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Meet Mishal Kanoo

Liberal Arts at the heart of Big Business

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Mishal Kanoo ’90, MBA ’94, Chairman of The Kanoo Group

President Richard Ludwick recently sat down with Mishal Kanoo ’90, MBA ’94, as part of a series on technology produced by MAXSTUDIOS. Although the discussion between UST’s President and the Chairman of Kanoo Group in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) centered around the importance of emerging technology, Kanoo often returned to the years he studied philosophy and theology at UST as some of the most formative and impactful.

Kanoo said, “I must say when I was a student, I hated that I had to take courses in theology and philosophy. I was like why? Why do I have to take this? What’s the benefit?” It wasn’t until years later that it all began to sink in for Kanoo; if he understood other people and their cultural norms and drivers, then he would be able to connect with people through mutual understanding, and communication would flow. He started to realize that, especially in business, any negotiation without that fundamental understanding would always result in an “us versus them” mentality.

“I never thought of these things I had learned until I was in the middle of experiencing them during my business transactions,” Kanoo said. “Sometimes, what we think at the time is just a pain, starts to have an effect only when you can take it from a theory and then apply it to the practice of what you are doing. That’s when the magic flows.” 

In an organizational behavior class, Kanoo’s professor once played a game called the ‘talking stick.’ A student holds a stick and says something, then anyone who wants the stick has to hold the other end of the stick and rephrase what the student said. If they truly understood what was communicated by the student, they would then get a turn to be the speaker. This exercise taught Kanoo the importance of taking the time to understand people. “There is a reason God gave us two eyes, two ears and one mouth. It is about developing the skill to not just listen but to hear; to not just look at a person, but to see them. What is their body language telling you?” 

Listening to Kanoo share fond memories of his time and experiences at UST leaves no doubt that they were critical to his formation as a human being and a leader. Kanoo summed it up in just a few words, “These nuggets I learned at UST, they had a profound impact on how I run my business.”

About the Author — Jeff Olsen

AvatarJeff Olsen leads the marketing, branding, communications, public relations, and social media efforts and initiatives at the University of St. Thomas. Olsen came to St. Thomas from Sam Houston State University, where he served as the director of marketing and communications.

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