Computer scientist, academic, management expert, keen sportsman, businessman, farmer, doting husband and father.
Dr Salem Al-Naemi, president of the College of the North Atlantic – Qatar (CNA-Q), is a multi-faceted personality who has left an indelible mark on all the positions he has held and the different roles he has played, and is endowed with undiminished enthusiasm and ample energy to scale even greater heights.
The following interview with Dr Al-Naemi takes the reader through his experiences as a teenager in high school, at a university far from home to his first jobs and the challenges he had to face in his career, prior to becoming what he is today.
met Dr Al-Naemi, a well-travelled person with a passion for sports who discovered at a very young age in school that he was a good athlete and trained in the national team.
“I was good in school, and I noticed that being in athletics was going to take a lot of my time, so I decided to stick to studies,” he recounted.
Dr Al-Naemi said he was a good volleyball player and a soccer midfielder, and he enjoys basketball but “my favourite sport until today is running … I still run”.
From his running experience, he learned about setting goals and how to be the first at the finish line.
Dr Al-Naemi with produce from his farm
“That is my major drive in life, I always take it with me. You set a goal for yourself and you have to achieve it, so being the first one to cross that line is not easy, but I try to,” he said with the smile of an achiever.
This mindset has always been with Dr Al-Naemi as he keeps going back to the value of education and learning for the young generation.
He is of the view that “they should learn and apply time management skills, to plan and make sure that they use their time efficiently, in addition to being open-minded and disciplined in their lives in order to achieve their goals and dreams”.
As an academic who wants to set directions to young generations, Dr Al-Naemi said: “My dream was to pursue my higher education to get a PhD.
“I am always on time, I respect people who respect time; one has to work hard and accept the result, even if you don’t do well, that’s a learned lesson, so you can do better next time.”
He studied at a prestigious US university and specialised in computer science; he has a double major in data science and mathematics.
This opened the door for him to become an academic, but he was picked up by the private sector that was looking for “my data science expertise and my willingness to work with the shipping industry”.
“Soon, I realised that this industry was very hard work, international in its nature and unique in its own way: you always have to plan for growth, to be dynamic and to be up to the challenge of fair competition, and to meet it.”
Dr Al-Naemi faced this major challenge.
“I went for an MBA from a US university by distance learning after years of getting my doctorate, and in spite of simultaneously running a private business, this meant even more hard work at night, considering the time difference between Qatar and the US, and I had a family and three growing children.
“I considered myself a full-time student and I achieved it in order to solve the shipping sector issues and the challenges I had to deal with on a daily basis.”
He added: “I overcame those challenges, then when I returned to university, I brought back the experience accumulated from the private sector to education.”
Dr Al-Naemi is grateful to his mathematics teacher who taught him in the ninth grade.
“He made me love math, that’s why I majored in computer science and math.
“He played a major role in my life, but the ultimate role model in my life is my father, who taught me how to be caring, to work hard, to commit myself to whatever I do and to keep motivating myself all the time; that was my personality even before I went to the US.”
Dr Al-Naemi said that “in fact, both my parents were hardworking people whom life taught those lessons without going to school or university, and it is important for us to learn not only from them but from people in society and community, and even from people younger than you sometimes”.
He grew up in Qatar and remembers that like his young peers, he used to go hunting in the desert or to make tea and enjoy the scenery.
“So, I cherished another dream, I always dreamt about having my own farm, and I am a farm owner now, not only so but I am a producer of vegetables, which played a very major role during the blockade.”
Dr Al-Naemi said that even though he does not come from a farming background, “I also learned and studied these skills and today, I am a very active farmer and I am present on the market too with my farm produce”.
If you wondered about how he manages to run one of the major colleges in the country and at the same time take care of such a big farming project, he is very quick to react with a smile and ease.
“I always go back to the initial principle of good planning and time management: you have to be really well-organised, to delegate as much as you can.
“As a computer science specialist, I am a systems guy, so you develop a system and it works by itself.”
Dr Al-Naemi has a very busy schedule at CNA-Q.
He said: “I manage to go to the farm if not every day, it’s every other day, and I am in touch with both worlds thanks to the systems devised to keep abreast of all the academic activities and follow up my business closely, without missing my sports activities.”
With insights into the future, Dr Al-Naemi believes that “Qatar has changed very fast since the 1990s”.
“Today, there are many highrise buildings everywhere, and this brings the technological development which made our lives much easier, but it brought challenges with it,” he said.
He pointed out the services provided online by ministries as a major help to the economy, as well as the satisfaction of their users.
Dr Al-Naemi said that the population has grown at the same time and this has brought about a lot of diversity.
“Today, you can go to restaurants and enjoy (a diversity of) good food, which wasn’t available in the 1990s.”
He is also proud of the “excellent role of the government in maintaining our culture and customs” with current cultural activities throughout the whole year.
“They take our youth back to our culture and heritage, and at the same time introduce them to residents who also introduce their culture to other people to see and enjoy,” he said, adding that he is very pleased with this cultural diversity.
As the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has upended life like never before in human history, Dr Al-Naemi reflected on “the advantages that this pandemic has given us, such as spending more time with family, caring about others in a community-based society, and about your health, eating and sleeping properly and practising sports”.
“Although this pandemic took us all by surprise, many people – like we did – have been creative in dealing with it,” he added,
With his usual smile, he spoke about his family: “I have a small family with a lovely wife and three lovely kids, who are all different; the elder son is a chemical engineer and a business boy, a daughter who specialised in finance, and a second one who is pursuing her studies in medicine.
“It is important to present different points of views and to give ideas to young people, which might help them with their choices in life.”