UAE students join top business leaders at work to get taste of life at the top

CEOx1Day pairs the brightest students in the country with influential bosses

Students spent at least a day with top business leaders, learning how to juggle competing demands and communicate in the workplace. Courtesy: CEOx1Day / Odgers Berndtson Middle East
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A group of students in the UAE got their first taste of life at the top after spending a day with some of the country's most influential business leaders.

As part of the CEOx1Day initiative, 16 students were paired with a high-profile chief executive from companies including Dubai Opera, Siemens and Jaguar, for at least a full working day.

The work experience programme by Odgers Berndtson, an international recruitment consultancy, was designed to uncover promising future leaders.

Pooja's insights into what I was doing, good and bad, were incredibly powerful and that's what you are looking for as a leader when you are out in the field

After 200 hopeful students applied, they underwent several psychometric assessments, interviews and tests before being hand-picked to represent their universities as part of the initiative.

The final candidates came from institutions including the American University of Sharjah, Middlesex University Dubai, the University of Wollongong in Dubai and New York University Abu Dhabi.

Pooja Ganatra, an architectural engineering student from Heriot-Watt University Dubai, worked alongside Paul Griffiths, chief executive of Dubai Airports, for almost a week. She said the experience improved her understanding of what went into running such a huge operation.

“My incredible experience gave me great insights and an understanding of how Paul operates and manages one of the busiest international airports in the world,” she said.

“I was extremely fortunate to make it through such a rigorous process and I have enjoyed learning experiences along the way.”

The two-way learning process offered some great insights for Mr Griffiths, too.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates- Paul Griffitts, CEO of Dubai Airports at the Dubai Airshow 2019 at Maktoum Airport.  Leslie Pableo for the National

“Yet again this year we have had the pleasure of working alongside a remarkable student,” he said.

“Expertise and knowledge are passed down from CEO to student, but information and valuable insights are also passed up from student to CEO.”

Last year, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, wrote an open letter to the public urging UAE citizens and residents to do "incredible things".

Sheikh Mohammed focused heavily on leadership style and how leaders needed to be approachable.

“That letter was such a powerful lesson to us all,” Mr Griffiths said.

“Pooja’s insights into what I was doing, good and bad, were incredibly powerful and that’s what you are looking for as a leader when you are out in the field.”

Youssef Mouallem, regional managing director at technology company Dyson, was partnered with Touqa Beltagui, a computer engineering student at the American University of Sharjah.

“Our involvement in the highly innovative CEOx1Day programme is a wonderful opportunity to learn a huge amount from the next generation of engineers and to tap into some innovative young minds of today in general,” Mr Mouallem said.

“They genuinely help us at Dyson to evolve our product, develop our operations and consider new users.”

The one-on-one shadowing programme was launched for the first time in the region in 2019.

With the first cohort a major success, Mark Houghton, managing partner of Odgers Berndtson Middle East, said the programme would be expanded in the region in 2020.

Odgers Berndtson, which runs CEOx1Day, hopes more business leaders will volunteer their time to a student this coming year. Courtesy: CEOx1Day