Dr Mustafa Al Sayed’s life and achievements are characterised by a dream to achieve big and hard work to reach the goal. The self-made corporate leader, who started as an apprentice at Bapco Training Centre and then returned to the same company as its president, is now driving Bahrain’s local and global humanitarian efforts
When he was just five years old, Mustafa Al Sayed witnessed his ‘barasti’ home and the neighbouring houses go up in flames and they were left with nothing except a few burnt coins. The seaside community in Bahrain’s Hoora came to the help of each other and assisted in building lives slowly.
This image is still etched in his memory more than six decades on and many achievements later. Today, when as the Secretary General of Bahrain’s Royal Charity Organisation, Dr Al Sayed answers the cry for help from the needy world over, he needs no introduction to suffering. The helping hand extends naturally.
Dr Al Sayed, as the humanitarian ambassador of Bahrain, criss-crosses the world visiting remote places hit by natural or man-made calamities and helps bring succour to the needy; wiping tears of mothers and children; helping build schools in conflict zones; providing water supply to remote areas; and aiding the people who have lost homes due to earthquakes, floods or riots.
The strength and the urge to do something for the suffering, to provide them human dignity, comes from his years of struggle and hard work through which he achieved success in life.
Dr Al Sayed took up the humanitarian work after an illustrious career in the corporate world, helping strengthen Bahrain’s world-class institutions. He, through his achievements and strength of character, is easily a role model for the future generations of youngsters in the kingdom.
From being an apprentice at Bahrain’s behemoth Bahrain Petroleum Company (Bapco) to the President of the same company, the road was one of hard work and determination. “When I entered Bapco again as the President, it was a moment of joy indescribable; the memories of the time when I worked there as a simple operator, cleaning machines and pouring oil into them, come back to me,” he reminisces.
He never forgets to mention or thank the many people who helped him achieve his dreams, sometimes bending rules to make it easier for a promising youngster.
Born in 1947 in Manama in a very modest locality, he lost his father, a small trader, at the age of five. The family was looked after by his mother, who worked hard to bring them up, instill discipline, love for learning and family values. She was assisted by his elder brother Mansour, who himself was still very young.
“Education was important to my mum. We were five children and she realised that if we are to succeed in life we have to study and work hard. She is my role model from whom I gained the strength to pursue my ambitions. Her words are still echoing in my ears: ‘If Allah closes one door, he will open 100 windows for you’. She planted in our hearts the love of good deeds, hard work and hope,” says Dr Al Sayed fondly.
He joined school when he was seven and had to walk 4 km every day back and forth. However, he knew the benefit of going to school and the daily walk strengthened him both physically and mentally, he avers. “That’s what has kept me active even now,” he says, moving around his office as he speaks to visitors.
Circumstances forced him to quit formal schooling at the age of 13 and he joined Bapco Vocational Training Programme as an apprentice to help the family. “On the first day of work, I wrote in my diary that the desire of going back to college is deep-rooted in my heart and one day I will go back to school.” And he did.
He excelled in the training programme and also received five GCE-O certificates and got a scholarship from the company to complete studies in London for a mechanical engineering diploma. Returning to Bapco, he enhanced his knowledge through self-study and online training and became a shift-in-charge engineer responsible for the management of two electricity generating plants and also for the production of water and air supply cooling system in the refinery plant at the age of 26, though the rules said one had to be 27 to take up the job. “The rules were amended by the president of the company for me,” a grateful Dr Al Sayed says.
In 1974, after working for about eight years as supervisor of power and utilities in Bapco, the government enlisted him to work for its power station and sent him for further studies to obtain a Bachelor's degree. Because of his good results, he was further recommended for a Master's degree in Ireland.
“I still remember my wife’s joy when I told her that my Master’s degree scholarship has been approved. She knew that it was my biggest dream,” he says with a chuckle.
Following the Master’s degree, Dr Al Sayed worked for five years as the Chief Engineer, Production, at the Ministry of Power, wherein he was able to introduce various changes, including preventative maintenance that helped eliminate power tripping through cascading faults and proper system control.
When the call to manage one of Bahrain’s leading private sector companies came, he readily took the challenge and joined Midal Cables as its Chief Executive Officer.
“In the private sector, saving costs and profitability are watchwords. You are continuously monitored for results. I learned that to succeed one must understand and deploy modern technology. But, it was very hard then to get technology from the developed world. However, with the support of the team and factory owners Khalid and Hamed Al Zayani, we were able to develop the needed alloy knowhow and the company achieved profitability and progressed through a plan of diversification,” he says.
Dr Al Sayed had by now made a name in the corporate world, and the government zeroed in on him to take over as the General Manager of Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company (GPIC), in which Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have equal stake.
The company, which was suffering from heavy losses and marketing problems, was soon turned around with the help of a team of dedicated employees and the management’s support.
“From the beginning, I diagnosed the problems and appointed a team of seven people other than the executive management. They were considered the Magnificent Seven, men who could be relied upon to transform the company towards success. Dr Abdulrahman Jawahery, the current President of the company, played a positive and leading role in this transformation,” he adds.
Dr Al Sayed, a great believer in human capital and in allowing staff members to participate in the decision-making process, provided support to GPIC workers to establish their trade union, which is a first in the kingdom.
“The organisational culture we developed allowed and empowered people to defend ideas, accept change, motivate everyone to join hands and succeed even in difficult circumstances. The emphasis was on making everyone able to contribute to the company’s success. This helped the company to become one of the best in the world in all respects: profitability, operational excellence, safety, quality and corporate social responsibility. It is now a true role model for petrochemical companies worldwide,” he says proudly.
After 18 successful years at GPIC, it was time again to walk the path he tread as a teenager as he was appointed the President of Bapco by a Royal Decree.
“I was again given the trust to return to Bapco, where I started as a simple operator. In this second innings, I had the honour of participating with my colleagues in the modernisation and expansion of the refinery and building the new diesel production plant in record time, deploying international companies to explore oil and gas in the waters of Bahrain, developing the oil field and contributing to the training and development of about 30 Bahraini managers,” he continues.
Dr Al Sayed feels happy that finally Bahrain has been able to make a huge oil discovery recently.
In 2008, another Royal Decree gave a pleasant twist to his career and Dr Al Sayed was appointed as the Secretary General of the Royal Charity Organisation (RCO) in line with a major reorganisation of the institution.
“It was indeed a dream come true for me when His Majesty the King asked me to work for the Royal Charity as it is a cause close to my heart,” he says with pride.
“I am indeed so fortunate to work with the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, His Highness Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. We, at RCO, have the full support of His Majesty the King and the dynamic leadership of HH Shaikh Nasser and I am very pleased and delighted in serving the orphans, where we provide comprehensive care and support. This makes me feel so satisfied and it is the best culmination of my previous years of work where I have always cared about humanitarian and community service work,” Dr Al Sayed says with a sense of satisfaction.
While building the organisation which takes care of 5,000 orphans and 6,000 widows in Bahrain, Dr Al Sayed’s priority is to secure their future against any unseen financial difficulties. He felt it was important to create assets and investments so the organisation could ensure a sustainable future for the people under its care. As part this initiative, the RCO plans to build a portfolio of BD20 million ($52.65 million) in cash, BD20 million in properties and BD20 million in shares in strong companies that could provide enough resources for its activities. “Our success in galvanising the community in benevolence was recognised by an international award in the field of humanitarian work, which is a reflection of the generosity of the people of Bahrain,” adds Dr Al Sayed.
Speaking about the challenges facing charity organisations, he says: “Finance is the most important obstacle to all charitable organisations and that includes lack of sufficient sponsorships, relying on personal donations from individuals and lack of investment in charitable projects. There are also issues related to attracting volunteers; and risks associated with working on projects in countries affected by the lack of safe corridors and dangerous war zones.
“In Bahrain, we draw our energy from the wise vision of His Majesty the King, who always guides us to provide assistance while preserving the human dignity of those in need. Charity is a duty that our noble Islamic religion dictates we should extend to all humanity irrespective of their religion or race. It is an honour for us to help our brothers and friends and the inspirational leadership of His Highness Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, His Majesty's Representative for Charity and Youth Affairs and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Royal Charity Organisation, encourages us to swiftly implement the directives of His Majesty the King with all professionalism,” says Dr Al Sayed.
“We have achieved many projects and were the first to act and help needy people in many parts of the world. The work of the RCO is not only limited to widows, orphans and needy people in Bahrain, it also covers relief and humanitarian assistance to the people of many countries and regions such as Yemen, Gaza, Jerusalem, Egypt and Pakistan. Also, we have had the privilege of working in Nepal and the Philippines through many educational, health and productive development projects so that we do not only meet their immediate needs but also develop them so they can rely on themselves and help others.”
“When the values of the charity organisation are shared and the employees work as one team, the organisation can achieve much more and of better quality. Allowing the staff to get out of their offices and be on the ground will make them see the impact of their work and they will become total believers and advocates of charity wherever they go,” he adds.
Asked how satisfied he is with the work, he says: “You cannot describe the happiness you get when you help people in need, especially children who have left their homes, their belongings, their schoolbooks, everything. You find them, talk to them and give them support and hope ... It’s an amazing feeling.”
MANAGING IT ALL ...
Dr Mustafa Al Sayed’s life is characterised by his staunch devotion to the dissemination of science and his modern theories of management.
As part of his doctoral research, he has developed two management concepts that have been hailed by many in the corporate world.
The concepts are: Mosif, which focuses on strategic management and transformational organisational success (M – motivation, O – objective, S – shaping the strategy, I – investment in people and F – feedback); and Creamoc, the hidden energy that makes certain people work harder than others. It is a combination of creativity, motivation and organisational culture, says Dr Al Sayed, who attained his PhD in Management from the London School of Economics (LSE).
He explains: “Management is a mixture of art and science, which requires the talent to deal with personal issues, various other complexities, and the most complex and tangled problem of making people happy and satisfied.
“In the corporate world, the working conditions are changing rapidly and competition is increasing. It is imperative for the management to innovate in dealing with many different changing situations. Competitive advantage and continued success do not arise from physical assets. I strongly believe that the success of any institution lies in its ability to transform the organisational culture into one that is based on the stimulation of its workforce and make them capable of innovation. I have applied it on a number of organisations and we have been able to achieve good results,” he adds.
Dr Al Sayed is affable and down to earth, two aspects of his personality that have made him suitable for his role in the Royal Charity Organisation.
He acknowledges that wife Mariam is his biggest supporter and strength. He has four children – Mona, Manar, Mohammed and Maha, who are all well placed. He also receives great emotional support from brothers Mansour and Abdul Rahim and sister Balkis.
“I give a lot of importance to family and the weekend is essentially for the family. Even on week days when I go home, I am still full of energy and play with children and sometimes take them for fishing or teach them football,” he says.
Cooking is one of his hobbies and he prepares meals for the family on Fridays.
Dr Al Sayed is also a distinguished author and has many books to his credit, including 10 children’s books. “I discovered my love for writing at a young age and started to write stories for children. I also wrote a book in English on the secrets of management success. I also have another book in Arabic about my experience in management which will be published by the end of the year in which many of my personal experiences and scientific theories in the field of management are discussed.”
Two more books are also in the finishing stages – one titled ‘My Beautiful Country’, which is about Bahrain and its culture, and the other ‘Principles of Humanitarian Science’, which aims to instill the love of good work in the hearts of young people and involve them in humanitarian work and promotion of peace.
“It is important to give time to charity work as the community plays a major part in the development of a nation,” he concludes.
– by Sree Bhat
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