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Progress is a Process

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Mohsen Almajnouni

Last October, at the First Middle East Process Engineering Conference (MEPEC 2011) in Bahrain, conference chair Mohsen Almajnouni welcomed an international assembly of engineers and business leaders by describing the process engineer as “an asset of an organization who ensures that the wheels of progress and development keep moving forward.”

For Almajnouni, Process Domain Manager at Saudi Basic Industries Corp. (SABIC) and long-time chair of AIChE’s Saudi Arabia Local Section, progress is a byword in a life shaped by the will to embrace change.

Mohsen was born in the Makkah province of Saudi Arabia, where his parents were nomads. Mohsen recalls nomad life as being both simple and difficult, adding that the hard work of daily life made people strong and healthy. Far from the city lights, young Mohsen could marvel at the night sky and the countless stars.

Mohsen’s father, wanting his children to have a chance for an education, moved his family to the city of Makkah (Mecca), where he worked at odd jobs while Mohsen’s mother tended the house and family. The choice to settle in the city was controversial. “Living in the city meant mingling with different people, which could change our manner or conduct. This was not acceptable to some people,” Mohsen recalls.

But the city lights illuminated new possibilities for Mohsen and his family. When one of his older brothers became a Saudi Royal Air Force pilot and another studied in France, Mohsen envisioned finding his own way in the world. “From high school on, I was keen to pursue my education in the U.S.,” he says.

After high school, he joined Saudi Aramco in 1988, which offered a college degree program. Industry needed manpower, and Aramco needed chemical engineers. “The first thing Aramco did was focus on English teaching and college preparation,” Mohsen says. “I didn’t know anything about chemical engineering,” he admits, “but I was ambitious.”

Under Aramco’s sponsorship, Mohsen earned his BS in chemical engineering at King Fahd Univ. of Petroleum and Minerals. He returned to Aramco, working as a process engineer at the Process and Control Systems Dept. in Dhahran. He then spent three years in field assignments at refineries in Riyadh and Jeddah, building expertise in gas treatment, sulfur recovery, and water treatment. Meanwhile, Mohsen had started a family and still had his sights set on furthering his education in the U.S.

In 1998, five years out of school and with a young family to support, Mohsen was accepted into the chemical engineering master’s degree program at Cornell Univ. The experience was a personal revelation. “I was competing with the cream of the crop, and that made me determined to succeed,” he says. Overcoming the educational and personal challenges of this period, he adds, gave him the confidence and know-how to be a competent international engineer.

Returning to Aramco as a process engineer, Mohsen later gained management experience at SABIC, and then at Baker Hughes’ Petrolite Div. as manager for Saudi Arabia and Middle East operations. “This experience engaged me in upstream exploration and drilling, and helped me to grasp how chemical engineering impacts a variety of industries,” says Mohsen.

Following a stint as a vice president at Alkhorayef Petroleum Co., Mohsen rejoined SABIC in 2010. As Process Domain Manager at the Manufacturing Center of Excellence, Mohsen sets SABIC’s strategy for knowledge transfer to chemical and petrochemical industries around the world.

Mohsen first brought his leadership skills to AIChE in 2005. At the time, AIChE’s Saudi Arabia Section (SAS-AIChE) was struggling. Drawing from the large population of chemical engineers in the region, Mohsen helped to rejuvenate the section, which is now one of the region’s most active professional societies. The SAS-AIChE attracts some 150 people to its monthly meetings, which feature speakers from the region’s major companies.

The section’s crowning achievement to date is its hosting of MEPEC 2011. With companies in the region facing competition from China and other oil-producing countries and the need to design and operate more efficient and sustainable plants, Mohsen envisioned a forum where the Middle East oil and gas industries could “share innovative ideas and build on them to come up with the best technical solutions and strategies in the field of process engineering.” Mohsen and his colleagues set an ambitious conference plan. As conference chair, he took the responsibility to succeed personally, immersing himself in supervising every detail.

The three-day event attracted more than 800 delegates from 30 nations, with more than 200 technical papers and a dozen keynote speeches by business leaders.

“Starting a new conference in the current economic turmoil was a real challenge,” says Mohsen. “But with our commitment and zeal to succeed, we overcame all the struggles we faced. It’s all about determination,” he says.

Mohsen views his experience organizing MEPEC as an example of how managerial skills can be gained through dedication to a cause. “If you want to develop your skills, you need chances to practice and prove them,” he says. “Volunteer and nonprofit organizations provide that opportunity.”

Planning for MEPEC 2013 is now in progress.

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