Inside USD

Alumnus’ Education Connects to Success in Dubai

Friday, March 9, 2012

It doesn’t matter who Jamal Al Sharif talks to, whether it’s the President of the United States, Hollywood film star Tom Cruise or his Dubai company’s ground-floor employee, but it is important that his actions — being honorable, respectful and mindful of everything — make a clear connection.

“Networking is one of the best ways to improve your media skills and improve your marketing. Every day, I market myself, I market my company and market my city and that’s how I achieve my goals and targets,” says the 37-year-old Al Sharif (pictured, right), managing director for TECOM’s Dubai Media City and Dubai Studio City in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

“Do I sit behind the desk and say ‘I’m the boss?’ No, it doesn’t work that way. I step down from that. I want to be at the level of everyone out there. Being in business and wanting to be a successful businessman are two totally different worlds. You have to network. I have a large network. It’s not closed, it’s international and it’s important to keep good relations worldwide.”

Al Sharif’s business principles and the relationships he’s cultivated through UAE companies have afforded him a chance to dine at the White House with President George W. Bush (pictured, below left), to have a key role and meet international stars in the Dubai International Film Festival, and to serve as the trusted pointman for all logistics during a 24-day Dubai film shoot in November 2010 for Cruise’s Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol.

“It was 24 days of fun, challenges and excitement, you name it,” recalled Al Sharif, who credits his company’s team members, the cooperation of Dubai government officials and an 800-person crew for their work on the latter project.

Education in San Diego

But to know how Al Sharif built his leadership skills is to understand the foundational path that his San Diego-area college education provided him.

“Absolutely,” said the 1999 USD business alumnus when visiting San Diego last week. “It goes back to the strong curriculum and strong faith built in. Professors were always pushing us to work in teams, especially in marketing, finance or operations management to solve problems, different challenges and crunch numbers. These were the platforms, the initial stages, that helped me achieve what I’ve done.”

He attended Grossmont College in 1995-96 — and met his wife, Patricia, there — before arriving at USD in early 1997. He took engineering classes, but switched to a strictly business major after talking to Dan Rivetti, a USD associate professor of finance, mentor and friend.

“He was an eye-opener for me,” Al Sharif said of Rivetti. “He’s one of those professors who basically helps you discover what’s inside of you.”

Al Sharif also praised professors John Sandy and Jean-Pierre Amor, especially Amor’s organization management course, for giving him the chance to work well in a diverse classroom setting.

“It was a very good class, because I always speak about it,” he said. “We’d work in groups, students from different nationalities. I worked with Mexicans, Americans, a few Brazilians and one from Cuba. I connected well with everyone at USD,” he said.

Al Sharif spent some time post-USD working for Merrill Lynch and he earned a real estate license. He obtained a master’s degree from United States International University (now Alliant University) before returning to Dubai in late 2001.

Bringing Knowledge Back to Dubai

Al Sharif returned to a Dubai brimming with job opportunities for young college graduates at start-up companies.

In 2002 he was a junior manager for Dubai Internet City, a private company owned by the Dubai government that became part of Dubai Media City. Friends, he recalled, didn’t think much of it at the time and suggested he work elsewhere.

Al Sharif remains, a decade later, happy with his decision. He’s enjoyed numerous experiences, including an impromptu visit by UAE royalty and former President Bill Clinton shortly after Al Sharif was hired.

“I’m so happy I was wearing my USD class ring that day,” he said. “We were introduced and I got to tell President Clinton that I remembered him speaking at USD for the presidential debate (in 1996 against Bob Dole). He patted me on the shoulder and said to everyone, ‘he’s a good student!’ so that was a start.”

Al Sharif was rewarded a few years later when Dubai Studio City emerged. He traveled to other countries, including U.S., India and Egypt, to observe film studio operations, to network and report back with his findings. It opened in early 2008 and foreign films from China, India and Germany and episodes of the CBS-TV show, Amazing Race, are among the many projects now shot in Dubai.

Al Sharif’s companies are part of Dubai’s TECOM Investments, which owns a business park that features five clusters — information/technology, media, science, education and manufacturing — and has created more than 65,000 jobs in the past decade, he said. The media cluster has attracted more than 1,500 regional and international media companies to become the largest media business park in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Europe.

Lights, Camera, and Action Movie!

Al Sharif’s networking skills really paid off in late 2009. A top Washington, D.C. media contact told him of a U.S. film company’s interest in shooting a major movie in Dubai. Visits with film executives, scouts and meetings with government officials ensued to bring Cruise and Mission Impossible 4 to Dubai.

The experience was a whirlwind of details, requiring expert communication and solid project management skills to pull it off. The film, which made its worldwide debut at the 2011 Dubai International Film Festival, includes a famous scene in which Tom Cruise, who does his own stunts, scales the world’s tallest building, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa.

“Things went so smoothly,” he said of the entire MI4 shoot, which brought with it priceless international media exposure, local jobs and an economic boost for Dubai. It reminded him, too, about the value of his education.

“It took me back to leadership, asking myself, ‘how did you lead in your class, in your group?’ It takes me back to the great education, curriculum and mentoring I received at USD.”

Said Rivetti: “Jamal was always a classroom leader. He’s taken the experiences he gained from his education and has applied them in the business world. He treats everyone well and that’s been very beneficial for him. He’s definitely in the right job.”

Denise Dimon, USD’s associate vice-provost for International Affairs, believes Al Sharif is a great example of a international business leader who knows how to make an impact, make the connection.

“Not only is he enjoying the opportunities his career path has provided him and his colleagues, but they’re also providing futures for others and helping to develop the country through the creation of new economic opportunities,” she said.

— Ryan T. Blystone

Photos courtesy of Susmit Dey (top), Jamal Al Sharif

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