Interview: Dr Fahad Saif Harhara, CEO of NIMR Automotive

Explain what makes your business unique?
What’s unique about NIMR Automotive is the spirit of innovation, it takes the two aspects of innovation: the revolutionary aspect and the evolutionary aspect. Especially when you look at it in the context of the UAE, and an oil and gas based economy that started a military automotive industry – that’s revolutionary innovation.
And then taking an existing global industry of an automotive and fine tuning it for our environment – that’s evolutionary innovation. How could any OEM out of the UAE be profitable and competitive in global markets? A few years down the line, we are there. We are known globally and we are in operations in several continents. That’s what made us unique – that we achieved that bracket of innovation.

What is the definition of “true power” to you?
To me, true power is effective inspiration of people. Are you really inspiring people? Are you inducing change in them?  If yes, then you have an influence on the people around you. If you see that your influence is introducing change and pushing people out of their comfort zone to improve, then that is true power. I have seen many people in positions of power but they do not have that skill of inspiring change in others. If you can’t trigger change, then you lack that aspect of true power.

Do you believe that companies have a duty beyond that of simply making money?
With no doubt. Making money is basically the outcome of a successful business. What’s your duty? Your duty is to your people, the immediate community around you, the micro-economy, the macro-economy and your country.
I’ll give you an example: we employ a multitude of personnel. We have blue collared labourers, the middle management and the executives. We also have special provisions for Emiratisation. In both technical and non-technical skills and labouring fields as well.
To introduce the sliver of society who are at home – to invite them and make them feel welcome in this community, that is our duty. Social obligations of companies are extremely important. Environmental obligations are important. And the overall benefit to your country’s economy is also extremely important. You can’t live in isolation. You have to be on top of your game.
At NIMR, when we built our new facilities we ensured we were conscious of our environmental responsibilities. We made it a target that in this industry, we need to be as green as possible. Contribution to the community around us, we’ve tapped into resources to expose the younger generation to this particular industry and what knowledge is required. We also sponsor students.
What’s unique about the programme? Towards the end of the sponsorship, we leave it open in case the student wants to change their mind because I want them to learn, to excel – if they have a change of mind, I will entertain that. As long as they serve another organisation in the UAE, it is still a win for me.

What’s your personal five year plan? Is it separate to your business?
My personal five-year plan is to get into teaching, sooner rather than later. This is going back to the definition of ‘true power’ – to inspire and trigger change. I want to be in academia. I am a goal-oriented person. When I did my PhD, I wanted to do it by 36 and I achieved that. My plan is that I might start part-time teaching while I’m still at NIMR. Within five years I’d like to increase that and be more involved in teaching.

What’s your decision making process?
In general, to make the right decision you need to have the right data. You need to understand the whole picture. My decision making process, it has to stem from logic. Experience also plays a role.
The most important is the decision support system. The people around you. If a CEO does not have the right people around him, who are more experienced than him on certain subjects, then no matter how much logic you introduce, your decision will always have a shortfall. Then of course, in this modern world, there are technologies around you which can give you tools – such as software, articles. The decision support system is integral to this.
Decision making in NIMR is delegated. My only requirement from my team is that I need to be informed – I do not micro-manage. There is a thin line between being informed and micro manage.
Referring back to my definition of true power, you have to trust the people. You have to trust that they are capable of taking the right decisions. When I sit with my team, I tell them that they have more experience than me with the automotives and I rely on them to take the right decisions.

What is the most important/biggest decision you’ve ever had to make for your company?
Interesting question, because big and important decisions cannot be singular acts. I cannot say I made a single big decision. I can say that I instigated an activity and lobbied the support to take the decision. For that, it means the senior positions, the market activity and the board.
At the end of the day, I report to the board. And any important decisions need to get the buy in and endorsements of these groups. In recent years, we’ve taken some major decisions at NIMR, such as the building of a state of the art plant. So during these recent years and economic times, building a new facility was a big decision. And it proved to be a successful one.
Another big decision was introduction of three new models. One in the light weight, one in the medium weight and one which is the N-35, the heavy weight. To introduce new vehicles and certify them, qualify them and put them into production and introduce them into operations – these were big decisions. They were successful decisions.
How do you inspire others?
Inspire by your actions, interact with your team, listen to them, encourage them, and most importantly have faith in them A couple of years ago I started Tuesday breakfast with the CEO.
A database randomly selects 10 employees, blue and white collars, and we have breakfast together and discuss anything and everything. This increased moral among staff. To have a direct access to their CEO, made the relationship personal.
What advice would you give to someone going into a leadership position for the first time?
Humility and always seek advice. You need to be humble. UAE is a country of opportunity. Our leadership invests and believes in young people. Our government has created a Ministry for Youth. These are all positive messages. In a leadership post, you should be there not only because of your credentials but also because there is a belief that you can do it. You need to be humble, to ensure that you live up to that post and continue growing into it. Because of your potential rather than your credentials.
What’s one mistake you see other leaders making over and over again?
I feel some leaders drop the ball halfway. They inspire people but then they don’t continue. Success is in results, it’s not just in starting something. Follow-up is essential. I’m interchanging leaders with CEOs and directors. No follow-up leads to some extent of failure.
What was the last gift you gave someone?
Interestingly enough, I gave a personal training membership to one of my staff because of his weight issues. He’s such an integral part of our team and I’d like him to be fit and healthy for that.
Can you name a person who has had an impact on you as a leader? Perhaps someone who has been a mentor to you? Why/how did this person impact your life?
This is a very personal question. You can break it into two: one while growing up and one at work. At each stage, there are different sets of people. You can’t say one person. If I was a politician, then maybe I could refer to a political leader.
For me, the common link in all of this is my father. He is my mentor, my leader. I aspire to be half the man that he is. He had a true impact on me while growing up. But being there all the time, and providing the support – I never felt under pressure to choose a career path, unless it was something I would excel in and enjoy doing.
During my education, all I got from him was positive support regardless of where it was in the world and what I wanted to study. Back in the ‘80s and the ‘90s while growing up the mindset of the Middle East was, if you are good in school then you would be an engineer or a doctor. So there wasn’t opportunity to pursue anything outside of that.
So during those times, having the support of my father to choose what I wanted to do, irrespective to my academic outcome, played a huge role in my development. In school, there was a multitude of professors – I was fortunate to study in the US – who had been nominated for awards, or they were who’s who in the industry.
I graduated in 2000, so the people who influenced the industry of silicon vectors, I was fortunate enough to study under them, and work with them. It all goes back to my definition of true power – I was inspired. Of course, when I started my career, in the UAE we have leaders who are a step/months/years ahead of anyone else. If that doesn’t inspire you, then I don’t know what does.
What’s the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t learn from your resume alone?
I’m an avid sportsman. That’s my sanctuary. When I have work pressure, I do martial arts. I have been doing martial arts for the past twenty years, I’ve done multiple martial arts and I’m black belt and above. I’m a certified personal trainer and I did compete a couple of times in Abu Dhabi.
If you woke up and had 2,000 unread emails and could only answer 300 of them, how would you choose which ones to answer?
I’ll answer in an interesting way. I learnt the answer to this from my former manager. We were on a business trip in the US and I was telling him about the pressure of work. When we start the day there is a bombardment of emails because of the time difference. He told me to relax, we didn’t have emails 12 years ago. If people hadn’t called you, then they have solved the issue. So by default it means that the 2,000 emails will be 300 and then you go from the top. For me, I go from the top. If it is repeated, it will have a history.
What did you want to be growing up?
I wanted to be a cardiologist. My sisters are both doctors. As I said, back in the 80s and 90s, if you were good academically, then you became a doctor. I spent a year studying to be a doctor – and perhaps it was a blessing in disguise, but I could not continue my studies so I moved to the States and did engineering.
What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?
You are in a good place, you have a good support system around you, continue you what you’re doing and definitely there’s reward for your work.


Reviewer overview

Interview: Dr Fahad Saif Harhara, CEO of NIMR Automotive - CEO magazine goes beyond the headlines to discover what makes Dr Fahad Saif Harhara tick, and discovers many unique and fascinating aspects of this young, highly educated leader./10


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