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Meet The MBA Graduate Who Started His Own University

Dr. Ali Saeed Bin Harmal Al Dhaheri pursued an MBA after years under his businessman father’s tutelage. After graduating, he propelled his career to new heights


Mon May 18 2020


MBA graduate Dr. Ali Saeed Bin Harmal Al Dhaheri is the cofounder and chairman of Abu Dhabi University. He launched the institution in 2003 after graduating from American University’s Kogod School of Business, a career change away from the travel industry he’d grown up in.   

Ali was mentored by his father in the ways of the entrepreneur while working for his family’s business, Bin Harmal Travel & Tourism Agency, from the age of 18. In 1997, he used the experience he’d developed in the travel agency industry to launch Desert Adventure Tourism—a Dubai-based tourism firm—which he sold for 400 times his original investment 10 years later.  

In addition to his role at Abu Dhabi University, Ali manages several successful businesses across different sectors: IT, finance, education, tourism, insurance, and real estate. The MBA was the final piece in the puzzle, propelling him to leadership roles on a more international level.

What Kogod School of Business taught me about leadership 

Ali wanted an official qualification to underpin everything he’d learned from his father. He says the MBA added theoretical context to his experiential knowledge.  

He also felt it was necessary to experience the world on his own; he’d never left his family or lived in another country before moving to Washington, DC, in 1998. He says it was a great opportunity for cultural learning and applying his previous hands-on experience to American business.  

“I greatly appreciated not only the excellent learning opportunities that were afforded to us as students but also, as an international student, […] the support I was given,” Ali adds. 

One of the key skills Ali says the MBA helped him develop was the strategic thinking required to lead a team––a concept he admits was new to him but has proved invaluable in leading his university. 

“At Abu Dhabi University, we ran through an official strategy exercise for the institution. We implemented a balanced scorecard method I learned during the MBA, which was a very novel idea for an academic institution, and it was a challenge to get the academics on board," he explains. "Now, the team actively engages in tracking their own targets against the strategy.” 

This has been particularly useful due to the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, he adds. 

The remainder of this year will be focused on ensuring that all my business endeavors continue to remain relevant and deliver quality in a rapidly changing business environment,” Ali says. “Our context is changing daily, and this scenario tests our agility. While it is stressful, I’m rising to the challenge.” 

He’s confident going forward that he will continue to be able to meet challenges, such as the global pandemic, head-on.  

The Kogod School of Business network 

Having an influential and communicative network is key in business. 

“I received an excellent education that’s afforded me the tools to achieve success,” Ali says. “But, beyond the learning experience, you’re also left with a great network of individuals to support you along the way.” 

Kogod's worldwide alumni network, well-connected faculty, and the Office of Career Engagement provide students and graduates with the support they need at every stage of their career journeys. 

The school's online career management platform, Handshake, gives students and alumni access to job and internship opportunities, events, workshops, and skill-building tools. Kogod's career advisors offer in-person and virtual appointments for resume reviews, job and internship search strategies, relationship building, and more. 

Kogod students can strengthen their network across cohorts, too. Alumni like Ali are great sources of inspiration for future and current students at Kogod, which is why the school is adamant in supporting alumni beyond graduation. 

Student Reviews

Kogod School of Business - American University




On Campus

Clean and well maintained campus

I am completely enamored with this school. The entire student body is driven, inclusive, and highly intelligent. The decision to attend American University is not made haphazardly. Its close proximity to Washington DC, making it one of the most strategically located schools after Georgetown, means it's just a short train ride away. The campus is well-maintained, with mostly attractive buildings, although there are a few that are less appealing. Additionally, there are numerous excellent food options available. The wide range of clubs and organizations to join is remarkable. It is undeniably a school filled with immense passion.




On Campus

City life

I’m having a wonderful time at American University. I love that I can get to a big city and still feel like a traditional campus. Sincerely, it is a school that may require some adjusting to, but in the end, it is a very good school with numerous opportunities for its students. The atmosphere in AU is so great that it pushes you in a positive way and offers every opportunity you could want.




On Campus

Amazing helpful professors

American College is an incredible school with astounding teachers. Best professors I could have asked for at an amazing school. My opinion is that American University's professors are its greatest asset. They are extremely intelligent and always eager to assist their students. They go above and beyond in their classes to make sure that their students do their best.




On Campus

AU Review

The workload is quite high and AU is definitely not an "easy" school. Students take their studies very seriously and can almost always find a group in the library, DAV, Starbucks or MGC. Courses can be quite ambitious if the right courses are offered and the admissions process can be confusing at times, but with the help of an advisor it is quite easy to navigate. The library can be crowded, and while it's not huge, there are plenty of other places to study on campus. The professors really want to help during office hours and interact with students. I've had good experiences with the professors and workload at AU, but it's an expensive city.




On Campus

Majoring in Political and International Relations

The instructors are unique and the classes can be boring at times. Check-in is stressful (but it is everywhere). The workload is what I expected. The most popular majors are international relations and political science




On Campus

I Love Being A Musical Theater Major

I love being a musical theater student, if you want to help behind the scenes, if you want to be an assistant director, if you want to be a director, if you want to write, you can do anything at this academy, very supportive, it's amazing, they are always there to help you. This is their working time. Even after the audition tells you what you did wrong, you can do better, or if you get picked, you know why they picked you, which is great




On Campus

AU's Business Model

Overall, there were a lot of good opportunities at UA, both in terms of course range and faculty. However, I had a few complete misfires. People who shouldn't have taught at all. Like all universities, AU's business model is to hire hands-on assistants so they don't have to pay them extra or perform well. They are signed and if that does not work, they are not hired any more. The problem with this is that you end up with people who are unqualified and bring their own agendas, biases that may or may not be based on research. Most of the professors were absolutely fantastic.




On Campus

AU - The Real Problem With Academics

Some teachers are amazing, some awful - typical of any school. But the real problem with AU is that many students don't care about academics as much as other things (eg, partying). The academics are really interrupted by the Greek life and the social life of the students. This makes it difficult for students interested in academics to get the most out of their school experience. Some students do not take classes seriously and do not respect teachers and other students. Courses and opportunities at UA are perfect for people who want to take advantage




On Campus

American University - The Best Place to Study

They know their stuff - I chose American University because the campus is beautiful and the biology program is relatively small. But after the first semester, I realized that all the professors, especially the people in the science department, are experts in their field. They are enthusiastic and helpful in lecturing; even the TAs who teach the labs are amazing and engaging.