Beat the clock

Srood Sherif, CIO of the National Bank of Abu Dhabi takes ACN on a exclusive tour of what life is like for right at the top of the tree in one of IT’s most demanding verticals – and how, after more than 30 years, he’s still keen to make a difference. Imthishan Giado reports.

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By  Imthishan Giado Published  September 7, 2008

Srood Sherif, CIO of the National Bank of Abu Dhabi takes ACN on a exclusive tour of what life is like for right at the top of the tree in one of IT’s most demanding verticals – and how, after more than 30 years, he’s still keen to make a difference. Imthishan Giado reports.

They really don’t make them like this any more.

A former basketball player who represented Iraq at the 1972 Olympics and the 1974 Asian Games, Abu Dhabi’s number one squash player in the 1990s, an avid sailor, a self-trained IT professional who’s taken the National Bank of Abu Dhabi from mainframes to being one of the region’s foremost financial innovators, a leader responsible for more than 180 staff – these are just some of the many faces of Srood Sherif, a CIO who’s packed more into the last 30 years than some people manage in their entire lifetimes.

In a region now famed for its lack of permanency, Sherif stands out as an IT professional who started right at the bottom in one department within an organisation and climbed steadily – some might say inexorably – all the way to the top.

Today, he presides over a 180-strong department and with the help of his right-hand man, CTO Charles Wilder, has taken the bank through three core banking upgrades and produced a number of innovations, including his recent SMS Money system. It’s an envious position to be in – and yet, rare amongst his peers, Sherif gravitated towards IT not because of ambition or a particular aptitude for technology – but because of boredom.

A basketball player with the Iraqi national team, he participated at the Munich Olympics in 1972 and the Teheran Games in 1974. Shortly afterwards, he received an invitation from Abu Dhabi’s Al-Wahda club to play for them as an international professional. His initial response was not entirely charitable.

“My first impression was: ‘Where is that?’ I didn’t know where it was, because in 1977, I had never heard of the UAE! But my father convinced me that it was a good country with a growing economy in the nearby Gulf,” says Sherif.

“That year, I was nominated Player of the Year in Iraq. Everything was tempting me not to go. I was being interviewed by TV, newspapers and so on. But I took the decision anyway,” he continues.

Sherif arrived in Abu Dhabi on Aug 2, 1977. Apart from dealing with the stifling humidity, he spent an uneventful two and half years playing for Al-Wahda, mostly at night. Yearning for something to do during the daytime, Sherif took the advice of the club chairman and at the urging of a friend, applied for a job at NBAD. He remembers being far from confident at the time that the job was for him.

“With my degree in electronics, I didn’t think I could work in a bank. My friend said they had a small computer department with six staff who seemed to be only reading books – so I might as well join them! The second day after applying, I got a phone call from the bank asking if I would come in, and I was hired,” he recalls.

THE TEAM RESPONDS: HOW OFTEN DOES SHERIF MEET YOU AND YOUR TEAM?

Saher Arar – IT strategy and planning manager

Per day, I see him about three to four times. I don’t like to talk to people when I still have sleep in my eyes so around 9:30-10am would be the first meeting.

Jamal Abboud – Business and user support manager

Not frequently. We meet regularly, but he doesn’t meet my team leaders or their subordinates more than twice a year. It would be useful to meet with the whole team and listen to them at least once a month or once a quarter.

Charles Wilder – Systems and architecture manager

It’s sort of a casual situation. We have formal meetings but if I’ve got a situation that needs a quick decision, I knock on his door. If he’s available, he welcomes me in, we discuss the issue and that’s how we get things done.


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