Written by
Mary Appleton

02 Sep 2015

Passion to excel

02 Sep 2015 • by Mary Appleton

Abdulrahman Saqrs passion

As senior vice-president of HR and head of Emiratisation at First Gulf Bank, Abdulrahman Saqr’s passion lies in developing its ability to attract more Emiratis to careers in the banking and finance sector.

Part of his mission is to maintain good relations between the bank and Emirati staff members by implementing a well developed Emiratisation strategy that is focused on career development.

Saqr is driven by long-term planning for the future of the bank, the finance sector and the Abu Dhabi economy – helping to ensure the skills of the national workforce are developed for years to come.

“The success of any organisation lies in its people,” he says. “We wouldn’t be where we are now without our dedicated, talented team. We are always working towards retaining the best talent in the market and on creating innovative training and development programmes to offer our employees the support they need to excel. In return, we hope they will stay with us.”

Tapping into national talent

An AED 29.6 billion business, First Gulf Bank (FGB) is one of the largest equity-based banks in the UAE. Established in 1979 and headquartered in Abu Dhabi, the bank has branches in Singapore and Qatar, representative offices in India and Hong Kong and a subsidiary in Libya.

At the top of Saqr’s agenda is recruiting qualified UAE nationals and organising training programmes to enhance the skills of UAE youth. He is keen to point out the breadth of opportunities available for nationals within the bank, which he describes as “so much more than money and figures.”

“We want to establish ourselves as an employer of choice for talented individuals in the banking and finance sector,” he explains. “To engage with young people, we are active participants in all the UAE’s career fairs where we meet potential candidates, conduct interviews and explain to visitors what working in FGB is all about. This really helps people understand what a career with us could look like.”

As part of FGB’s Emiratisation plan, the bank has recently enhanced the ratio of Emirati employees from 31% to 33% by filling over 70 roles in 2013 – an impressive figure given that, on average, only 8.7% of private sector jobs in Abu Dhabi are held by Emiratis. Saqr hopes this figure will increase to 34% in 2014 and highlights the importance of providing robust career development opportunities to keep nationals motivated and engaged. This aligns with one of the bank’s key values: ‘Passion to excel’.

“We seek candidates who aim for professional growth,” he explains. “We develop each team member into a competent professional and pledge to give them competitive skills.”

Career development opportunities

Saqr is responsible for guiding Emirati employees at the bank and keeping track of their performances by interacting with them and their managers on a regular basis. For Saqr, progress and learning never stops. He is keen to encourage all employees to enrol in training programmes and seek mentorship and guidance from their seniors.

During his tenure, Saqr has also led the implementation of several programmes to enhance the overall work environment at the bank for all employees. Saqr outlines the five main UAE national development programmes: mentoring, graduate trainee, coaching and development, junior entry and full and part-time recruitment.

Each programme is designed to empower UAE candidates with skills that make them more competitive, versatile and adaptive to today’s changing work environment, explains Saqr. “As a result, this will also have a positive domino effect on the UAE economy,” he adds.

He goes on to describe a couple of the programmes in detail, and what these offer employees. “Our Al Masar development initiative provides talented Emiratis with fast-track opportunities,” explains Saqr. “The 12-month programme will develop high potential employees and prepare them for the next step in their careers. It offers customised career guidance as well as development opportunities tailored to each participant’s strengths. 

“We also offer the 18-month Nujoom management scheme, currently in its third phase, which has been developed to train and qualify fresh graduates to take on managerial positions through real-life work scenarios, guidance and mentoring. The Al Manara and Qudurati schemes aid in the ongoing development of our Emirati employees.”

As well as academic learning and professional development opportunities, the bank hosts a number of events for nationals throughout the year, including a staff recognition gala, to celebrate success.

Continuous learning

FGB also has its own business school structured around seven academies. It offers courses based on functions such as corporate or retail banking and competencies 
including leadership and management training schemes. The institution also runs courses and curricula for specialist roles in auditing, risk management, legal, IT, operations and HR. Employees can access specific subjects that are structured around skills particular to their respective roles.

This is all based around the bank’s ethos that the best professionals are those who don’t just stay in their comfort zones. “We believe that you should constantly be pushing yourself to go further, aim higher and try harder,” says Saqr. “We continuously adapt, evolve and enhance our services and our employees.”

Striving for success

Saqr himself has enjoyed a varied and progressive career. Before moving into HR, he began his career in engineering, studying for his instrumentation and control engineering degree at Indiana State University in the US. He went on to work in the oil and gas sector in a variety of engineering roles, for organisations including Emirates National Oil Company, Schlumberger and ADCO (Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Operations) both locally and internationally. He switched to the banking industry after being approached by Standard Chartered Bank and confesses he has “never looked back”. He joined FGB in July 2012.

Saqr credits his career progression to his family, who he describes as ‘true advocates of education’. He explains: “My family invested in my learning and encouraged me to enhance my knowledge and broaden my thinking. My father taught me to be ambitious, determined and competitive.”

Transforming the brand

During Saqr’s tenure, FGB has been awarded the ‘Best Bank in the United Arab Emirates’ and ‘Best Bancassurance’ titles at last year’s Banker Middle East Industry Awards. It was also ranked as the third most powerful company in the UAE and sixth leading bank in Forbes’ ‘Top 500 in the Arab World’ list.

While recognition of this kind helps position the bank as an employer of choice among potential candidates, Saqr reveals that it wants to build on this by refreshing its identity and incorporating a new brand platform. The bank will now use the acronym ‘FGB’ and will communicate using a new brand platform called ‘Be First.’

“Our new brand will serve as much more than just an identity,” explains Saqr. “Be First is a new communications platform that will support operational and cultural initiatives across the bank. Being first is at the core of our character and values (people-focused, partnership with trust and integrity, pursuit and innovation, passion to excel). It will help provide context and clarity to our actions and always inspire us to grow our business.”

Saqr admits the economic crisis has made a long-lasting impact on markets worldwide. While he believes the UAE has been less affected than other areas, he acknowledges that the mindsets of job seekers and recruiters have changed. As a result, both sides seek greater transparency and honesty. 

“Companies must clearly convey their values and ideals and update employees on developments. We work hard to do this,” he says.

For junior positions, FGB reaches out to potential candidates through career fairs and hosts interns each year.

Next on Saqr’s agenda is a project that will broaden FGB’s approach to identify and attract UAE nationals from different sectors, pools and backgrounds. “We have to bring innovation and creativity to the Emiratisation piece besides ensuring that best HR practices are in full implementation. Out of the box solutions will make Emiratisation more successful, not only in FGB but the country as whole,” he concludes.

About Abdulrahman Saqr

  • Biggest career achievement to date: Earning my employers’ trust and ensuring that they feel confident in my abilities.
  • What keeps you awake at night? Fear of failure.
  • What are you passionate about? Leading a good life, including spending time with my family, succeeding in my career, enjoying sports and travelling the world.
  • Tell us something about yourself that not many people know: I am a dreamer and my dreams are limitless.


  • Book: 10 Ways to Lead in the Middle East – Dr Tommy.
  • Weir. It is very relevant to our reality.
  • Film: Gladiator.
  • Last holiday: Disneyland Paris with my family.