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Shair, Kamal (1930–)

Shair, Kamal
(1930–)

As a prominent Jordanian business entrepreneur, a frontline politician, diplomat, and philanthropist, Kamal Shair emerged from a modest background to play a leading role in the politics of Jordan, the Middle East, and the global economy. While teaching at The American University of Beirut, he had business in mind. He set up Dar Al-Handasah (House of Engineers), a multinational corporate empire that engaged in trade, construction, and manufacturing. From a small and obscure flat in Beirut, Dar Al-Handasah expanded to have offices in thirty-seven countries and competed with Western consultancies to win contracts throughout the Middle East. He lived through and experienced some of the most dramatic events of the modern Middle East. From Nigeria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Angola, Shair has helped in rebuilding broken communities by taking active parts in post-civil war reconstruction programs.

PERSONAL HISTORY

Kamal A. Shair (also Sha'ir) was born in 1930 in al-Salt, Jordan. He grew up and went to school in Transjordan under the British rule. After two years at The American University of Beirut (AUB), he proceeded to the University of Michigan, where he earned a BS and an MS in engineering in 1949 and 1950, respectively. He attended Yale University where he earned a Ph.D. in engineering in 1955. He served as an assistant professor (1956–1958) and an associate professor (1958–1962) of engineering at AUB.

Shair's foray into the world of business was in 1956 when he established Dar Al-Handasah, which has expanded from Jordan to Europe, the United States, Africa, and Asia. Dar Al-Handasah, established with U.S.$10,000 is today 4,000 strong and has registered a turnover of U.S.$300 million in 1999. For twelve years (1989–2001), he served in the Jordan senate. In 2006, Shair published Out of the Middle East: The Emergence of an Arab Global Business.

BIOGRAPHICAL HIGHLIGHTS

Name: Kamal Shair

Birth: 1930, al-Salt, Jordan

Nationality: Jordanian

Education: 1949: B.S., University of Michigan, 1949; M.S., University of Michigan, 1950; Ph.D., Yale University, 1955

PERSONAL CHRONOLOGY:

  • 1956–present: Founding senior partner and managing director, Dar Al-Handasah Consultants (Shair and Partners)
  • 1956–1958: Assistant professor of engineering, The American University of Beirut
  • 1958–1962: Associate professor of engineering, The American University of Beirut (on leave)
  • 1962: Vice president, Jordan Development Board
  • 1962: Governor of the World Bank on behalf of Jordan
  • 1967: Chairman, Board of Directors, Jordan Phosphate Mines Co.
  • 1968: Recipient of First Order of Independence Medal, Jordan
  • 1983: Awarded National Cedar Medal, Lebanon
  • 1985: Controller of Strategic and Operating Plans, Perkins & Will of Chicago; T.Y. Lin of San Francisco; and Penspen of London, U.K.
  • 1986–1992: Member of the Board of Trustees of Beirut University College, Lebanon
  • 1987–present: Member of the Advisory Council of the department of Near Eastern studies, Princeton University
  • 1989–2001: Member of the Jordan senate
  • 1990–present: Member of the Board of Trustees of The American University of Beirut
  • 1993–present: Head of the Committee for Finance and Economic Affairs
  • 1994–1998: Chairman of the Board of Directors, Palestine Development and Investment Co.
  • 1999–present: Member of the Board of Advisors of the MENA region, World Bank
  • 2000–present: Member of the Board of Advisors of the World Bank
  • 2001: Awarded Lebanese Order of Merit Medal, Lebanon
  • Member of American Phi Kappa Phi Society
  • Member of Lebanese Order of Engineers and Architects, Beirut
  • Member of Engineering Union in Iraq
  • Member of Jordanian Syndicate of Engineers
  • Member of Arab Thought Forum

INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS

Shair was inspired by the ancient Arab world and his rural upbringing. At Yale University, Shair helped established the Arab Students' Organization and addressed the British Labour Party Conference. In 1962, he was the vice president of the Jordan Development Board and handled the politics of water supply. Between 1968 and 1969, he helped developed a seven-year plan to eliminate Jordan's dependency on foreign aid. But the plan collapsed due to the 1967 War. Billions of dollars flew into Jordan from the oil-rich Arab governments along with U.S.$850 million per year worth of aid for ten years following the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel in 1978. This led to an aid-driven prosperity that culminated in high single-digit growth in the 1970s and mid-1980s. The flow of aid entrenched the dependency mentality and a sense of false prosperity among Jordanians. The economic crisis has persisted with deepening poverty and unemployment among the masses. In December 1999, Shair was appointed as a member of the Economic Consultative Council (EEC) formed by King Abdullah II to monitor the implementation of vital economic, social, educational, and administrative reforms that could lead Jordan into the twenty-first century.

THE WORLD'S PERSPECTIVE

In many parts of the Middle East, Shair has been recognized for his outstanding professional leadership and achievements, excellent public service, and generous support for education. According to a review of Shair's book,

"By not following the usual pattern of patronage and favours, Shair applied a fresh kind of ethic in an environment with a loosely-structured business ethic…. This is quite an extraordinary tale and a very original prism through which to read the turbulent post-World War II history of the Middle East. At the same time we see the growth, despite all the odds, of one of the world's great engineering and business enterprises in a narrative of epic and inspirational proportions" (Kisostomus).

LEGACY

Shair's legacy and generous contributions have been recognized in the field of education and politics. The American University of Beirut's Suliman Olayan School of Business launched the Kamal Shair Strategic Leadership Executive Program, a pioneering program into the world of leadership education in the Middle East. Shair received national honors from Jordan and Lebanon.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Baharuddin, Zulkafly. "Kamal Shair Predicts Tough Days Ahead, Wishes Jordan Could Eliminate Dependency…," June 15, 2000. Available from http://www.jordanembassyus.org/06152000004.htm.

"Olayan School of Business Launches its Strategic Leadership Executive Program." Available from http://www.aub.edu.lb/news/archive/preview.php.

"Out of the Middle East: The Emergence of an Arab Global Business." Kisostomus. Available from http://www.kriso.ee/.

Shair, Kamal. "Engineers and Science Parks." Plenary paper at the American University of Beirut, 2005. Available from http://wwwlb.aub.edu.lb/.

Shair, Kamal. Out of the Middle East: The Emergence of an Arab Global Business (London 2006).

                                          Rasheed Olaniyi

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