Complex Made Simple

Samer Halawi: Combating ‘innovation shortage’

Samer Halawi was appointed as the chief executive officer of mobile satellite communications company Thuraya in January 2011. He has been credited for transforming the company from a failing one into a success story.

However, the journey is not over, as the industry still faces many challenges. Halawi, a member of YPO, shares with AMEinfo additional details about these concerns, as well as sneak peeks into his life beyond being a CEO.

What are the top challenges facing the industry you operate in today?

Our industry faces two main challenges. The first is the lack of standardisation: most companies operate by their own standards instead of conforming to a common norm, resulting in a complete failure to generate economies of scale. The second challenge is an innovation shortage. The industry falls short of innovating and disrupting at the speed, level and courage that are required in today’s market economy.

We at Thuraya are addressing both challenges by designing a next-generation capability that complements the terrestrial wireless industry and is based on its common standards; and by recruiting a young, diverse and energetic workforce that adds new thinking to current expertise and experience.

It is worthy to note that Thuraya surpasses industry demographic averages: 92 per cent of our 203 employees are under the age of 50 and 22 per cent of them are women. They also represent more than 30 different nationalities. This workforce is the basis from which we are developing new technology for new markets and we continue to recruit next generation people to be part of that future.

How do you overcome challenges in your professional life in general?

I look to tackle challenges head-on as they occur, dealing with them one at a time, with no procrastination or deflection. Most importantly, I consider challenges as experiences to learn and grow from, and I never take anything personally.

You previously indicated that finding good talent was a challenge. Is this issue region-specific or global? Moreover, do you find that this is an issue in your industry?

We’re looking for innovators, disruptors and pioneers. Our industry is considered small relative to other industries that have access to more resources and receive higher investment and funding.

Over the past four years, we have been undergoing a transformation programme to turn the performance of the company around. With limited resources, it was difficult to attract and retain talent by being competitive in compensation. As such, our focus has been on strengthening the emotional engagement our workforce has with the company, which is achieved by addressing the emotional needs of people.

After finding the rare good talent, how do you develop and retain them?

At Thuraya, we are in the unique position of working for a company that makes a big difference in the world, in terms of saving and improving lives, on a continual basis. This creates a sense of purpose and achievement that engages our employees emotionally. This breeds passion and commitment, and our employees strive to do the best job they can, knowing the impact their role and performance have on others around the world.

In addition, as a management team, we ardently focus on ensuring employees are empowered to make decisions, that they benefit from a modern and flexible work environment, and that they work and communicate with each other as a cohesive team. We operate with a unifying sense of purpose.

Please describe an average Samer Halawi day, from the moment you wake up till you go to bed.

It involves lots of technology. We are in the business of connecting people, no matter where they are, no matter when. I am connected from the moment I wake up till the moment I go to bed. The day goes by in a flash. It is very organised, enabling me to maximise the use of every minute. No one day is like the other and the pace of change is very high. Nonetheless, I manage to maintain a work-life balance and, even though I work around the clock, I make sure to spend time with my family as well.

Who is Samer Halawi?

What is the motto you live by?

Believe in what you do, do it with passion and give it your all to make it succeed.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

In parallel with having contributed to a wave of innovations and disruptions within the industry, to be leading an efficient and productive philanthropic organisation on the side.

Where would be your ideal retirement destination?

One that is closest to the largest concentration of family and friends.

What is the one passion you could not follow through with in your life? Why not?

Being a trauma surgeon, which is a challenging but noble profession, but which required many years of education at a time when financially I needed to be up and running quickly.

Who is your role model, personally and professionally?

Personally, my father. Professionally, no one in particular. Different people have different strengths and ideas. I am always interested in distinctive thinking and people who passionately pursue what they believe in.

Walk or drive?


Dream car, if any?

A solar-powered self-driving sports car with a high level of comfort and external air bags.

Meet or email?


Are you an early bird or a night owl?

I used to be a night owl. Now I’m an early bird.

Favourite sport? To watch or play?

Watch: American football. Play: Basketball