Postcard from Dubai: Global Australians are prepared for anything

Adam Malouf, Advance Ambassador in the United Arab Emirates

Adam Malouf Advance Ambassador in the United Arab Emirates

Please tell us a little bit about yourself, where your home is in Australia, and where you now call home.

I was born in Sydney, Australia, and as I moved through my tertiary studies, and my early years in the workforce, I quickly realised I wanted to become a global Australian. The prospect of moving overseas, starting somewhere completely new, and working with other cultures and other ways of practice was so enticing to me. Now with 20 years of experience as a C-suite executive and non-executive company director, I look back at the different roles, spanning multiple industries, and the different skills they required – cross-border experience, cultural awareness, and commercial nous.

I’m now living in Dubai, where I’ve been the Chief Investment Officer at the Knowledge Fund, one of the Government of Dubai’s sovereign wealth funds, since 2018, which also has an endowment fund component.

What led you to move overseas, and what advice would you give for those following your path?

After finishing high school, I undertook two degrees at UNSW: Commerce and Law. From there, I started my first post university job at a large law firm, and quickly realised that I wanted more. I wanted to move overseas and be an even smaller fish in an even bigger pond. Originally, I was looking at places like London, New York, Singapore, Hong Kong etc. But then Dubai came up on my radar. I was intrigued, so I decided to book myself a flight over there just to see what the place was like.

I was instantly sold on the can-do attitude that the people here have in bucket loads.

No matter what sphere it’s in, I’ve been truly amazed by the infectious attitude over here, and I think it really gels well with that Aussie spirit we all know so well, which embodies directness, objectiveness, and an ability to get the job done.

If I had to give advice for those following in my footsteps, I’d give 5 key tips:

  1. Be pragmatic and forthright in your communication, but don’t let it get in the way of being respectful. Especially if you’re in a culture in which you aren’t totally aware of the various nuances. 
  2. Make sure to have multiple backup plans and contingencies. As we’ve learned from the past few years, anything can happen, so be prepared for the unexpected as much as you possibly can. 
  3. Try to always speak from a position of strength. Make sure you’ve done your research thoroughly, and don’t speak out on topics too quickly without knowing what you’re talking about.
  4. Delivering good news is easy, but an important lesson will come from learning to deliver bad news. Every career will involve an aspect of this and doing it successfully can be make or break. Try not to paper over bad news because it will eventually come back to haunt you. 
  5. Finally, no matter who you are or what you do, there is nothing more important than the relationships you hold with others. Don’t put making new friends and connections to the wayside, it’s so important to have a healthy network wherever you are. Try joining activities or events in topics you enjoy, and make friends based on interest rather than agenda – these foundations are where the best friendships are built. 

What’s been one of the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome in making your move?

The biggest challenge was learning how to conduct business in an emerging market, which was constantly in a state of flux from a commercial and cultural perspective, and having to deal with new laws and regulations constantly coming into play, and how these were applied to business dealings in practice. 

With the flurry of activity in a fast-growing market, and myriad changes to keep pace with, around 6 months after my move, I realised that I actually liked this pace of development, as it was extremely stimulating and rewarding (particularly from a professional perspective).

How have you found creating a new network in your new home? Have you still managed to maintain your connections in Australia?

Dubai and the wider Gulf region is actually very similar to Australia in a lot of ways. Just like back at home, you have this fantastic melting pot of people and cultures from all around the world, and there’s just so much to learn from any place like that. It’s not homogeneous by any stretch of the imagination. What applies in Australia, the US, Europe, Asia, it’s the same here – building relationships, trust and rapport as the foundation of doing business. 

I had to create a network from scratch, and I did this by immersing myself in the culture, meeting as many people as possible, attending numerous events and business seminars, and absorbing as much as possible in terms of knowledge, insights, and tips, while at the same time, imparting the professional knowledge that I had to help people solve issues and identify opportunities. Mutual benefit is always paramount.

I have also maintained strong connections in Australia, even after all these years. Many of these connections I had before I left Australia, and many of them I formed whilst being in the Middle East, as the region has increasingly become significant in terms of two-way trade and investment between Australia and the Middle East.

The desire to maintain these connections has been instinctive to a certain extent, and also with an eye on the fact that one day I will come back to Australia. I am proud of the deep connections that I have developed in the Middle East, and there is no doubt that I will maintain these even after I return home.

What are some of the benefits that have come from becoming a Global Australian?

It was always my intention to be a Global Australian. I think the incredible thing about growing up in Australia, and getting an education there, is that you really are prepared for almost anything the world can throw at you, and you want to use that, test it out, and start putting yourself outside your comfort zone, and tackle challenges that you may have originally thought were out of your reach.

Moving to the Middle East has been one of the best decisions that I have made, both from a personal and professional development perspective. What that means is that, when I do return to Australia, I will bring with me a rich tapestry of international experience and capability; for companies in Australia looking to expand abroad generally, or who are looking to become more competitive, lean and efficient. Global Australians are best placed to rise to the occasion, and are important in ensuring that Australia continues to cement its position on the world stage in many industries and initiatives, through continued innovation, uniqueness, and practicality.

Connect with Adam

Adam Malouf is a C-Suite executive (CIO, COO, CFO) and non-executive director with over 20 years of global experience, across multiple geographies and industries based in Dubai, UAE.