The president of the University of Dubai is not your average academic. Dr Omar Hefni, is a businessman at heart - and a very friendly one at that. Any student hanging around near his office is warmly invited in. "I follow an open-door policy," beams the president. And although he's 80, there's still a spring in his step. He's also pretty sharp as many student and staff members have discovered.
In the decade that he's been at the University of Dubai, Dr Hefni has achieved international accreditation for all the university's degree programmes, enhancing its reputation and attracting more students as well as some of best teachers for its faculties.
Three years ago, the College of Business Administration was accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) - a highly respected body for advancing management education globally - putting it on the same footing as Harvard Business School, University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) and Stanford University.
Dr Hefni also introduced a unique 15-month MBA programme that offers students double majors - like accounting and finance or marketing and international business - which are hugely popular, he says.
For the university that was refused recognition by the Ministry of Higher Education in 2000 this is a major step that makes Dr Hefni justifiably proud.
The reason he says he has been so successful is because of advice his father gave him. "He said to run any organisation you have to love your job and your staff equally," he says. "He gave us a lot of love, but also direction and very strict goals," he says. Throughout his career in the oil, defence and education sectors, Dr Hefni has applied a simple rule: "Be open and transparent, work hard and walk with both eyes open." Friday met him to find out more:
The management style of a person depends on who he is; his personality, where he comes from, his beliefs and his values. It's very important for any manager to have full knowledge of management. My management style comes from my academic preparation. I have a Bachelor's degree in strategic management and that's where I first acquired my knowledge.
I've always believed in being fully equipped. That's what drove my choice of courses in college. When I wanted to join a large consulting firm I took a degree in strategic management. That led to my job with Shell Oil in Egypt. I worked there for three years as a senior accountant before moving to the US.
Later, when I wanted to join a government organisation I studied public administration. That led to six years with the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles as an assistant controller. Then I acquired a Master's in industrial management, which opened the doors for me at the Hughes Aircraft Company (a subsidiary of General Motors) for 23 years where I ended up as chief economist. It also helped me in my work across many industries. An overall understanding of the economic environment was important so I studied business economics. Later, I spent 16 years as a member of the Business Advisory Council for California State University. This encouraged me to get involved in academics and I devoted myself to teaching full-time.
I have lived overseas for almost 54 years. I left Egypt when I was 26 and I lived in the United States for 38 years before moving to the UAE in 1996.
I learnt a lot from working in different industries, and especially working in the US. I had a very happy career there. My philosophy at that time was that I didn't want to work until there was nothing left in me. I had seen some of my friends retiring at the age of 65 when they were physically exhausted - and a year or two later they were gone. I didn't want to go that way too, so I decided to pull out of work as early as I could, relax and enjoy myself for a while.
In 1996 before moving to the UAE, when I was still in the US, I did just that. I already had a sail boat, so I bought a mobile home and travelled around America. I love water and the outdoors and I enjoyed sailing at a serene pace after the mad rush of managerial life. It was a short, but wonderful interlude.
But later that year I was offered a job as the Dean of the College of Business Administration at UAE University. Getting an accreditation from The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business for the university was going to be a huge challenge and it piqued my interest enough to come out of retirement and move to the UAE. My main mission was to get the university the accreditation in five years. I accomplished this in 2000 and the college became the first in the Middle East to earn it. The administration made me a consultant to the vice-chancellor of the university for the rest of my term there.
In 2001 the University of Dubai, which was then known as Dubai Polytechnic, invited me to join as President. In 2010, we started offering an MBA degree. It is the only 15-month programme that offers double majors.
I am ambitious, and like to push to be the best in whatever I do. I value transparency and honesty and have an open-door policy where my students and staff are concerned. I put my work and the organisation's goals, before anything else. I have a proper succession plan, but I will be here as long as I'm needed.
My father was my biggest influence while growing up. What stood out was his kindness towards his family. It became a part of my value system and my personality.
We are a very close-knit family; I have four sisters and two brothers. I am the eldest. My father was a teacher and very insistent that we be educated before deciding on what we wanted to do in life. So that became the pattern of our lives. One sister studied business, another became a gynaecologist, and my brother a military commander. I got married when I was in the US and have two daughters; Nadia has a PhD in education and Fadia has a MBA.
I love the outdoors and love to walk. In the US I used to do a lot of sailing. I am still attached to my home country and maintain an apartment in Alexandria. All my homes are on the waterfront! When I stop working here I plan to split my time between Egypt and the US.
I also love to camp. I am a very physical person; always working on the garden and on my boat. I've sailed across the west coast of the US, all the way from California to British Columbia, Canada - a beautiful route.
I always wake up between 4.30 and 5am. By 5.30am I have a cup of coffee and I sit down and blank myself from the outside world - my house is opposite the Dubai Creek, so that helps. I do that every day from 5.30am to 6.45am without fail. That's my way of relaxing.
I used to be at the university from 7 am to 9pm, but since last September I've started relaxing my schedule and I start around 8am and leave the office at 4pm - the end of office hours. This change has done me a lot of good. The weekends are spent at home pondering over my work and relaxing. These are the times when I formulate the policies, the changes that will make our university even better.
Dreams are the products of your age. I believe you have different dreams at different points in time according to your needs. My dreams were different when I was 15 compared to when I was 20, and they changed as I grew older. I am 80 now and I'm still in very good health. I don't work for the money. I work to keep my faculties intact. I get three pensions; from Hughes Aircraft Company, the University of California and the US government. What I want to do now is impart the depth of my knowledge to people who can use it to further their education. My dream is to see the University of Dubai grow and benefit from my experience.
When I retire I want to be near the water - go sailing on the American coast, or just sit in my apartment in Alexandria and watch life pass by on the sea. The flowing water is a metaphor for life; the sea is ever-changing, ever-flowing, and yet ever the same. That is what attracts me to it. I also dream of seeing my children blossom out into well-rounded professionals who can offer their experiences to the world.