and joined the recent online Zoom jogging record attempt, joining alumni, students, staff, prospective students and friends to create the largest online run in history. 

Faisal describes being a Manchester alumnus as something unique and as a lifestyle experience - like a marriage and among the best things someone can do.

“The Global Part-time MBA is not an easy journey and the University’s Middle East Centre team deserves credit for the fantastic support it provides. I remember that I had to take one MBA exam during a business trip to Hungary, arranged by the Dubai team and hosted at the British Council office in Budapest. There’s a great team of staff and academics from who I learned many things. Most importantly, I learned how to change myself and become a better person and I’m so proud to be part of this community.”