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Saudi Arabia

Unexpected Honor

Fifteen hundred air miles west of Pakistan is the Arabian Peninsula. The major country on the Peninsula is Saudi Arabia. During my time in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, I was to experience three events that the average traveller would miss.

In the spring of 2007, shortly after the call from Pakistan, I was contacted by a young man representing a large training company in Riyadh. Khaled Al-Fulih had attended college at Ohio University and spoke excellent English as well as understanding something about doing business with Americans.

The purpose of the call was to engage me in presenting a training program on predictive analytics. It was a common request and we quickly worked out the details. Several years earlier I had been to Kuwait and to Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates, so I was somewhat familiar with the region. The Arabian Peninsula is a complex landmass. It includes not only the three countries I mentioned, plus Qatar and several other small emirates that are part of the UAE, along with Yemen and Oman on the southern coast of the peninsula. There are many mysteries and myths within the Arab world and I was happy to be returning to this fascinating region.

The Arabian Peninsula was for centuries a patchwork of tribal rulers who controlled small sections of the area. The Al-Saud family was one of those. The family had been driven from its base in Riyadh in 1892. Nearly a decade passed until, in 1900, Ibn Saud, the 19 year old first son, already six feet tall and growing, launched what was to be a thirty year struggle to unite all the tribes of the Peninsula.

He began with a group of forty men who attacked the family’s former home base. At night they climbed the city’s wall, and after a fierce hand to hand battle, Ibn Saud’s group won back Riyadh. This drew many restless young men to his flag. As the army grew this extraordinary man led them in subduing one after another of the desert tribes. By 1930, now six feet six inches tall—a head above the average man, he controlled most of the area north of a number of small southern territories that would become the UAE, Oman and Yemen. This is today’s Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

When I arrived in Riyadh Khaled met me at the airport in a beautiful, white, late model Mercedes sedan. This slender, handsome, young man of light, Arabian brown skin, and beautiful dark eyes, I judged to be in his early thirties. He had a sincere smile and a direct manner. His traditional white robe concealed a body of be about 150 pounds. His black eyes were soft, but penetrating. He must have sent many a young lady’s heart a flutter. Khaled took me to the Mayyun Hotel on King Fahd Road in the heart of this capital city. It is a marvellous property. The accommodations and the service are world class. He told me to rest and he would collect me that evening for dinner with Sheikh Ahmed, the founder and CEO of the training company. (Sheikh has several accepted English spellings.)

In Arabia, time is viewed a bit more leisurely than in the West. It is not unusual for events to start somewhat late in the day. Accordingly, I was surprised when Khaled arrived right on schedule. He had the Sheikh with him. This gentleman, a slender five foot eight, with a slight beard was wrapped in the standard Arab robe, dishdasha, and headdress, keffiye and agal (white or red cloth cover and rope strands). He smiled warmly and shook my hand firmly. The sheikh did not speak English, so Khaled translated. When two people don’t share a common language, a tension exists. In this case it melted immediately.

My first impression of the Sheikh was very positive. I could see integrity in his eyes. That is the most important trait to me. If there is any doubt about a person’s values I find no basis for working together. One must feel confident that down the line when critical decisions are to be made there will be no faltering. We seemed to like each other immediately. I was to find Ahmed to be a quick study, highly motivated to continue the growth of his enterprise and willing to accept new ideas in support of his goals. Besides that, he was very pleasant to be with even with the language disparity.

We established a bond early on as we shared information about ourselves and our families before getting down to business. That is an important point, especially for impulsive Americans. Patience is essential when meeting people from different backgrounds. We need a common ground on which to build connections. The evening progressed very well and closed with an agreement to meet at the sheikh’s Training Center the next morning.

Again Khaled collected me, and on the way to the Center, he told me that Sheikh Ahmed felt very comfortable around me. Apparently, the willingness to share personal information had helped open the relationship. I was very impressed with Ahmed’s company. In a beautiful modern building, he was running a wide variety of programs from management topics to technology classes. One thing I learned, much to my surprise, was men and women cannot be trained simultaneously in the same classroom. Also, if the trainer is a man, he must deliver the training to women remotely even if he is in the same building.