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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. 

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