DUBAI // As a young boy Essa Al Maidoor loved solving puzzles, finding an answer for every question and looking for a solution in every problem.
It was a passion that would lead him to carve out a series of meteoric successes, first in civil engineering, then as the figurehead for Dubai’s 2020 masterplan and finally as the head of Dubai Health Authority.
“It was my love to solve all the questions in the book,” he said. “I do not like to sit and write essays. Give me a problem and I will solve it.
“I think from Grade 4 I was doing so well in mathematics that I was interested in being an engineer. That was what inspired me to move in the direction of the engineering field.”
By Grade 8 he was also excelling in science, and when it came time to make the decision on a major after high school, Mr Al Maidoor chose civil engineering. He opted to study in Utah, a place he still calls his second home.
Returning to Dubai in 1985 at age 24 he joined Dubai Municipality as a site engineer. Working in the drainage and irrigation department, it was Mr Al Maidoor’s responsibility to run an emergency committee to reduce the risk of floods when it rained.
The next 15 years he had brief spells in other jobs at the municipality before becoming deputy director general, where his final role was overseeing the 2020 Urban Master Plan.
He had a passion to conserve and protect Dubai’s natural rugged beauty, and set up plans to create a desert belt around the city to prevent property developers building in a protected zone.
“These are the historical values we try and keep for future generations,” said Mr Al Maidoor, who said when he was growing up he lived a very simple life, just 50 metres from Jumeirah Beach.
When he was heading the 2020 plan, Mr Al Maidoor was asked to take the top spot at Dubai Health Authority, a move he questioned.
“I was not looking at health as my destination,” he said. “I was asked – they said there is a new responsibility. I said ‘Why me in public health?’ I asked that question because, really, I do not want to come to a place where I feel like I can not do something.
“They said ‘Look, your background as an engineer and the career you have had and the achievements that you have done. We think you can do something of value to the health sector’.”
Mr Al Maidoor said he felt out of his depth in the first few weeks.
“It was like somebody had just thrown me into the ocean. ‘Where is the beach?’ ‘Just swim’. ‘Which direction?’ ‘Just swim’,” he said, laughing.
Instead, he began to look at the job as just another puzzle.
“I started analysing – what are the components of the health service?” he said. “Then I tried to find my way through that.”
Within two months he had dreamed up and outlined a masterplan to shape the emirate’s healthcare system until 2025.
“This put a clear vision for health; what do we need, where have we been, where are we going,” he said.
The first six months was a whirlwind, he said.
“For six months I did not have any weekend. I was working 24/7, I think. Maybe I am crazy but ...
“To be able to achieve something you have to have planned results and I think I am a result-orientated person.”
Having spent a little more than a year in the role now, Mr Al Maidoor has already left his mark on the heath sector in the emirate, having paved the way for new hospitals, more primary health-care centres, better services for the elderly and, perhaps most significantly, delivering the long-awaited health insurance-for-all scheme that had been long promised.
His next passion is to see Dubai become a flagship destination for tourism and health care.
“I think I am in a hurry to see the results of the new hospitals we are going to build,” he said. “People deserve to have the best health and the best services.
“I am keen to see all these projects coming up and to see Dubai as one of the world-recognised health hubs which can help all those people in need.”
The secret to his success, he said, is finding fun in what you do.
“I try to always enjoy what I do. And maybe one secret people do not know about me is that I love sport. And my sport de-stresses me.”
Mr Al Maidoor is a black-belt karate champion and a keen swimmer.
It is important, he said, to work hard and reap the rewards.
“I have done everything myself and I think that is very important. That capability is in each of us. You cannot live in the shade of others and I like challenges.”
Just like another puzzle.