5th November 2020


In conversation with…Areej Mohsin Darwish

As a multi-award-winning business leader and successful entrepreneur, you are seen by many as a role model. Who was your role model when you started your career?

Good role models empower the young generation to envision their future and the career choices they need to make to achieve their goals.  I grew up in a business family and my role model was my father.  He was the embodiment of who I wanted to become.  His relentless pursuit of excellence, determination and foresight were learning lessons.  He introduced me to the business world and his guidance and mentorship gave me a good understanding of business and helped me gain invaluable real-world business experience. I learnt from him that there were no short cuts to success and that hard work, perseverance and determination are integral to success.

Having graduated in maths and computer science at Sultan Qaboos University, your first role was at oil and gas firm, Petroleum Development Oman. Did you face any challenges starting out in an industry dominated by men?

Women, in general, have to walk the extra mile to prove their worth in the corporate world. I am very lucky to have grown up believing there were no limits or boundaries to what I wanted to achieve in life. The IT industry was predominantly male dominated when I started my career. However, I was fortunate to be working in an environment where men and women were given equal opportunities to grow and learn. I also believe that a positive mind-set and professionalism, along with a lot of hard work, helps to overcome any struggles in a working environment.

With your wealth of experience today - is there anything you would've done different in hindsight?

I believe that although it would be great to go back in time, I wouldn’t like to change anything as the decisions taken and the journey of growing our organisation gave us valuable lessons that have made us who we are. Without having gone through the business processes, we wouldn’t have gained the understanding and perspective of running a business through its complexities.

What is your leadership philosophy?

Leadership is the ability to set the direction where the leader leads the rest of the team. I’m a believer in leading by example and I believe that a leader needs to direct the organisation in a way that makes it more coherent and cohesive. I follow a philosophy of leading with optimism and positivity. We have a positive organisational culture as we believe that a positive culture is the key to sustainable business success. We have professionals running the various divisions and together we roll out the vision for each division and for the company as a whole. Collaborative discussion, listening and analysing the issues is the key. We listen to our employee’s ideas and opinion on various business matters as they give us additional insight into the business operations. The management provides guidance and direction to its employees and we ensure that we create the right environment for our employees to exercise their capabilities to achieve the objectives. We encourage creativity and innovation which is consistent with the goals of the organization.

In your role as Chairperson of MHD, what challenges wrought by the global pandemic have you had to overcome? Has this affected your corporate strategy?

Covid-19 has posed challenges around the world; these are unprecedented times and the impact of the pandemic has been far-reaching. However, at MHD, we have devised Business Continuity plans to address any crisis.  This facilitated us in overcoming the challenges during COVID as we identified the potential issues and developed an action plan. We realised the importance of networking efficiently in the “new normal” by creating a system to address our customers’ needs. We leveraged digitalisation and technology to address some disruptions.  We set up the e-commerce website for our automotive sector to stay connected with our customers. As an organisation, our primary concern during the pandemic was the safety and wellbeing of our staff.  We implemented remote working arrangements and strengthened health and safety measures. Though a challenge, we remain positive and I see this pandemic as a learning experience to devise plans for the future and that it always helps to be prepared for the unexpected. The pandemic has strengthened our resilience and we have emerged more robust and agile. Our long term corporate strategy remains unchanged as we look to diversify & explore opportunities for further growth and remain focused on the bigger picture.

Oman is attempting to structurally diversify and strengthen its non-oil sectors. What opportunities does this open?

Oman’s Vision 2040 strategy seeks to catapult the Sultanate into the ranks of the world’s most ‘developed nations’ with economic diversification and sustainable development as key features. The 2040 vision aims to stimulate growth, build social, economic and developmental relations, focuses on innovation and knowledge, infrastructure, logistics, education system, learning and scientific research. The most evident advantage of diversification is economic development; it increases the resilience of an economy.  It makes the business environment attractive to foreign investment. With new laws and regulations, the business environment is becoming more favourable for business and this will definitely promote the Sultanate’s position as an investment destination capable of attracting foreign capital. Diversification also creates employment opportunities for the local workforce as they are given an opportunity to develop and realise their full potential.  More young Omanis are joining the work force and contributing to Oman’s economy which is a positive sign. It also creates an opportunity for business organisations to delve into different industry sectors and expand their product base.  Oman’s geographical advantage, expanded logistics network, cultural diversity and educated talented pool are some of the factors that will steer Oman to achieve its objectives.

You’ve been quoted as saying “Success in itself isn’t a destination, but a continuous journey towards excellence”. Where do you see that journey taking you five years from now?

MHD LLC has achieved phenomenal progress since its inception and contributed to the growth and development of Oman. My father’s vision for the company was to embark it on the path of progress and success through expansion and diversification of the business divisions.

Though the future is unpredictable, it is imperative that we stay ahead of the curve. In order to stay competitive, we need to be more strategic and effective in anticipating important market changes.  An eye for detail and focused approach in the day-to-day business helps the organisation to achieve its objectives. Working towards our goal; we revisit, reinforce and refresh our strategies on a regular basis.   In order to bring synergies and efficiency in operations, we have restructured and realigned our organisation.

As a Chairperson, my vision for MHD LLC five years from now is to see the organisation flourish by looking for new opportunities, strengthening relations with our business partners, expanding our footprint into new sectors by building new relationships and partnerships while continually keeping a keen eye on our financial performance and helping young Omanis to grow and actualise their potential.  We would like to continue our quest for excellence by preparing ourselves to keep pace with the fast paced business environment and embracing opportunities that unfold in the process.

All over the world; women are still facing gender inequality at work. What advice would you give to women starting their careers today? 

Women leaders and entrepreneurs are on the rise and more and more women are proving themselves in leadership positions across different sectors. It’s commendable to see women playing an active role in society, culture, and now also in business.

My advice to young women would be that they should believe in themselves and the goal in which they have set to achieve. They need to be critical thinkers and innovative. Challenges and hindrances will always be around the corner, but they should not be deterred by them. They should take advantage of all opportunities that come their way. They need to be persistent and determined to succeed in the increasingly competitive world and step outside their comfort zone and break barriers to their growth. They can have it all if they set strategic and realistic goals.

What is your business succession plan considering that MHD is a family-run business? Is the next generation geared up for playing an active role in the organisation?

A business succession plan is the key to preparing for the future and is a lengthy process.  Succession planning keeps the business moving forward during the inevitable changes that come with running a business.

At MHD we realise the importance of this key feature and we prepare for all contingencies by identifying, training and preparing the next generation of leaders to move up.

Since MHD is a family run business, we are grooming, developing our next generation, engaging them, and helping them get the kind of skills and capabilities that they need to manage the business in the future.

My son, Mohsin Hani Al Bahrani has recently joined the family business after completing his Masters from King’s College. He serves as CEO of ACERE (Automotive, Construction Equipment and Renewable Energy) unit of MHD LLC.  He is playing an important role by redefining the automotive operations by forging innovative partnerships and devising sales strategy to drive new streams of revenue. With a keen foresight he has been able to spot the opportunity of venturing into Renewable Energy as the world adapts to this form of energy to tackle climate change.

I am confident that our future generation will steer MHD LLC to success. Our aim is to leave a legacy that will continue to make an impact as our responsibility to the country and its people goes beyond today and tomorrow