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A New Era of Business Education at AUB
The Suliman S. Olayan School of Business

On June 20 the AUB Board of Trustees unanimously passed a resolution to name the University’s business school in honor of former trustee, close friend, and ardent supporter Suliman S. Olayan. It is a tribute not only to Mr. Olayan’s accomplished international career but also to his vision and integrity. Lynn Mahoney takes a look at how the Suliman S. Olayan School of Business promises to transform business education throughout the region.

In the arena of international business, alliances occur almost daily and yield significant benefit for both parties involved. In June a landmark alliance was forged at AUB when the University announced that it was naming its business school in honor of former trustee and cherished friend, the late Suliman S. Olayan, founder of The Olayan Group. The association promises to transform business education throughout the region.
In commenting on the honor bestowed upon his friend and colleague, Board of Trustees Chairman Richard A. Debs said: “During the course of his career, Suliman Olayan earned a reputation not only as one of the world’s most astute and highly trusted private investors, but also as an effective bridge between cultures and economies… He was a towering figure in the international business world who built his empire in the old fashioned way—with hard work, vision, and unimpeachable integrity. His children, equally imbued with the same values, have built upon his extraordinary success.”
The board of directors of The Olayan Group welcomed the decision. “Though he had no formal education of his own, my father had an insatiable love for learning throughout his entire life. He was a great promoter of education, not only for his children but for the wider world as well, and he was a great admirer and friend of AUB,” remarked Khaled Olayan, Mr. Olayan’s son and chairman of The Olayan Group. “We are very proud of this designation by one of the region’s great universities, which has provided progressive education to successive generations of students from the Middle East and beyond. This honors both my father’s memory and the institution for which he cared so deeply.”

Building Bridges Between East and West Over a Lifetime: Suliman S. Olayan

Suliman S. Olayan was born in 1918 in ‘Unayzah, Saudi Arabia. In 1947 he launched the modest enterprise that later grew into The Olayan Group—a simple trucking company in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province.
His small business grew quickly, and by the 1950s Mr. Olayan had already caught the attention of professionals in the region—including a professor of business at AUB, Richard Farmer. At the University’s International Advisory Council Symposium in June 2000, Mr. Olayan’s daughter Hutham, an AUB alumnus and trustee, talked about that first Olayan–AUB “connection.” She explained that Professor Farmer wrote a case study on Mr. Olayan for the 1959 spring issue of Business History Review, published by Harvard University. The article, which was entitled, “Local Entrepreneurship in Saudi Arabia,” had noted that ‘Unayzah had seen better days financially and that Mr. Olayan’s chances for prosperity were not great. Quoting from the article, Ms. Olayan said: “Olayan can realistically consider operating in competition with other Arabs in any country in the region. He has learned enough to be competitive, if not over competitive, with any firm in sections of the Arab world considered more advanced, such as Lebanon, Egypt, or Iraq. He is astute enough to do well in the United States if he tried, since he has one asset which not all Americans possess—the ability to learn new tricks. In large part, this explains his considerable success.”
Mr. Olayan indeed “learned new tricks” and went on to fabulous business success not only in the Middle East but also throughout the world. His career spanned 55 years, until his death on July 4, 2002. Throughout those decades, Suliman S. Olayan served with high distinction as an entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist. His operations expanded from Saudi Arabia into the Middle East, and eventually to the United States and Europe. Under his brilliant leadership, The Olayan Group became a leading diversified enterprise in Saudi Arabia and a major participant in the field of global investing.
Mr. Olayan’s wife, Mary, and their children are all involved in The Olayan Group. Khaled succeeded his father as the group’s chairman, and his daughters also hold high positions of leadership: Hutham is president and CEO of Olayan America Corporation; Hayat, also an AUB alumnus, is an advisor to the Group’s Board of Directors; and Lubna is CEO of the Olayan Financing Company, which is responsible for all of the Group’s businesses and investments in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.
Throughout his life, Suliman S. Olayan’s interests extended well beyond business to international affairs, economics, education, medicine, and science. At home and abroad, he earned recognition for his tireless efforts on behalf of his company, his community, and his country, as well as in the development of international relations. Among the international honors he received were Knight Commander of the British Empire (KBE), the Royal Order of the Polar Star from Sweden, and the Order of Merit from Spain.
AUB always remained a special Olayan interest. In 1980 The Olayan Group established the Suliman S. Olayan Endowed Scholarship, which since its inception has provided financial aid for 80 needy students. Following the bombing of College Hall in 1991, The Olayan Group constructed a fountain in the courtyard area between the newly rebuilt College Hall and the Jafet Memorial Library—a beautiful campus landmark that brings tranquility to a bustling spot. Further testimony of Mr. Olayan’s firm belief in the high quality of an AUB education is that The Olayan Group has hired many AUB graduates to staff its offices throughout the world.
AUB honored Mr. Olayan with a University Medal for his long-standing support of higher education at its International Advisory Council Symposium held in New York in 2000. Modestly accepting the award, Mr. Olayan said, “I have been associated with AUB for 50 years, six of them as a trustee. AUB has educated generations of young people of the Middle East, including many from Saudi Arabia. I’m proud that two of my daughters are graduates of AUB, Hutham and Hayat. And Hutham is now an AUB trustee. I want to thank you for this special honor, and I want to thank everyone here for supporting AUB.”
At the 2003 Suliman S. Olayan School of Business commencement exercises, Hutham Olayan shared some reflections on her father with the new graduates, “I wish you had known Suliman Olayan. Every encounter with him was a lesson. He taught by quiet example. He taught his children and employees to be modest, thrifty, and humble. He had no patience for big egos, only for developing the true self. He taught us to respect individual differences. He never made any distinction at all on the basis of race, religion, nationality, or gender. These things were simply irrelevant. For him, only character mattered.”

Shaping the Vision of Business Education at AUB

At AUB’s 2003 commencement ceremonies, Dean George Najjar of the Suliman S. Olayan School of Business proclaimed: “This is no ordinary event and no customary commencement. Even though it may appear so, it is nonetheless the dawn of the Suliman S. Olayan School of Business as the first named faculty at AUB, and indeed in the entire region.”

Business education, which has been offered at AUB since 1900, has operated under various names and faculties. Most recently, the program was housed within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. However, in 2000 the University moved the program into its own separate faculty to make way for the introduction of a cutting-edge curriculum based on the leading US and European business programs. Najjar explained, “We looked at three things in establishing the new business faculty. First, we revisited our mission and strategic objectives, then we examined our internal organizational structure, and we concentrated on overhauling the old curriculum and replacing it with a new, dynamic one.”
It was determined that AUB’s business education program would not only be the best in the Middle East; it would aim at becoming the finest in the region between Europe and the Far East. By adopting some of the latest in teaching and research methods, the new business school would seek to be on par with any business school in the United States while also holding significant relevance for the region. An essential part of the effort was updating the curriculum, which had been in place for the last 20 years.
To undertake that important task, a committee was quickly formed, composed of a selection of the University’s full-time faculty members and leading professors from top business schools in the United States. Their job was to make a benchmark investigation into the best practices in business education worldwide and come up with a new custom-built business curriculum for AUB. The committee also had access to top executives in international corporations, such as Citibank, Unilever, and Merrill Lynch. “The result was that we produced a program that is generally recognized as the most advanced in the Middle East—even by United States standards—because we were able to leapfrog to the top. So much so, that we earned very interesting accolades from people like the dean of the Sloan School of Management at MIT, and senior professors from Harvard, Arizona, and Georgetown, to name a few,” Najjar noted with pride.
With entrepreneurial spirit, AUB moved fast to staff its new business school—increasing its faculty from 11 full-time members to 32 by 2003. Najjar emphasized that the numbers are not what is most important; it is the new teaching approach that should be noted. “We are now student-centered and team-based,” he said. The BBA and MBA programs were restructured to merge courses and themes, as is the standard in US business schools. “The story would not be complete though if I did not mention the substantial upgrade in information technology,” Najjar added, “and we are now starting to experiment with some web courses.” A commitment to student services has been made as well. On the ground floor of the present business school building, a student services center has been established to assist with job placement.

A Mission of Excellence: Suliman S. Olayan School of Business

The mission of the Suliman S. Olayan School of Business is eloquently straightforward: to prepare future regional business leaders through the provision of world-class undergraduate and graduate education within a vibrant learning environment conducive to the pursuit of excellence. To carry out this mission, the school is committed to offering students not only a full complement of courses on business practices but also to ensuring that they receive a broad-based liberal arts education that promotes critical thinking and a zeal for life-long learning and ethics.
The Suliman S. Olayan School of Business offers BBA and MBA degree programs, and plans are currently under way for the Executive MBA program. Najjar points out that of the majors offered, finance, management, and marketing are the most popular. Students are able to take advantage of a number of lectures and workshops given by visiting professors from top US business institutions as well as by regional business leaders. It’s no wonder that students are flocking to the Suliman S. Olayan School of Business. As of the last count, the school had 1,267 students enrolled for the 2003-04 academic year.
After spending three years building its new business education program, the University felt that its new sixth faculty had reached a level of success and achievement that made it worthy to carry the name of Suliman S. Olayan. The Olayan family and group welcomed the resolution. “The University is deeply honored to have the name Suliman S. Olayan attached to the school which aims to be without equal in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Arab world,” said AUB President John Waterbury in making the announcement.

It is a tremendous honor for AUB and the business school. “Having the Olayan name associated with the school of business at AUB denotes trust as well as regionality,” explained Najjar. “The Olayan family with its impeccable global name and record has cast AUB as an institution worthy of its name… and that is both a tremendous opportunity and responsibility for AUB. We must live up to it.”
AUB fully intends that the Suliman S. Olayan School of Business will live up to the Olayan name. The path ahead is exciting, full of upcoming projects and plans. Topping the list is construction of the new building that will house the school along the Corniche (see page 17 for details). Meanwhile, as the school’s programs continue to evolve with the latest trends in business education, the Olayan family will definitely stay attuned to its progress. What with Hutham Olayan serving as an AUB trustee and Khaled Olayan sitting on the Suliman S. Olayan School of Business International Board of Overseers.
The future looks promising for the Suliman S. Olayan School of Business, as more and more of its graduates go on to redefine business education in the region. Hutham Olayan imparted excellent advice to this year’s young graduates when she addressed them at the school’s commencement ceremonies. She stressed that as they make their way through life, whether on the professional or personal level, they should always remember the one asset they possess that is more important than any diploma—an asset that can be squandered or damaged if it is not invested wisely. “I am referring to simply this—your name,” she declared. “A name is much more than just a label or something inherited from your parents. A name stands for everything about an individual, a business, or an organization. It stands for the sum total of who you are, what you do, and the manner in which you do it. Name equals brand. Name equals reputation.”
Ms. Olayan continued, “With our names now joined, we cannot afford to let this business school be anything less than the best in the Middle East and among the very best in the world. That is precisely the vision of President Waterbury, Dean Najjar, and the AUB trustees. I have no doubt we will succeed. The school may be young, but it is already highly accomplished. The students before us are living testimony to that remarkable fact.”