A Renaissance Man

Sulieman al Hajri was born far from the bright lights and big city though, as all of his family are from Bidiyah, on the edge of the renowned Wahiba Sands. His father was a respected merchant, trading in the East African region. One of five children, he is very proud of his siblings, of whom one works in the aviation industry, another in the military, while his younger sister, Maryam, established a real estate brokerage in the UAE many years ago, and is still actively involved in this busy commercial sector.

Though his formative education began in Abu Dhabi, he was to return to secondary education in Oman and succeeded in obtaining a scholarship to Cardiff University in Wales, in the UK.
Studying at Cardiff was demanding he said.“The West is a very different society, and there is so much competition for jobs and opportunities among the graduates that the standard of achievement, and the competition for grades is so intense! But it was a good lesson in responsibility and accountability for me, and thanks to my faith, and my character, I was able to match that intensity and eventually succeed,” graduating with an Engineering degree in 1985.
“I returned to Abu Dhabi then, to work for an upstream oil production company,” he recalled, “and by 1986 greater opportunities were available for Omanis to return home and support the growth of the nation.” He joined Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) in February, 1986, as a young production engineer.
He progressed through the organization in a number of different departments and was cross posted to Norway in 2008.
In Norway Al Hajri was to assume a role in developing Asset Reference Plans, addressing the opportunities for, and the challenges of developing oil production assets to gain maximum benefit throughout the entire oil production process.
Still very much involved in the oil production stream, Al Hajri’s current job title in PDO is ‘Corporate Function Discipline Head for Programming,’ and as he explained, “My role is to investigate and implement best industrial practices to producing oil, utilising latest the technologies for hydrocarbon recovery.” He appears too, significantly involved in the development of the ‘people’ side of his role, developing the human resources assets of the company, and admits to intense satisfaction in seeing other Omanis develop under his supervision.
Al Hajri shakes his head in awe as he reflects upon the changes in Oman under Sultan Qaboos, and is equally proud to be an employee of PDO.“Not only because I have a good job, and a salary that rewards my knowledge and experience appropriately,” he said, “but because the company is so active in so many sectors of the wider Omani community.
There are important community health and education initiatives and more.
It’s just so humbling to be a part of such a dynamic socially responsible organization that reflects the care that is such a part of our culture.”
“Of course, other societies never leave us untouched,” he laughed, commenting that his appreciation of classical music such as the amazing Operatic sensation Andrea Bocelli, and more eclectic tastes across the board in keyboard phenomenon Yanni, Reggae stars UB40, and Grammy winner Christopher Cross are legacies of his European experiences.
One thing that makes Al Hajri different to many of his fellow oil industry employees is his leisure interest of fishing, sometimes in competition with other fishermen, and at other times simply for the relaxation.
He has been an energetic Club Captain, responsible for the organization of all of the club competitions, training programs and health and safety issues, but now takes a back seat, as the next generation assumes those responsibilities.
Though, as he said with a smile, “I’m never very far away.”
He became thoughtful, and serious for a moment as he reflected, “The sea can be an unforgiving place, and we must respect the dangers and challenges it presents, by ensuring that ourselves, our boats, and equipment are all in perfect condition each time we venture out on the gulf.” Of course, he will not go to sea without checking the weather forecast thoroughly, even if the sky is clear and the sea looks calm.
Very aware of the historical and cultural links that Oman has always had with fishing by many of the sultanate’s coastal inhabitants.
He thinks that this may be where his interest, and his passion for fishing come from.
He doesn’t fish using traditional small Omani fishing craft, known as Shashah or Bagarah or old fashioned methods, such as nets or long lines with many hooks on them.
He prefers a much more modern approach. Al Hajri’s latest boat is 7 meters long with a fiberglass hull and It is powered by two massive outboard motors which can speed him to the fishing grounds at around 30 kph.
He uses carbon, or fibreglass fishing rods, and titanium reels made in the US and Japan, while his selection of lines, hooks and lures is globally sourced.
He is adamant too that technology is available and should be used, and he has a special marine GPS system with which he can save the best locations for fishing, and find them again at any time.
He also uses a depth finder, to show how deep the water is at any time, as well as the structure of the sea bed.
This is helpful in locating likely places for good fishing.
Sometimes, this technology also acts as a fish finder, by identifying schools of small fish, which usually means there are larger fish close by.
“I preferring to fish on the bottom of the sea,” Al Hajri said with a grin, “Catching fish such as Hamour, Andag, and the colorful Sultan Ibrahim, because they are the best to eat.”
To catch these fish he uses sardines, squid or shrimps for bait and drops a weighted line to the bottom.
The fish bite, and he has to react quickly to hook the fish, and then reel it in.
This, given big fish and anything from 80 metre to 260 metre depths, requires fitness, which he maintains with a regular daily exercise routine of a 5km jog and 2km swim most days.
He has also caught many of the Gulf of Oman’s world class big game fish, like Marlin, Sailfish, Tuna, Wahoo and Dorado, also known as Mahi Mahi.
The latter is the most beautiful iridescent green color, strong and athletic, often leaping many feet out of the water to try and get free from the fisherman’s line.
These ‘game’ fish are predators, and are caught using a variety of lures, most of which are plastic and fiberglass, colorful imitations of bait fish like sardines, anchovies, or small squid.
These can even be weighted, or designed, to swim exactly like real fish, to dive and perform in the water in such a way as to attract their attention.
Al Hajri explained that, “The lures are towed behind the boat, and attract the predators with their movement, sound, and even different colors. They attack the bait aggressively, in what we call a strike,’ and the fight is then on!”
“I love the thrill of fishing,” he said brightly, and then earnestly commented that, “I also respect them, and specially the game fish, and I have often caught and then released them to live and fight another day, as my humble way of demonstrating that respect.”
His other time consuming interest is a house in a small village of Salima, in the popular tourist area of Hammana in Lebanon, that sits in a four-hectare plot with olive trees, and a pine plantation.
There are also several fruit trees with apples, oranges, nectarines and Clementine mandarins.
He enjoys the fact that he has built the villa, and developed the horticultural side of the property himself.
“It’s really helpful,” he said, “That gardening is my other hobby. I take my holidays in Lebanon mainly to look after the trees and crops, with almost very thing done by myself as I only hire roughnecks for few jobs.
During the different seasons I plough and cultivate the land, remove bushes, grass and weeds as I need to, and apply the necessary manure.
The olive crop is harvested and processed on the farm itself, and the olive oil I bring to Oman is of an amazingly high quality.
I share some of it with family and friends and the remainder is sold to cover some of my expenses.”
A family man who has always prioritised educational opportunities and commitment for his children, Al Hajiri takes parental pride in the fact that his and Jamila’s eldest son, Sultan is a Doctor in Muscat.
“Also, my eldest daughter Eiman previously taught at the University of Nizwa, but is currently studying in Switzerland, while Tariq returned last year from studying at the Auckland Institute of Technology in New Zealand, and is now an electrical engineer with PDO, while the youngest son Ghassan is currently at university.” Fatma’s two younger girls Rawan and Layaan have their academic lives ahead of them, but both demonstrate the family tradition of being academically strong.
Sulieman Al Hajri has come a long way from Bidyah, but never forgotten his humble origins.
He has studied hard, worked harder, played hard, provided better, and been, I’m sure, an example of what His Majesty Sultan Qaboos originally envisaged for he, and so many others, to study and learn, then come home to be a vibrant part of the rebirth of the Sultanate, to be a man of Oman, for all seasons, a genuine renaissance man.

Text by Ray Petersen and Photos by Yelena Petersen