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Fahad Al-Saif

Fahad Al-Saif

I am humbled and honored to be selected. I just hope my story can inspire others to be better and make an impact on those around them no matter how small it will be. Also, it won’t end here, I hope to continue to inspire and be inspired for generations to come.

 

Please tell us about yourself.
I’m an over-achiever and I love helping people without expecting anything in return. I’m often called Mr. Sunshine, because I always have a positive attitude with a smile on my face and I wish nothing but the best for others. I love bringing people together, learning from them and expanding my experiences as wide as possible. Feed the body, the mind and the spirit is the game and I find it fun and exhilarating.

Tell us about your educational background.
My father believed in education. He put my brothers and I in private schools since kindergarten. We started in the British education system, which was very rigid and fundamentally strong. Then in 7th grade, my father transferred us to the American School of Kuwait, since he wanted us to go to American universities after we graduated. I always excelled in my classes and was exceptionally strong in math, English and all the sciences. I was a very curious kid growing up and it showed in my grades. I was always the youngest person in my class since my father never allowed the school to hold us a back a year after the invasion.
After graduating from high school, I ended up receiving the government’s merit scholarship and went on to enroll in Indiana University, Kelley School of Business in 2001. During my second year, unfortunately, I had to leave Indiana for health reasons, due to the Midwest’s climate. I then transferred to a state with similar weather as Kuwait, which is how I ended up at Arizona State University. I graduated with honors in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

Tell us about your family.
My father was a self-made man who was orphaned by the age of 13. Growing up, he was supported by his relatives and extended family and invested all of his time in getting an education and building himself. In 1984, he started one of the first private investment companies in Kuwait called Kuwait and Middle East Financial Investment Company (KMEFIC), which is coincidentally the year I was born. My mother is a housewife from a large Kuwaiti family and was the 11th child of the same parents. Both my parents are very social and hardworking and made sure we worked just as hard as them.

Describe your family support.
Nothing in our household was given out freely, everything had to be earned. Ultimately though, through school and our grades, my parents were always fair. Since I got the highest grades, I usually got what I wanted – within reason of course. My brothers didn’t, but my father still rewarded them for their efforts. If they put in the hours, he would make sure they got their fair share. That made us all work very hard and respect each other for what we have.
I was a very curious child growing up and I explored theater, art, music, science, math and English. My parents supported every project that I worked on and every interest I was into at the time, even though some of it was short lived. As long as it was in pursuit of knowledge, my parents helped me get what I wanted.
Even in college, whenever I faced any difficulty, I could always rely on their support and understanding to succeed. They knew my intentions and rarely questioned my actions. I might have driven them crazy at times, but they would tell you it was worth it.

Tell us about your childhood.
I grew up a very shy and lonely kid. I was a middle child of four brothers. My older cousins hung out with my older brother and my younger cousins hung out with my younger brothers. Therefore, I was left to entertain myself and often caused problems for attention.
In primary school, I was under a strict British education system. I had to wear a fancy uniform and follow the rules sharply. I was so shy and couldn’t make any friends, so I just observed everyone. I was the quiet kid who escaped through books and cartoons and I tried to learn how to make friends from US television shows.
In 7th grade, my parents decided to change us to an American based education system and we ended up at the American School of Kuwait. I was eleven years old at the time and I decided that since no-one knew me at this new school, I would practice everything I have observed in the past. Then, I decided to become the outgoing kid and become everyone’s friend. In that year alone, I won the Citizenship Award for being the friendliest and most helpful kid, to the extent that my father had to install a private phone line (with an answering machine) in my bedroom due to the number of new friends calling the house. My parents were shocked at how I changed so fast, but I changed for the better. I learned at that age that I am in control of my destiny and I can change anything to make my life better if I chose to.

How did your formative years lead to your success?
Ever since then, I pushed myself to be the top student, as well as joining school programs to help out in school. I was placed in a higher level than my classmates in math and science and I was helping seniors with their work so they can graduate. I even stayed after school sometimes to help tutor kids who were struggling in certain subjects.
I was especially involved in Student Government and would always win against my competitors by a landslide (it was easy since I was literally friends with everyone and a good public speaker). I even convinced the school to let me reopen the student-run store – it was closed for ten years. I convinced the students’ parents to donate equipment and materials and got cash donations to buy supplies. It was one of my proudest accomplishments and the store was reopened within a few months. Six months later, the store was making so much money that the school took it away from me. I learned at that time that A) I can run my own business, and B) Make sure you own it before you invest your time in it. Anyway, it was a profound learning experience where I realized that I can achieve whatever I set my mind to.

Any life changing experiences?
Between the ages of 8 and 11 my parents sent us to summer camps in England, Switzerland and the US. It taught me how to live away from family, depend on myself, get closer to my brothers (we hated each other until after these experiences since we had to defend each other) and to try new experiences with an open mind and spirit. In high school and college, I continued expanding my world view and enrolled in summer programs abroad. Every trip brought its own challenges and learning experiences.

Any dreams while growing up? Did they come true?
I always wanted to become a doctor growing up. It wasn’t until I ran for Student Government and re-establishing the student store that I realized I have a talent for people and business. This is why I truly believe I am successful today.

Tell us about your earlier work experiences.
Pre-College: I got into a fresh graduate program at Burgan Bank the summer after high school. It was an eight-week program where I was intended to rotate between departments to see how a bank works. I started in the credit card department where I had to help clients fill out applications and input them into the system. The supervisor quickly found out that I was her best employee. While others finished 10 to 15 applications a day, I was cranking out 30 to 40. Also, I looked older than most people since I was an overweight kid – with a beard already – so they had me manage angry clients, which surprisingly, I was very good at. Ultimately, I never got to go on the rotation and was a full-time employee for eight weeks. I basically learned I can excel in anything as long as I take it as a challenge and adapt. I still think fondly of that experience.
During College: In college, I had two internships. The first was with a company called Silver Sneakers. Silver Sneakers is a US exercise program specifically designed for senior citizens (65 years and above). They worked with gyms all over the US to utilize their space during quiet hours for senior citizens who have nothing but extra time. My job was to take all the surveys and type up all the results and quotations from the clients for the website. I quickly finished that job and got bored. My supervisor wouldn’t give me any additional work. That’s when I decided to run analysis on the information I collected. I discovered where our strength markets were and where we were lacking. I made a whole presentation based on my findings and presented it to the department head – not my supervisor since he was oblivious. She was shocked and very impressed with my initiative and the quality of my work. She took me under her wing and from then on I reported to her directly until the end of my internship.
The second internship was at the marketing department of a brownie factory called Fairytale Brownies. It was a mandatory internship by my marketing class and became a final project for my grade. I was told to create surveys and analyze the data I got from customers, then present to the company owners my findings with recommendations to improve sales and service quality. I was one of five to present and my ideas were accepted. The thrill of collecting and analyzing data and convincing a company to change its business for the better has never left me to this day. Any job where I can make the client be better was exciting to me and led me to my career today.
Post College: When I graduated from college, I had four options. The first was an offer to intern at Northwestern Mutual in Arizona. This will last only one year due to my visa extension and I would have to return to Kuwait after. The second option was a fast-track admission to a master’s degree program in marketing with a full scholarship from my university. The third option was similar except for a master’s degree in international business. And finally, the last opportunity was the fact that foreign banks just opened in Kuwait and they were hiring.
Being a realist, I decided to go back to Kuwait and apply to those banks. However, none of them responded immediately and I had to find different ways of getting their attention. Luckily, my father told me to meet someone at Citibank whom he knew. I went to the meeting and as soon as I walked in, I was told that there were no job openings and he was meeting me just out of courtesy. During the meeting, I managed to impress him and before I left, he said he could get me into this special training seminar called the Bourse Game that was taking place the week after. This was offered only to Citibank employees and their clients. Also, the course was comprised of a three-day lecture and a two-day activity. I was told I could only attend the lecture part, since the activity was for paying clients and current employees. I was happy to accept since I was in between jobs and actively searching.
At the seminar, I was the only fresh college graduate there, which was kind of embarrassing, but that didn’t stop me. I went early every day and participated in all the discussions. On the end of the third day, I went to the instructor and thanked him for everything I learned that week. He asked if I will be coming to the activity the next day and I told him I wasn’t allowed to. He said I should come because some people drop out last-minute and he needed to fill the groups. Sure enough, the next day, exactly one person didn’t show up and I got his spot. The activity consisted of teams of three, which are considered as banks, and the instructor played the role of the central bank. We would get economic information from him at the beginning of every session and based on that information, we would trade currencies with the other banks. Thankfully, I was good with economics and worked with my team well. My team won first place by $1.5 million dollars profit above all the other groups. The instructor then took me to the Citibank managers and told them that they would be regretful not to hire me and that I’m a future Citibanker (his words exactly). They took my information and seven interviews later I was hired as an analyst in the cash management department.
I started in January 2007. My boss at the time told me my role was to set up the department, since the bank just opened. I had to go to Dubai and learn everything and meet everyone important within one week. Despite crazy odds, I managed to set up the department and implement the online banking system for Kuwait. I was told that a year later there would be a VP hired to be my actual boss. In 2008, the financial crash occurred and my boss walked over to my cubicle, gave me the profit and loss file of the department, and told me congratulations, I’m running cash management now under his supervision. In two years, I tripled the book and expanded our business significantly. I then would go on to help other departments set up and was consequently told to run them as well. As a result, I got double promoted every year and covered everything from cash management, investor services, custody and clearing, to senior relationship manager of the public sector and finally financial institutions. In my last year there, I was running four departments.

Tell us a little about your current job.
In January 2015, I was approached by Goldman Sachs Asset Management (GSAM) to be an executive director on their regional team to expand their business in Kuwait. I never did asset management, but I was good at sales and I knew all their customers and prospects. After 13 interviews over a period of three months, I didn’t think I would get it. In June 2015, I was given an offer I couldn’t refuse and relocated to Dubai. Now I fly between and Dubai and Kuwait almost weekly and I enjoy every minute of it.
GSAM focuses on government and financial institutions that invest abroad in all asset classes (equity, fixed income, real estate, private equity, hedge funds, cash, etc). The best part of my job is actually partnering with institutions to improve their strategies and help their employees develop and grow. It’s my way of giving back to Kuwait. I always tell clients that I’m Kuwaiti first, then I work for Goldman Sachs.

Tell us about your industry.
The asset management industry is a large and highly competitive industry. Only the smartest and highly adaptive firms succeed. Therefore, to be part of one of the five biggest firms is quite an honor. These firms help governments, pensions, companies and individuals diversify their investments and increase sources of return. That is why understanding risk and reward is key and the ones that take their time to educate clients are usually the successful ones.

What lies behind the growth of the company?
Trust from our clients. We have their best interest at heart combined with a successful track record of our strategies in unpredictable market conditions.

How has business been for the company in the past one or two years?
GSAM is a growing division of Goldman Sachs and has grown significantly in the past couple of years. They continue to invest in its products, systems and people to help grow the division.

Define success.
Success to me is when my name is mentioned and only good things are being said. Even if a certain product didn’t work out as expected, I’m close to my clients, always take blame, do everything to fix the situation and find alternatives that will make everyone happy. Once the client believes that you, as an individual, have their best interest at heart – even during the tough times – they will remember you fondly.

What motivates you?
My desire to be a better person and to make everyone around me better.

What inspired you to be the person you are today?
I learned growing up that I had to depend on myself and that there will be no inheritance and no trust fund to fall back on. All I have is my education and the work that I put in to make myself independent enough to take care of myself and the ones in my life that I love and cherish. In order to take care of other people, you need to be strong mentally, physically, emotionally and financially responsible.

How would you like to be remembered?
As the person who gave back more than he has taken and made an impact in all the lives that crossed my path and inspired them to be greater.

Your favourite thing to do?
Reading, watching sci-fi and anime, and wall climbing. These are my go-to happy places.

Who are your real-life heroes?
I don’t have specific heroes. Heroes for me are everyday people who decide to be kind, generous, loving and supportive no matter what hand they were dealt and how hard life was for them. I call them my champions and I find them everywhere I go and I remember them in my heart always.

Describe yourself in three words.
A walking, talking, support-structure (I’m counting support-structure as one word).

Where do you envision yourself in five years?
A Managing Director at GSAM and hopefully running a big team or multiple teams in a region.

I believe…
In the goodness of people and the tenacity of the human spirit. Everyone can choose to be better; to find the motivation and drive to accomplish is one of the hardest things to do, but totally worth it.

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams…
And the present is the platform you need to create in order to achieve those dreams. Wake up and start building.

What’s the secret of your success?
Attitude. Being positive, never complaining and finding the learning experience in everything, even when it seems unfair and unjust. People don’t remember your achievements; they remember that they enjoyed working with you more.

My support is…
My family, my second family that I chose and created, and my self-worth (I believe in myself).

It is said that every inspirational person has been inspired by another, was that the case for you?
I’ll be honest, growing up I waited for so long for someone to inspire me and guide me. Yes, I had the support, but no-one pushed me or told me what to do, they just gave me the tools and wished me good luck. Therefore, I decided to put in the hours (many, many hours) and inspire others, especially in Kuwait where everyone sees success as something that came out of ‘wasta’.

Your message for other people?
You are your own worst enemy, but also be your own hero. You decide what you want to be, what you need to fight for and to do it with a persistence that can be seen as irrational at times. You’ll be surprised with what you end up. Trust me, it’s going to be great!

Your hobbies?
I’m a person who likes to bring people together. In a nutshell, you can say my hobby is people. I also like to mentor and help people through their careers or through personal struggles.

I am scared of…
Being a burden on people.

I fear…
Freedom being limited and people being restricted.

What is your favourite holiday spot and why?
Barcelona and Lisbon. They’re both unique cities with interesting histories and things to do. Plus, I have a lot of dear friends in both but I can enjoy them on my own as well.

On being selected as an Inspiring Man for the year…
I am humbled and honored to be selected. I just hope my story can inspire others to be better and make an impact on those around them no matter how small it will be. Also, it won’t end here, I hope to continue to inspire and be inspired for generations to come.

 

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