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Fatima Al Hammadi: ‘Don’t under-invest in developing yourself’

[A50 template] Fatima Al Hammadi, COO of KIZAD (AD Ports Group)
Suzanne Locke 28 November 2022
Aurora50 first met Fatima Al Hammadi on AD Ports Group’s in-house leadership accelerator programme for high-potential Emirati women in the organisation, GLOW (Gain Leadership Opportunities for Women).
She graduated our programme last November and then joined our Pathway20 accelerator for boards.
In July she became chief commercial officer of Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi (KIZAD) and ZonesCorp, parts of AD Ports Group. In September it was announced that KIZAD and ZonesCorp economic zones had been integrated into the newly-formed Kezad Group (Khalifa Economic Zones Abu Dhabi Group) , which comprises 12 economic zones with a total area of 550 square kilometres.
Ms Al Hammadi has also recently become a trustee on the board of Khalifa University.
We ask her how she’s managed to fit it all in.

Can you describe your fast-track journey of the past two years?

In 2020, KIZAD and ZonesCorp merged within AD Ports Group. During that phase, I took the roles of both vice-president, commercial and vice-president, investor relations, at ZonesCorp (another AD Ports Group company). They were tough times with the pandemic, a merger between two entities, ambitious targets to be achieved and a team that we needed to keep motivated.
My life was work, work and work – more than 12 hours a day – to ensure nothing slipped.  During that time I also started GLOW. I can still remember the first session, which included lots of questions about career growth, what do we really want and how we can achieve that – lots of useful reflection and life examples of woman who made it to their targets.
So the question was, what is your short-term target and how can you achieve it ? I always knew what I wanted, but this programme helped me change my strategy and focus on how to achieve it by setting priorities and areas for development and focusing on connecting with the right people to support me in this journey.
During the GLOW programme, I connected with other participants from a wide range of industries and backgrounds. The programme delivered a stellar experience, with insightful speakers and relevant case studies.
It was really rewarding to me getting the promotion during the Pathway20 programme, and Aurora50 was always available for advice and support. One of the main reasons I chose to join GLOW programme was that I had under-invested in developing myself during my leadership journey. I wanted to learn more about myself and my gaps to become a better, more effective leader, as well as meeting peers and benefitting from their experience and leadership advice.

What did GLOW give you that has helped your career progression?

It helped me find where there can be trade-offs at work without a clear vision: defining what’s urgent versus what’s important can be overwhelming. Knowing my strength as a leader and what differentiates me as a leader from others was invaluable. It was also an eye-opener to see other areas that I need to focus on to develop myself further, and I started to invest time and effort in that as well.
Now I spend more time on reflection work-related reading and developing and encouraging the team. I give myself more ‘me’ time as well!

What do you hope to get from Pathway20? What sectors will you be looking in for independent board roles?

The way this accelerator is designed helped me exploring the next chapter of my career – not only where I want to be today. It also helped me to develop a broader view of the business and greater insight into our organisation. Time for reflection made me think deeply of who I am as a person – what are my strengths, my life purpose and my aspirations?
I discovered that I still have unexplored passions and unrealised goals that I want to achieve before I retire. I want to continue stepping out of my comfort zone, with the courage and the potential to move ahead into the unknown.
The sectors in which I would look for an independent board role would be anything related to economic and industrial growth, innovation and entrepreneurship. I was recently nominated to Khalifa University’s Industry Advisory Board.

What has been the common thread in your career?

I selected business as the career in which I wanted to develop and excel: customer service was the starting point in my journey. Customer interaction, problem-solving and achieving targets were all things I wanted to do. I went from sales clerk to team leader in sales, then became a manager for customer service and sales support, and then acting director for customer service and after-sales support at telecoms company Etisalat.
My nine years with Etisalat contributed deeply to my experience, interacting with different industry experts and leaders. I then moved from the consumer-facing telecommunications industry to ZonesCorp, the industrial arm for Abu Dhabi, at that time leading the growth of the industrial sector.
For the past nine years I have worked very closely with the industrial sector enabling investors to start their businesses, grow and innovate within Abu Dhabi and the wider UAE.

How do you set yourself career goals?

First I assess where I am today and where I want to be, then I put an action plan in place with clear timelines and get the ball rolling.  In my role as chief commercial officer for ZoneCorp and KIZAD, I’m responsible for the delivery of the company’s commercial strategy to maximise growth and profitability, including total land leased, total revenue generated, a strong sales pipeline, attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) and ensuring successful commercialisation of assets, other products and developments the company invested in.
Establishing the right team to fulfil job requirements, with the right skills, is very important. Achieving our KPIs and contributing to the company’s objectives and vision relies on me building a strong team and providing the right amount of guidance to allow them to recognise opportunities and get deals signed.
I’m very proud of what we have achieved as a team, and will work hard to ensure Abu Dhabi becomes the top destination for investment in the region but this is only the beginning – there is still lots to be done.

Can you tell us about your role models?

As a child, I always saw how highly regarded my dad was: he was always the one to lead most events on both sides of the family. He takes his responsibilities very seriously and has given me many life lessons – he continues to be my mentor now. He recognised that I am motivated by appreciation and driven by competition, and has always put goals in place for me as a result.
My mum was a school principal, a very strong individual to whom I always looked up. Even with her busy schedule she always ensured we were at the top of the class – nothing but number one was good enough for her. She spent her time and effort to raise me with good manners and values, and she gave me direction, support and advice even after I grew up and had my own children.
Baba Zayed (the UAE’s Founding Father, HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan) , our ruler who passed away in 2004, is also family. As an individual and as a leader, he is my role model: his vision, his commitment, his values and his determination are things that I always recall when things get difficult or seem impossible. He keeps hope in me, so I can believe that if we want to achieve something, all we need to do is work towards that goal with focus to make things happen.

What’s your motto in life?

Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, working together is success .

What’s your most valuable skill?

I’m at my very best – motivated, energised and my happiest – when I’m fully engaged at work with my team doing work we enjoy doing, in a journey toward goals and objectives that we have set together.
I’m also at my best when I am working with an organisation whose core purpose I care passionately about – such as growing the industrial sector in the UAE – when I can work on change projects rather than just on routine tasks and also when I am solving problems or clearing obstacles to achieve results. It makes me a better person, more comfortable when I’m on leave and with my family.

You have a small child, and still manage to travel internationally for work – how do you negotiate the work-life-family juggle?

I was blessed with a very supportive family who understand the demand and requirements of my job. It’s all about choices and I have chosen to progress in my career – with this comes situations like this, which I need to manage.