August Spotlight : Maggie Williams The Hum & Co -Founder

Maggie PictureWhen did you first come to the Middle East

I first came to the Middle East in 1the 80s to work for the British Council. Coming from Wales all my friends thought I was going not to Abu Dhabi but to Aberdovey! It was a great time to arrive in this region as oil was just driving progress, you could meet Sheikh Zayed walking on a beach, or catch him driving himself around town, but heaven help you if he was on his way to an official meeting with International VIP’s, as the town would often go on lockdown and you could be stuck for hours waiting for him to pass your traffic light and you could be allowed to drive off late for your appointment.

In those days we Council people were attached to the British Embassy, a privilege one might think, however, you were often kept longer at immigration, or treated with suspicion when we flashed our green card! It was a fun experience, which brought me close to the UAE National culture and over those Abu Dhabi days must have trained thousands of young Emiratis. I was instrumental in finding sponsorship to re-unite Wilfred Thesiger with Sheikh Zayed when Peter Clark my boss at the time had a brilliant idea to invite him here. Having tea with Wilfred and seeing him re-unite with his travelling companions in the Empty Quarter , Bin Qubais and Bin Kabina, was just so magical. Putting up his photographic exhibition in all the Emirates, was an unforgettable experience, it was great to be introduced to all the sheikhs at the time and see the Bedouin come along and ask for “Mubarak bin London. “ A camp was held in the desert and all the tribes converged to meet him.

Over the years I worked for ADNOC and other Dubai entities and now run my own business The Hum- Resonating Balance a company dedicated to change and balance. I am about to launch a product called Buzzwords for Busy Bees a set of cards to be used by coaches, trainers , teachers and parents to help bring about change in attitude on a daily basis, to be used in meetings training sessions, on-boarding, and company values discussions.

There have been many such occasions to remember in my time in the Emirates and now one of the things that I am pleased to do is to post blogs on learning on our website.

How did CLO – come to be?

CLO-ME came about one evening when a group of learning professionals were discussing the fact that there were no L&D specialists or Chief Learning officers reporting at Board level here in the region at the time. We decided that there was a platform and niche there to have a website that would try to promote Learning and thinking in the region with articles written by professionals based here or those that have ties to here and write with the region in mind. By three in the morning we had secured a web domain and We quickly became a leading media site advertising events, blogs interviews  for thousands of  learning and HR members throughout the year. It’s always surprising how many events there are to post monthly !

How easy is it for you to get direct access to the decision makers in your company?

Paul Michael Gledhill the other remaining co-founder is often our man at large, attending events around the region and talking to Industry leaders. He invites people to write their stories and be interviewed  for our monthly spotlight feature. He encourages people to offer articles and research papers based  on their thoughts regarding Learning and Development in the Middle East. It is great to give back to this community. We are now in our 5th year of publishing!

What is your philosophy?

 Our philosophy is simple. Providing a free, not for profit platform for our industry to speak and converse on various topics within HR and Learning and Talent. It is a wonderful way to get people to share ideas and perhaps sometimes say Yes! I agree with this or take issue with that, but above all to be a connection for our members.

If you would like to contribute to CLO-ME or get involved in anyway please feel free to contact me

Our August Spotlight is Barry Cummings a Dubai Based Business and Executive Coach.

In this issue Barry shares his view on international leadership, multicultural working, and professional development, and how his life experiences have shaped his business.

Barry James Cummings (his son, Barry Lee, is also active here in the UAE) is a British, UAE based, business and executive coach and psychometrician. Barry is active in the areas of leadership development within the multicultural workforce in the region, but with a focus on the special issues of Emiratization and cross-cultural working. He is a published author and member of the UK’s Chartered Institute of Journalists, and a regular speaker on the international circuit on issues of profiling & development of senior managers, multicultural leadership, and the design and delivery of leadership and coaching materials, many of which utilise British Psychological Society (BPS) interventions. A former British Army officer with a military career spanning almost 30 years, he served in and trained with many of the specialist units of the British Army and those of its allies, including the United Nations (UN). Barry eventually transitioned from being a computer and missile systems engineer to being passionate about helping people to become the best that they can be.

A self-confessed failure at school, “My favourite topic at school was truancy,” Barry now holds nine degrees and post-graduate qualifications (in Mathematics, Electronics, Psychology, Teaching, Languages, Coaching, Journalism, and Business) and he is deeply committed to ensuring that everyone with whom he works is guided towards the opportunity to find out for themselves who they really are. And, practising what he preaches, he is also in the final stages of completing his research dissertation towards the award of a doctoral degree in the field of international leadership.

1. Tell us about you, your experience, and time in the Middle East.

My time at school was not a pleasant experience and it was only when I left school and realised that being unemployed was my major opportunity that I became aware that telling me what was required, but not how I should do it, was a better way to command my attention! Totally academically unqualified, I took responsibility for my life when I was 16, and all the decisions I have made since then, good and bad, are what make me who I am today. One of my better decisions was to go back to learning – but under my conditions, not someone else’s – and an even better one was, after joining the Army some years later and while serving in Hong Kong, to find and marry my wonderful Chinese wife.

My current home here in Dubai is my 28th home in the 17 countries that my wife and I have lived in during our 40+ years together. How she has put up with me for that long is a mystery to me! I first visited the Middle East region in 1970 (Bahrain), in 1987-88 (Oman), and I finally arrived to stay when I took over as Director of the HCT Men’s College in Al Ain in 1996. This latter role was a natural consequence of studying Classical Arabic at the UK’s Defence School of Languages and my growing interest in the disparate examples of multicultural society that the UAE represented (we had around 200 nationalities represented here in the UAE, according to a 2006 survey in the Khaleej Times).

After 18 months as a college Director in Al Ain, and a further 18 months in Abu Dhabi where I helped to set up the region’s first science park, I came to Dubai to plan and implement the Emiratisation programme for a local oil company. This led to me setting up my own

consultancy, Action in Business International (ABI), in 2000 in the then-fledgling Dubai Media City, where I still work as the Managing Partner, and where my offices are located.

2. What does your business offer?

Some people find their true selves in the extremes of physical endurance, and last month’s Spotlight subject, Adrian Hayes, is an inspiring example of this. Other people find their calling in the world of business or academic effort, and the reward of learning. Some people live for theory and the thrill of discovery, other people value practical tools and applications. Sadly, my work repeatedly shows me that many people never reach the state of knowing who they are, and how best they can represent themselves to the world, personally or professionally. So, I set up my company to assist everyone that I could reach to understand who they were, why they valued some things and not others, and why being different was not a problem but an opportunity.

My company, ABI, provides bespoke support for all levels of personal and corporate leadership development, including keynote speeches, one-to-one coaching and mentoring, short workshops, or longer sessions (often delivered as a series of 2-day workshops); all of our work is in-house, we do not offer any public courses but we do have fun! For the last ten years all of our work has come from word-of-mouth recommendations, which is why you will rarely, if ever, see any public advertising of ABI.

3. How easy is it for you to get direct access to clients and decision makers for your company?

I firmly believe that it is easier to reach the decision makers in the UAE than it is to reach those same levels in the western business world. I can walk into the ruler’s majlis more easily than I can obtain an appointment with my parliamentary spokesperson in the UK – I know, because I recently tried both! One of the essential skills of a business person is to understand how a business is actually run (as opposed to the theoretical outlines so beloved of some text books and colleges), how to locate the person who actually knows the issues that need attention, and who may, as a stakeholder, be at least willing to discuss those issues.

However, in order to reach the decision makers, it is necessary to have the credibility to request their time. Time is important, possibly the most important resource of the busy professional, and wasting time is the surest way to being refused entry or to being removed very quickly. Being prepared is paramount and, in this region where personal introductions are crucial, it means that you avoid embarrassing yourself and the person who is introducing you. Part of that preparation is to know the cultural as well as the business signals that will play a part in any discussion with the decision maker.

4. What are your biggest challenges in the next 5 years?

My immediate personal challenge is to complete the research for, and then to defend the results of, my doctoral research. Many people might find that for someone at my stage of life (let’s just say that I am somewhat older than the typical student) to be still immersed in practical research is a strange situation, but, in following my own dream, I am simply following the philosophy that I deliver to all of my clients. Find a goal doing something that you love, and then commit wholeheartedly to that goal, forever. I do not have a book of answers, but I do have a large and growing book of questions.

As for putting a date or time to my objectives, I think that, with the pace of change that the business world is witnessing, it would be foolish either to wait until a certain date arrived or to cling to the belief that, just because you learned the rules at some previous time, the rules remain the same. I was told a long time ago that, “Rules are for the guidance of wise men, and the obedience of fools.” This is not an invitation to only obey the rules that you like, but to ensure that the rule that you are about to follow is still applicable to the situation in which you are about to apply that rule. It seems to me that applying a rule that was made for a situation that no longer exists is the height of folly, and of professional idleness.

5. What are the skills and competencies that you think are needed in order to meet the regions talent requirements?

The problem that was identified in the world’s press last year as the Arab Spring, the social unrest that grew from disgruntled societies, is one that still exists. Currently, according to government sources, over 55% of young Emiratis are unemployed and more of the country’s youth is graduating each year. Only one in 25 of those employed in the UAE’s private sector workplace is an Emirati, the UAE’s public sector is full to bursting, and this is not a problem that is going to go away any time soon. A recent research survey of 4600 personnel in 5 GCC countries and covering 40 organisations, presented by AON Hewitt, Middle East, highlighted the thoughts and perceptions that will guide the future development of the region, if only because they represent the views of the people who will make that future.

My own current research is targeted at this very topic, and an understanding from the Emirati and the expatriate viewpoints of why this situation exists, and the underlying feelings, perceptions, and competencies within this situation are central to that research. After more than 15 years in the region, based in the UAE, I have had the privilege of working with many of the current Emirati leaders in the public and private sectors from early in their careers, and I can state categorically that it is not a case of Emiratis being incompetent, or of expatriates being supremely gifted, but it is more one of attitude and culture. These are major elements of the areas that I hope to illuminate with my research.