December Spotlight Suki Van Den Berg MD Club Exec UAE

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

I started out my career in the UAE working as cabin crew for Emirates Airline, where I was the Treasurer for the F.A.C.E Card. After  years 8 with Emirates, I made the brave move of establishing Club Exec with the aim of offering similar benefits to cabin crew outside of the Emirates group. Using my experience and pulling on aspects of my Bachelors degree in Finance, I found myself running the business single handed for the first few years. Our team has grown over time and I am proud to say that Club Exec turns 10 this coming year! It has not all been smooth sailing and there are many challenges facing the smaller SMEs in the Middle East, but Club Exec has offered me the flexibility to work around spending time with family and achieving a work-life balance.

2. How would you describe the culture of your business?

Involved is probably the best way to describe us. Any small business like ours relies heavily on communication and team work, so whilst each of us has a defined role, it’s not uncommon for us to step into each others’ shoes from time to time. We’re a health and lifestyle company so we like to keep our team healthy and have the occasional office challenge going on our Fit Bits! Does it get a bit chaotic at times? Of course it does! But that’s the way it is in most small businesses, and that’s generally a sign that things are going well.

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

Myself and my business partner make any major business decisions, so I’d have to say it’s pretty easy. Reaching out to decision makers in other companies can be a challenge though – sometimes it’s a case of if you don’t have an international brand behind your name, people don’t want to know, even if you’re offering something amazing. Perseverance is the key, and when dealing with other companies often it’s the team members lower down the food chain that don’t pass on the message to decision makers to let them make a decision in the first place, it can be quite frustrating at times.

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

We’re just about to publish our mobile application, so I’d have to say that growing the business ‘online’ and tracking member behaviour to make the programme better is definitely top of our priorities and without a doubt there will be a series of challenges along the way! We’ve recently launched Club Exec in Al Ain and opened up to a wider Arabic speaking demographic, so offering our product bilingually and adapting to meet the needs of our membership base in different regions. We also never take what we offer for granted, member preferences change and expectations change over time. We’re tuning in to these expectations so that we can grow and change with them.

December Spotlight: Vibhuti Duggar Mutha CEO Project Purpose






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

It’s been 7 years in DUBAI and it’s been an amazing experience. It’s a dynamic city, city of dreams, city of lights, city of diversity and city of celebration. The more time you spend here the more you want to be here.

  1. How would you describe the culture of your business?

The culture of my business is to put values first in any decision making process. No matter what we cannot go against our values and that keeps us always on the right track.

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

I would say it’s fairly easy as we work on relationship based network and business model. Our clients are people who we know and have a great relationship with.

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

Building a great team will be one of the challenges in next 5 years. A team whose goals and purpose are aligned with the company, who will grow and make the company grow in the right direction.

  1. What is your philosophy?

My philosophy is that business is people. It is run by people, for people. If people are not happy inside or outside your company, they are not aligned with your purpose and goals then there is something not right.

December Spotlight: Mutheer Al Kalbani Bank of Sohar

Pictures 053-1





This month we have a spotlight from Oman. Mutheer Al Kalbani is Senior Manager of Organisational Development in the HR department of the Bank of Sohar Oman.

1) Tell us about you, your experience and time as a senior HR/L&D/Business professional in Oman?

I have been working in the banking field for the past seven years with a focus on organizational development activities; such as, performance management system, talent management, succession planning, organizational communication and learning and development. During these seven years, I have undergone through various human resources training programs to develop my skills further and increase my HR competence. I am currently certified by EFPA (European Federation of Psychologists’ Associations) to conduct psychometric assessments. I am also an associate member of the CIPD (Charted Institute of Personnel & Development). I am currently holding the position of Senior Manager – Organizational Development in Bank Sohar.

2)    How do you maintain awareness of the organization’s performance and culture, its business direction, strategic developments, HR processes and practices in Oman?

Every organization has it unique way to maintain the awareness of organization’s performance and culture, its business direction, strategic developments, HR processes and practices in Oman or out of it. In bank Sohar, we are a true believers of the practice of communication. We know that it is a key to always be up to date and stay in the same loop. As a result, the bank devised a communication tool  called “Team Briefing” which basically connects the organisation through, from the apex of the organization all the way down to the clerks and drivers through gathering the team, discussing the message, and bring up concerns and opinions. The whole process is featured with transparency and sincerity where employees are engaged and are not hesitant to speak and tell their concerns. There are ,of course, other means of communication in the bank, such as posters, social media,  e-mails, employee activities and gatherings where all such subjects are being highlighted and discussed transparently.

3)     What in our opinion are the challenges in the area of HR in Oman?

I believe that one of the challenges facing HR in Oman is maintaining employee engagement in such a changing world. To sustain high levels of employees is very difficult nowadays due to  new economic realities, continues changing of international business landscape, continues innovations emerging, new technologies are brought to the markets and more. Such a trend of life will force organization to always be up to date, thinking continuously of how to engage and satisfy, and to be as flexible as much to meet the work life balance. This role does not only pertain to HR, it should be played by the apex team of the organization. However, HR plays a significant role to facilitate such a an approach and aim to achieve the required levels of  engagement through collaborative teamwork.

4)    In what direction do you see HR and L&D moving, in the next 5 years?

Most of the world is now moving towards something called the E platforms. Social media, academic degrees, professional qualifications, government transactions, E-shopping and more. This implies towards HR and L & D as well. Nowadays we can see that the trend in organizations is slowly growing towards e-learning and e-platforms. And this goes perfectly with the world’s march towards the electronic initiatives. For example, we have introduced in our bank an initiative of e-blended learning. We saw that it is more reachable to employees in the rural areas rather than risking bringing them to the capital in cars. It is blended in the way it delivers the information (videos, exercises, reading..etc) to suit the different learning styles of employees. It also has social discussion platforms to foster peer discussions, and finally we try to meet face to face from time to time to facilitate application of learning. In conclusion, I can see the role of trainers will reduce very much and e-learning will fill the gap in a tremendous growing rates.

December Spotlight – El Hussein El Hafyan CLO National Bank of Oman

This month we are delighted to welcome El Hussein Hafyan CLO of  National Bank of Oman one of Oman’s leading banks as our December spotlight.

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

I combine expertise in two major and inseparable industries; Banking and HR. I am both a seasoned Banker and a renowned Human Capital Strategist and practitioner with over 23 years of solid experience in the field.  I served in both international organizations such as Citibank and regional organizations of repute such as Qatar National Bank, Commercial Bank of Qatar, and National Bank of Oman – all in senior and executive leadership capacities. I have also consulted for numerous organizations in the Middle East in both the Banking and HR domains.  So, I’ve been 20 years now in Middle East, more precisely in the GCC.

How would you describe the culture of your business?

As regards the culture of the business, the Banking Industry, where I spent the majority of my career, at a macro level is a highly competitive industry, but rather a cut-throat competition. That is due to a multitude of factors, primarily the high degree of products similarity largely visible in the consumer banking sectors. At a micro level, the culture of the current organization I’m serving at the moment, The National Bank of Oman is a remarkably positive and conducive culture, characterized by respect, trust, goal-orientation, team-working and motivation. We have a refined leadership crew that keeps the “people thing” high in their agenda and hence morale is high, productivity is up and both reflect on the bottom-line.

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

“Contrary to the norm” it is remarkably easy to reach the decision makers at NBO even at the very top. We have a leadership team that is very conscious of the TAT (Turn-Around Time) be it a decision TAT, a process TAT or service delivery TAT, a matter that made my life so easy and helped me significantly to achieve giant leaps in building the learning platform in a record time that would otherwise take ages in other organizations.

What are your biggest challenges in the next 5 years?

1. To deploy the learning platform effectively in order to achieve the big mission of aligning the whole organization behind the strategy and organizational objectives.

2.  To build a robust system of learning transfer that would ensure value for money and return on Investment (ROI). This would involve not only working closely with the line but rather building enduring partnership with the business which requires tremendous amount of trust building in the learning function.

3.  Talent retention is definitely a “nightmare” you wake up every morning with the big worry of being part of an exit interview for one of your stars! This is due to the simple fact that no matter how good you perform in the Talent Development front, talent may leave due to other factors completely out of the CLO’s control. Internal issue with motivation on the Job & Competitive pay and external factors such as scarcity of talent and the threat of new market entrants are the key factors responsible for the painful drain.

What are the skills and competencies that you would need to train in order to meet the regions talent requirements.

I believe the single most important competency that is a must-have for the entire region if we are to improve the Talent Management process is “The ability to switch the mindset of “Leaders” and managers from number oriented mindset and process oriented mindset into “people oriented mindset”. Hence the essential realization that by looking after people, numbers are processes will eventually improve. I think the region has an abundance of managers and scarcity of leaders, a typical 80:20! Hence critical is the focus on building a leadership pipeline bottom-up beginning with the grass root in order to reverse the 80:20 ratio. Regional Leaders need to realize that in todays’ highly globalized and borderless market place, the biggest challenge ever is losing their good people. Blaming products, system or processes for loss of market share is an old-fashioned thinking that is not valid anymore. To me, losing your stars is losing your market share; the folk who create new products and reposition existing products, develop and innovates new system, invent and improve current processes. What needs to be done, to my mind, is very simple and straight forward; to adopt Hussein El Hafyan’s “People Centric Model” which is all about keeping  people at the heart and building everything else around it.

Hussein El Hafyan ‘People Centric Model’

To me, the “Customer-centric model”  is not valid anymore due to the realization that the most important customers for any organization today, are its people! The more you look after them, the more they  will take care of your external customers, products, processes and system. More than often, this is easy said than done!! It is customary to see CEOs  or Board level executives in the region speaking high of their people in the media and Annual Reports, but in reality they  do very little for people in terms of;

  • hiring the best (see who sits  to interview people at the entry point? either junior, untrained seniors or a mix of both; garbage in-garbage out!!),
  • training & developing them (look at the size of training budgets across the region? very shy in the most and always the poor step child at bad times!!),
  • motivating them (see the quality of line managers who take charge of the supposedly best hires? They lack the basics of leadership. When Ken Blanchard said people tend to leave managers not organizations, I felt he meant this part of the world!!),
  • Retaining them (count how many organizations in the entire region have robust retention and succession planning systems? You count them in the figures I would pet, very reactive in the most!!!)

To wrap it up all, I should point out that this ‘people thing’ does require solid belief in principal following a lot of thinking ‘until in hurts’, significant amount of attention at the strategic level,  substantial amount of investment in the troops, and homing in International Best Practice in Talent Management.

Please leave your comments below to start a discussion with Hussein and other CLO-ME members