17 December 2017

Career Confusion, part 3: Let your ideas be known

In the final part of this three-part series, Ahmed takes initiative and fulfills his ambitions.

I was full of drive to come up with something to tackle the “number discrimination” issue, and also eager to prove myself and gain recognition.

Just a few weeks before this chain of thoughts around “number discrimination” I was caught up with a different idea. It was at the peak of the “Friends & Family” offer where a customer could select a number of contacts from the same network to call for a discounted rate. Operators were keen to keep customers making calls inside their own networks, but as MTN Sudan needed to attract customers from the older operator Zain I thought why not add an “Off-net” number to the “Friends & Family” offer?

I believed I had come up with a break through! Sitting at my desk in HR I wanted to email this idea to Marketing, but I kept thinking I should just stick to my responsibilities and tasks. I feared being belittled because I was just the new kid in HR, so I kept it to myself; I didn’t know how accommodating the MTN Sudan environment was for receiving ideas from different departments, let alone one from an entry level person in HR to be sent to Marketing.

Two days later, MTN Sudan launched the “Off-net Friends & Family” option.

I was happy to realize that my mentality was somewhat in sync with the “cool” marketing guys, but disappointed that I didn’t propose the offer before it was launched; can you imagine the recognition I would have got?! I should not have shied away!

With that experience in mind I made sure that moving forward whatever idea crossed my mind, no matter how small or big I thought it was, I had to communicate it.

So back to the number perception dilemma.

I was constantly trying to come up with something that was both practical and innovative and finally, after a few sleepless nights and continuous day dreaming, I came up with a solution. I had no experience preparing proposals in fancy, heavily-animated power point presentations or in formula populated excel sheets so I presented the proposal in a very simple and plain two page word-document (similar to my “Everyone is a Very Important Person” post, but with additional action points) that was emailed to the Senior Manager of Marketing, Khalid Mansour.

The concept was a new number range – 099.

You know the feeling one gets when you think “Eureka! I have an amazing idea!” then you find out that the idea has been proposed or done before?

Deflation is what you feel.

It was the “Off-net Friends & Family” experience all over again, but at least this time I didn’t shy away and actually proposed it before it was launched!

It turned out MTN had already reserved the range (099) from the National Telecoms Corporation but were yet to communicate that internally, not even to senior executives, and so the proposal actually gave me even more recognition (exactly what I was aiming for; a way out of HR and into the Marketing!). I was invited for a meeting with the Deputy CEO Abdullah Zawiah. Just the feeling of being invited for a meeting on the 6th floor CEO & Corporate Services offices was in itself an achievement, regardless of whether I was being called for the “naughty corner” or a simple pat on the back.

Mr Abdullah Zawiah explained how he was surprised I came up with such a concept; he asked if I had somehow known about the range reservation, he wondered how an entry level HR employee, with a Biomedical Engineering academic background, would come up with such a proposal (does it sound like I’m bragging?! I hope not).

Then he offered me a trial secondment in the Marketing Division. I would spend half of the working day in the HR department doing my usual work, and the other half with the Marketing guys. I was to try it out and see how it went – he said that I may end up not liking it or may not be able to fit in, and if that was the case I would be taken back to HR where I was not really accountable for any financial KPIs or annual revenue and subscriber targets; “You do realize marketing means more pressure of achieving targets!”

Suddenly I had much to digest. I thanked him for his time and left his Nile-view office feeling good, but with a big decision to make. I had reached a positive turning point in my career!

A few days later my journey in Marketing started, working half of the day with the Marketing Communications & Branding department, under Khalid Mansour. I remember his first conversation with me, when he asked: “So why do you want to join Marketing?”. I said “I have a lot of ideas…”, and before I finished my answer he continued “ideas that you want to see becoming solid”.

Working between HR and Marketing in the same day was a hectic task but finally I got it – a permanent position as Segment Marketing Administrator with an amazing mentor in Shehab Salih, the Senior Manager of the Consumer Marketing Department at the time.

During an exceptional four years at MTN Sudan I was privileged to work with a number of mentors, including Syed Ahsan, Awais Malik and Ayman Elnasif in addition to both Khalid Mansour and Shehab Salih. Teamwork and strategic thinking were the secrets to the significant success of the “MTN Sudan Marketing Dream Team” (Cheesy? Yes, but I cannot describe it any better).

It was diversification that got me into the extremely interesting Marketing field in the first place, and the milestone achievements at MTN Sudan meant I was prepared to diversify even further.


I consider the story of my entry into the Telecoms Marketing profession one of my biggest achievements. It created my route to the successes that would later follow, gaining a solid knowledge base that gave me the confidence to enter a few private business start-ups and invaluable experiences in two of the biggest conglomerates in Sudan, first at Haggar Group and now at DAL Group.

Life is full of twists and turns – cliché one might say, yet I consider each phase of my life very influential in where I am at the moment.

As an engineer I believe I acquired a natural characteristic to think differently and in an organized manner.

As a Telecoms Professional I was able to operate in a very dynamic and highly data-rich environment fertile for innovation and creativity which equipped me with invaluable analytical skills and strategic mindset.

As a Marketeer in the Consumer Electronics and FMCGs industries I acquired more customer focused knowledge.

Different roles in centralized marketing functions gave me with a more corporate oriented approach to Strategic Marketing.

I continue to feed my ambitions by tackling diverse strategy and business challenges, catering to my desire to deliver exceptional innovative and strategy centric results.

And so I conclude three things:

  1. It is important never to be negative, as being negative will stagnate your career. One should always make the best out of the worst situations and then the doors will open.
  2. Never shy away from proposing ideas no matter what they are no matter how inexperienced you may think you are.
  3. For graduates or professionals in any stage of their career, to feel that you suddenly don’t know what you want isn’t the end of the world. Don’t listen to people who say “You don’t know what you want!” like it’s a disadvantage, but instead turn it into something positive. Make sure you “don’t know” is not because you are clueless but because you are not yet sure (and you can never be so 100% sure).

People who “don’t know” are lucky because they get to explore the different options in life and jump between one corner of the professional (and unprofessional) world to the other, learning in each phase no matter how frustrating or unenjoyable that phase may be. It is ideal to know, but if you ever “don’t know” make sure you utilize that for your benefit, wisely and productively!

There is an Arabic proverb “winds do not blow as the ships wish”, however ships sail anyway – they still manoeuvre and fight against the winds at times and we should do the same. The environment may not be the one you hoped for, the route may not be what you wished for, but reaching your target is what matters and thus you must adapt and fight the odds to make the best out of the most inconvenient factors you may face.

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