Reflections on the Entrepreneurial and Servant LeadershipQualities of Hadhramis (Yemen’s most successful class ofbusinessm...
north) are relatively new. Only after the 1962 revolution of North Yemen did privately-heldenterprises started to grow and...
statement): “The Leader of the people is their servant” (in Arabic: Sayyid Al-koamKhadimohum).Many of these theories and c...
Many of Yemen’s entrepreneurial leaders are largely the product a conservative Islamicupbringing which characterised many ...
fairly. For example, people who behaved inappropriately (e.g. failed to pay their debts etc.)could run the risk of being o...
before the Sovereign; he had earlier made it clear that as a Muslim he could only       kneel before God.       Sayyid Abu...
businesses established by these people employ thousands of people and continue thesocially responsible Hadhrami tradition....
Beekun, R. I and Badawi, J (1999), Leadership: An Islamic Perspective, Beltsville,Maryland: Amana Publications.Benthall, J...
Mobini-Kesheh, N (1997), ‘Islamic Modernism in Colonial Java: The Al-IrshadMovement’, in Freitag, U and Clarence-Smith, W ...
many works. Dr. Sultan has a keen interest in Arab Gulf affairs and has provided consultancy work relating tothis region t...
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Hadhrami Servant-Leaders by Dr. Nabil Sultan


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Hadhrami Servant-Leaders by Dr. Nabil Sultan

  1. 1. Reflections on the Entrepreneurial and Servant LeadershipQualities of Hadhramis (Yemen’s most successful class ofbusinessmen) Dr. Nabil Sultan * Prof. David Weir ** at Symposium Servant-Leadership: Higher Educational Needs and Challenges in a Global Perspective (Vrije University, Amsterdam)________________________________________________________________________AbstractNo one can doubt that many Arab organisations are run (to a large extent) on managementprinciples based on Western theories. After all, many of those organisations exist in Arabcountries which were under colonial rule (of one type or another) for a very long time andconsequently inherited the Western culture of running a business which is largelyinfluenced by Western theories and ethos of management and leadership.However, there is emerging evidence that some of the leaders of such organisations alsoemploy business practices influenced largely by indigenous and religious motivations andthat many have proved to be very successful leaders. For example, many Arab businessleaders place great weight on personal relations and at times perform traditionalmanagement practices in order to do business. Furthermore, some of the successes of thoseleaders were also attributed to their conservative religious upbringing which placed greatvalue on honesty, trustworthiness and social and moral responsibility.In this paper, we look at the subject of leadership from a different cultural perspective andin doing so we examine the experience of the Hadhrami business leaders of Yemen.The Leadership DebateIn the next section we review the research and thinking about leadership in Yemen as anexample of leadership in the region more generally. Of course there are differences betweencountries, as well as between the rural and urban areas; but Yemen is of interest in its ownright as well as from a comparative perspective. Very little has been written on the subjectof leadership in modern Yemen. This is particularly more evident in the context ofentrepreneurial leadership. This situation could be due to a number of factors. Firstly, mostsuccessful Yemeni entrepreneurs found success outside their own country, in places as farafield as Southeast Asia and as near as Saudi Arabia and some parts of Africa. Secondly,many of the successful large enterprises that currently exist in Yemen (especially in the
  2. 2. north) are relatively new. Only after the 1962 revolution of North Yemen did privately-heldenterprises started to grow and prosper. Thirdly, privately-owned enterprises (particularlythose of large and medium sizes that emerged and thrived during the British rule) in SouthYemen were nationalised (without any compensation) in 1969 by the country’s Marxistregime which prohibited the establishment of any significant private enterprise. This stateof affair was to last until 1990, the year of the declared unity between South and NorthYemen.However, there is enough anecdotal evidence that can form the basis for exploringexamples of Yemeni entrepreneurial leadership. To begin, it should be noted that thedefinition of what leadership is has often been problematic for both practitioners andacademics (Ford, 2006, p237). Nevertheless, some generalisations seem to have emergedfrom this body of literature. For example, one author (Joseph Rost), collected 221definitions of leadership ranging from the 1920s to the 1990s which, according to Ciulla(2005, p160) seem to say the same thing, that “leadership is about a person or personssomehow moving other people to do something”. As such, some authors criticised the maintheories of leadership for being conceptualised primarily at the “dyadic” or “dualistic”(leader-follower) level where the overriding concern is with managerial effectiveness(Yukl, 1999, pp290, 295, 301; Collinson, 2005, p1420; Zoller and Fairhurst, 2007, p1333).The main concern of mainstream researchers has focused on “what is it that makes aneffective leader?” However, persuasive answers have proved elusive and findings havebeen inconclusive and inconsistent (Collinson, 2005, 1423). According to Ciulla (2005,pp160-161), scholars who worry about constructing the ultimate definition of leadership areasking the wrong question. The whole point about studying leadership, according to her, isto answer this question: what is good leadership? The word ‘good’ here has two senses,morally good leadership (i.e. guided by ethical principles) and technically good leadership(i.e. effective at getting the job-at-hand done). According to her, a good leader is an ethicaland an effective leader who brings about good change.Authors such as Alexander and Wilson (Alexander and Wilson, 2005, pp137-156), contendthat integrity and altruism are essential qualities of a “responsible” style of leadership. Intheir experience with examining thousands of managers, Alexander and Wilson recognisethat the presence of integrity (at the core of which is honesty and trustworthiness) andaltruism (concern for the welfare of others) in an individual can be a source of strength foraddressing situations created by human behaviour (e.g. self-serving, negligence ordeliberate malevolence).Greenleaf’s perception of a servant leader is one of a responsible and caring leader. Realleaders, according to Greenleaf’s view, are those who emerge with a strong desire to serveothers. Conscious choice then may persuade those people to aspire to lead (Greenleaf,1970). Servant leadership is based on strong altruistic ethical beliefs. It emphasizes thatleaders should be attentive to the concerns of their followers, empathize with them, takecare of them and nurture them (Northouse, 2007). If fact, the term servant leadershippredates Greenleaf by some 1400 years when the prophet Mohammad once made his stanceclear on what he thinks of a leader. He said (in an authenticated Hadith, ie., a saying or 2
  3. 3. statement): “The Leader of the people is their servant” (in Arabic: Sayyid Al-koamKhadimohum).Many of these theories and contentions that emphasise the ethical and altruistic credentialsof good leadership are influenced by ancient and traditional theories of deontology (theduty to do good) and teleology (the consequences of one’s actions). This notion is clearlyemphasised by Ciulla (2005, p163) who argues that there is a need for both deontologicaland teleological theories to account for the ethics of leaders.Rost (1991, p176) argues that what is needed is a reconstruction of our understanding (asleaders and followers) of the concept of “civic virtue” so that our self- and group interestare bound up in the public interest.Ethical and moral corporate leaders are more likely to engage in promoting corporate socialresponsibility (CSR), defined as “using the firm’s resources to advance societal interests”,Waldman and Siegel (2005, pp195-196).Examination of some of the successes of entrepreneurial leaders in Yemen suggests thatethics, altruism, and service to the people, as suggested by the aforementioned definitionsof “good”, “responsible” and “servant” leadership, might have been important factorsbehind those successes. However, in the Yemeni context, we contend that those leadershiptraits were likely to have been influenced by culture and a religiously conservativeupbringing.Yemen as a Case StudyConsidering the Yemeni case in point, Islam has played an important role in establishing along tradition of CSR and community cooperation in response to a historical heritage ofneglect of social duties on the part of the state. Social responsibility is an obligation that iscalled for in the Quran and is in keeping with the conduct of the Prophet Mohammad(originally a trader widely known for his honesty) and the few disciples who ruled afterhim. According to Benthall (1999, p11) it is doubtful whether any other world religion hasan equivalent to the Islamic principle that a hungry person has the right to share in the mealof one who is well fed. Moreover, Islam also places great importance on trust and honestyin dealing with one another and in trade. The Quran, in more than one place, warns againstunfair trading.Beekun and Badawi (1999, pp28-29, 39) argue that, from an Islamic perspective, Muslimleaders should be honest, not because being so makes better leaders but also because theyare accountable for their deeds to a very high authority: Allah. They also argue that theQuran explicitly links the concept of honesty (amanah) to leadership and quote the story ofthe Prophet Yusuf (Joseph) in the Quran as evidence.11 The Quran reveals how Yusuf was placed, by the king of Egypt, in a responsible and leadership role (in charge of thegranaries and storehouses of the kingdom) due to his trustworthiness (Yusuf, 12:54-55). . 3
  4. 4. Many of Yemen’s entrepreneurial leaders are largely the product a conservative Islamicupbringing which characterised many of Yemen’s rural areas where most of the country’sentrepreneurial leaders during the first half of the 20th and before originated. Many of thoseleaders saw it as their duty to provide vital public services denied to local communities by acolonial regime (as was the case in South Yemen and parts of Southeast Asia and Africa)and an autocratic and backward Imamic regime (as was the case in North Yemen before therevolution).One of the main salient characteristics of private sector Yemeni enterprises is that theytended to be owned by families, often the founders and their family members e.g. brothers,sons etc. This is by no means a Yemeni phenomenon. Almost 95 per cent of Americanbusinesses are family-owned and in Asia family dynasties control 46.6 per cent of the GDPin the Philippines, 84.2 per cent in Hong Kong and 76.2 per cent in Malaysia (Ciulla, 2005,p176). This feature tends to provide the socially responsible leaders of such organisationswith the necessary flexibility and discretion needed in responding to the social obligationsthat present themselves. According to Roper and Cheney (2005, p99) the relative autonomyof privately-owned companies has allowed the consistent pursuit of social values,sometimes against the prevailing wisdom of financial analysts and in marked contrast tosome competitors.A close examination of some of the success stories of Yemeni entrepreneurs indicates thatculture, religion and the desire to address the inequalities of resource allocation and neglectby the state played an important role in their emergence as successful entrepreneurs and asleaders.The Hadhrami PhenomenonYemenis, especially those who come from the region of Hadhramaut2 (known asHadhramis) had developed a reputation for being successful entrepreneurs. Hadhramismade a name for themselves as successful business entrepreneurs, particularly in SoutheastAsia, Africa, Saudi Arabia and South Yemen. Sir Richard Burton, a 19th century Britishorientalist, once remarked “it is generally said that the sun does not rise upon a land thatdoes not contain a man from Hadramaut” (Burton, 1966, p58). Hadhramis were alsofamously known for their integrity and altruistic credentials which may be ascribed to theirconservative Islamic upbringing. This is not surprising given that the region of Hadhramautwas historically known as an Islamic teaching centre. Furthermore, Hadhrami businessmentended to help other emerging Hadhrami businessmen through the provision of seed capitalor credit. They were also famous for their ability to resolve business disputes between themthrough mediation which often took place in the majlis (i.e., living room) of theirdesignated Hadhrami “sheikh” (a person which commands the respect of others). They hadvery little need for police or courts (according to one observer in a programme aboutHadhrami migration aired by the famous Arab satellite channel “Al-Arabia” in 2008).These meeting places also played an important role in ensuring that business was conducted2 A vast region (historically famous and religiously conservative) that occupies a large part of South Yemen. 4
  5. 5. fairly. For example, people who behaved inappropriately (e.g. failed to pay their debts etc.)could run the risk of being ostracised by other Hadhrami businessmen who could refuse todo business with them. This arrangement ensured discipline and fair play.Hadhramis are believed to have begun their journey (or diaspora as is often described) toSoutheast Asia in the early 18th century; a journey which lasted to the Second World War.By the end of the 1930s, about 110,000 Hadhramis are thought to have lived in that part ofthe world. Out of this number, the majority (90,000) lived in what was then known as theNetherlands East Indies, present day Indonesia (Lukas, 2002, p5).In Singapore, for example, during the 19th century they formed a powerful and influentialeconomic elite who owned substantial swathes of land and traded in clothes and a widerange of goods such as spices and tobacco. Most importantly, they were well respectedamong the Malay/Muslim community for their religious piety and social responsibilitywhich manifested itself in the building of mosques, schools and the upkeep of poor families(Bafana, 1996, p5). Such was the respect for those entrepreneurial leaders that gangsters inSingapore had a code which forbade the bothering of Arabs, while other distinguishedfigures ensured that they received due credit for their contributions (Albahar et al, 1996,p4). In the 1940s, the famous Al-Kaf Hadhrami family in Singapore created bequests tosupport the distribution of food to needy local families every Thursday or Friday (Carapico,1998, p70).When the Al-Kaf family eventually returned to Hadhramaut in the early 20th century, theycontinued their charitable behaviour such as making donations to the poor, bettering cityslums, constructing roads, introducing small English automobiles (transported by camelacross the plateau and assembled in the valley), building elaborate guesthouses equippedwith modern furniture, food and servants (Pike, 1940, p648). One particular Al-Kaf familymember (Sayyid Abubakr Al-Kaf) was the main engine for these activities. Indeed, he isthe epitome of a servant leader. He spent a great deal of his wealth and time in Hadramuattrying to better the lives of communities that were neglected by the colonialists of Aden andtheir subservient local sultans.Sayyid Abubakr Al-Kaf, with support from Harold Ingrams, the first political officer inHadhramaut, succeeded in establishing peace among the warring tribal factions ofHadhramaut which lasted for generations. According to Pike (1940, p648), this was thegreatest humanitarian achievement in the modernisation program of Hadhramaut. In 1938Sayyid Abubakr Al-Kaf received the first recognition for his public services when he wasappointed Companion of the British Empire (CBE). The following quotation sums up theadmiration and respect held for this man by one British official (Ducker, 2003): Sayyid Abubakr was a man of independent spirit who did not hesitate to speak his mind. When he was advanced to KBE in 1953, he declined to give up his CBE, as protocol required, remarking that what the British gave with one hand, they took away with the other! Both decorations appeared in his letterhead. In 1954 he was formally knighted by HM Queen Elizabeth during her one and only visit to Aden. During the ceremony Sayyid Abubakr was exempted from the requirement to kneel 5
  6. 6. before the Sovereign; he had earlier made it clear that as a Muslim he could only kneel before God. Sayyid Abubakr was respected in his personal life as a devout Muslim and a man of his word; and he was blessed with a wife who had an equally high reputation. Ingrams wrote of him at some length in his book, Arabia and the Isles. From the early 1930s until his death in 1965, Western travellers and many British officials, myself included, benefited from his wisdom, help and unstinting hospitality…. Sayyid Abubakr was a great conciliator and public benefactor whose name will be remembered with respect long into the future.Hadhramis were equally influential in Indonesia and Malaysia, whether as successfulentrepreneurs, political, administrative or religious leaders. In Malaysia, the Arabs (largelyof Hadhrami descent) played a prominent role in ending the Thai occupation of thesultanate of Kedah. One particular person of Hadhrami descent, Sayyid Jamal Al-Layl, wasawarded in 1843 by the Sultan of Kedah for his loyalty in the struggle against the Thai bybeing made sultan of the newly created border state of Perlis. The Jamal Al-Layl was theonly Arab family to rule a Malay state and it remains the ruling family of Perlis to thepresent day. Other personalities of Hadhrami descent were highly influential religiousscholars such as Sayyid Muhammad Al-Aydarus (the son of a grain merchant from Java)who lived in Trengganu and Sayyid Ahmad Al-Attas who lived in Johore and was reputedto have been the first person to be appointed as state mufti (Othman, 1997, pp85-89).In Batavia (Jakarta) a group of wealthy Hadhrami entrepreneurs and property ownersestablished in 1901 Jamiyyat Al-Khayr (Benevolent Society) whose main aim was to laythe foundation for a more modern type education styled on Western curriculum whichincluded subjects such as mathematics, history, geography and English alongside moretraditional Islamic subjects. The drive for education received a major boost in 1914 whenHadhrami merchants established the Arab Society for Reform and Guidance (Jamiyyat Al-Islah wa Al-Irshad Al-Arabiyya) which exists to this date. It comprises over one hundredbranches throughout Indonesia and has around fifty thousand members. Its activitiesinclude the running of kindergartens, primary and secondary schools and hospitals. Thefounders of this organisation saw education in languages and modern science as key toovercome the backwardness of the Islamic community and bring progress (Mobini-Kesheh,1997, pp231-240).The Hadhrami diaspora also extended to East Africa where they established successfulbusinesses in those regions, particularly in the retail industry which they controlled and, toa lesser extent, the wholesale and resale of the cereal trade. However, their main influencein East Africa was more in the educational, cultural and political spheres than commerce.Saudi Arabia was another destination for the Hadhrami diaspora. In 1969 Hadhramis livingin Saudi Arabia were estimated to be numbering between 150,000 to 180,000 (Freitang,1997, p320). Many of them rose to become powerful entrepreneurs such as Salim AhmedBen Mahfouz, Abdullah Ahmed Baqshan, Bamawada, Bakhashab and Bin Laden. The 6
  7. 7. businesses established by these people employ thousands of people and continue thesocially responsible Hadhrami tradition. Many of them have charities such as the AwonFoundation and Taybah Welfare Association (IRIN, 2007).However, the Hadhrami entrepreneurial spirit lived on to create wealth and prosperity inYemen itself. After the Second World War, Aden, under British rule, underwent a rapideconomic development. In the late 1950s, its port ranked fourth in the number of ships ithandled after London, Liverpool and New York and its social services were more advancedthan those of many European countries (Bidwell, 1983, pp81, 82). As a consequence, tradeprospered and the city attracted many people from within South and North Yemen andmany other parts of the world.In this vibrant economic environment, an elite of Hadhrami wealthy entrepreneursemerged. Like their fellow Hadhramis of the diaspora, many were devoutly religious. Theywere highly regarded for their integrity and altruistic credentials. Hadhrami names such asBazaraah became household names in Aden during the 1950s. They were responsible forthe support of many poor Yemeni families and built mosques and schools (accessible to allpeople irrespective of their ethnic or country of origin) throughout the country.ConclusionThere is very little research on Arab entrepreneurial leaders in any depth or scale that couldgive some insights into how such people lead their organisations and/or influence theirsocial environments. In this article, business success was our yardstick for selecting leaders.The examples of Arab entrepreneurial leaders presented in this article were intended tosupport the centrality of ethics and altruism in good, responsible, servant and successfulleadership. Furthermore, these examples have also demonstrated, in our view, factorsparticular to the environment from which those leaders have originated which might haveplayed an important role in influencing their actions such as culture and a conservativeIslamic upbringing. We believe, however, that more research is needed to explore thisphenomenon in greater depth and this would be a worthwhile effort for a future study.ReferencesAlbahar, A (1996), ‘A page from the past’, Al-Mahjar, Vol. 1, Issue 1 (November).Alexander, J and Wilson, M, (2005), ‘Foundations of Responsible Leadership: from self-insight to integrity and altruism’, in Doh, J and Stumpf, S (eds.), Handbook on ResponsibleLeadership and Governance in Global Business, Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, MA,USA: Edward Elgar.Bafana, H (1996),‘The Arab Identity: Dilemma or Non_Issue?’, Al-Mahjar, Vol. 1, Issue 1(November). 7
  8. 8. Beekun, R. I and Badawi, J (1999), Leadership: An Islamic Perspective, Beltsville,Maryland: Amana Publications.Benthall, J (1999), “Financial Worship: The Quranic Injunction to Almsgiving”,The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 5, No. 1, pp. 27- 42.Bidwell, R. (1983) The Two Yemens, Harlow, Essex (UK) and Colorado (USA): Longman-Westview.Burton, R. F (1966), First Footsteps in East Africa, 3rd ed., London: Routledge and KeganPaul.Carapico, S (1998), Civil Society in Yemen: The Political economy of activism in modernArabia, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Ciulla, J. B (2005), ‘Integrating leadership with ethics: is good leadership contrary tohuman nature?’, in Doh, J and Stumpf, S (eds.), Handbook on Responsible Leadership andGovernance in Global Business, Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, MA, USA: EdwardElgar.Collinson, D (2005), Dialectics of leadership, Human Relations, Vol. 58, No. 11, pp1419-1442.Ducker, J (2003), Sayyid Abubakr bin Shaikh Al-Kaff KBE, The British Yemeni Society, J (2006), ‘Examining leadership through critical feminist readings’, Journal of HealthOrganisation and Management, Vol. 19, No. 3, pp236-251.Freitang, U (1997), ‘Conclusion: The Diaspora Since the Age of Independence’, in Freitag,U and Clarence-Smith, W (eds.), Hadrami Traders, Scholars, and Statesmen in the IndianOcean, 1750s – 1960s, Leiden: Brill.Greenleaf, R. K (1970), The Servant As Leader, Newton Centre, MA: Robert K. GreenleafCenter.IRIN (2007), ‘YEMEN: Saudi charities boost health, education projects’, IRIN, Guennnec-Coppens, F (1997), ‘Changing Patterns of Hadhrami Migration and SocialIntegration in East Africa’, in Freitag, U and Clarence-Smith, W (eds.), Hadrami Traders,Scholars, and Statesmen in the Indian Ocean, 1750s – 1960s, Leiden: Brill.Lukas, H, (2002), ‘The perception of Indonesia’s history and culture by Western historiansand social scientists’, A paper based on a one-day seminar organised by the IndonesianEmbassy in Brussels on 16 December 2002. 8
  9. 9. Mobini-Kesheh, N (1997), ‘Islamic Modernism in Colonial Java: The Al-IrshadMovement’, in Freitag, U and Clarence-Smith, W (eds.), Hadrami Traders, Scholars, andStatesmen in the Indian Ocean, 1750s – 1960s, Leiden: Brill.Mohammed, J. A (2007), Corporate Social Responsibility in Islam, A PhD thesis(unpublished) submitted to the Faculty of Business at the Auckland University ofTechnology (New Zealand).Northouse, P. G (2007), Leadership: Theory and Practice, 4th edition, Sage Publications.Othman, M. R (1997), ‘Hadhramis in the Politics and Adminsitration of the Malay States inthe Late Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries’ in Freitag, U and Clarence-Smith, W (eds.),Hadrami Traders, Scholars, and Statesmen in the Indian Ocean, 1750s – 1960s, Leiden:Brill.Pike, R. W (1940), Land and People of the Hadhramaut, Aden Protectorate, GeographicalReview, Vol. 30, No. 4, pp627-648.Roper, J and Cheney, G (2005), ‘Leadership, learning and human resource management:The meanings of social entrepreneurship today’, Corporate Governance, Vol. 5, No. 3,pp95-99.Rost, J (1991), Leadership for the Twenty-First Century, New York: Praeger.Shahin, A. I and Wright, P. L (2004), ‘Leadership in the context of culture: An Egyptianperspective’, The Leadership and Organisation Development Journal, Vol. 25, No. 6,pp499-511.Waldman, D. A and Siegel, D (2005), ‘The Influence of CEO transformational leadershipon firm-level commitment to corporate social responsibility’, in Doh, J and Stumpf, S(eds.), Handbook on Responsible Leadership and Governance in Global Business,Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, MA, USA: Edward Elgar.Yukl, G (1999), ‘An Evaluation of Conceptual Weaknesses in Transformational andCharismatic Leadership Theories’, The Leadership Quarterly, Vol. 10, No. 2, pp285-305.Zoller, H. M and Fairhurst, G. T (2007), ‘Resistance leadership: The overlooked potentialin critical organization and leadership studies’, Human Relations, Vol. 60(9), pp1331-1360.* Dr. Nabil Ahmed Sultan graduated from the University of Liverpool with a PhD in Management in 1992and in 1996 he received his MSc in Information Systems from the same university. After a two-year workingperiod for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) as Program Officer in Sanaa (Yemen) andRegional Program Officer at the Arab Bureau in New York (USA) he moved on to work as a ProgramOfficer/Lecturer in IT and Business for the University of Liverpool’s Center for Continuing Education until1998. From 1999 he worked as a Senior Lecturer at Liverpool Hope University’s Faculty of Business andComputer Science where he developed and taught many successful modules and programs and published 9
  10. 10. many works. Dr. Sultan has a keen interest in Arab Gulf affairs and has provided consultancy work relating tothis region to a number of businesses.** Prof. David Weir is an experienced and highly successful Business School Professor and for 25 years aDean, with outstanding career record in institutional leadership, teambuilding, professional leadership andprogram development, in UK and internationally, special research and teaching expertise in Management inthe Arab Middle East, Strategic Management, Multicultural Management, Risk and Crisis management,Poetry of Management, Strong public service profile and community recognition. He has substantial high-level industry experience at board level and as strategic consultant. As well as having a large consultingportfolio of private and public sector clients, he also considerable experience as mentor and advisor tocorporate leaders as well as younger faculty and consulting colleagues. He has an impressive record ofpublications on the Arab Middle East and development issues. 10