Ashraf Al-Ouf on the power of diversity

By Megan Brodie 2 years ago | In People
  • 2 years ago
Bayer Group ANZ CEO Ashraf Al-Ouf.

24 January 2022

When it comes to understanding diversity and why it is so important in leadership, Bayer’s Ashraf Al-Ouf has a rich tapestry of experiences on which to draw, having worked in multiple countries across different continents as well as having sat on and chaired industry association boards.

Whether it was the more formal cultures of Germany and Japan or the less structured ways of Malaysia and Indonesia, Al-Ouf took to heart a piece of advice given to him early to ensure he ‘lived’ the cultures in which he worked by eating the local food and adopting local customs.

Having moved eight times in 22 years, Al-Ouf has built an extensive and varied life experience that has taught him the value diversity brings, as well as the importance of listening and of understanding when working with people from different backgrounds.

“In my view, diversity is about bringing new ideas, thinking outside the box and challenging the status quo,” says Al-Ouf. “It’s about approaching things in a different way, always asking, how can we do things differently? This for me is the core of diversity.”

Raised in Jordan and university-educated in Eastern Europe, Al-Ouf has lived and worked all over the world and brings to his current role as head of Bayer Pharmaceuticals ANZ a deep understanding of the benefits of diversity, whether it be gender, ethnicity or career path, saying a mix of different and sometimes competing perspectives “is really very important” in enacting change.

He is also one of nine candidates contesting three vacancies on the Medicines Australia (MA) Board and believes diversity in leadership can be the key to changing outcomes.

“When we have done the same thing for many years, we can’t just continue to repeat it. We need different perspectives and that comes from diversity in experience from people who have worked in different geographies, and in learning from those geographies to implement things here in Australia.

“Now more than ever, leadership is about bringing different and competing perspectives, and in MA we continue to need different experiences, whether they be from within Australia or outside Australia, understanding different cultures and markets but also bringing in different ideas.

“As an industry, we have a big challenge ahead of us and moving forward we can tackle that challenge through different perspectives and ideas and really having diversity in how we work and what we do.”

Al-Ouf has been in Australia for two and a half years and feels now is the time when he can best contribute to the Board, hence why he has nominated, although he is also committed to fully contributing regardless of the election outcome.

“I have lived in many places, experienced a lot and have learned not to quickly judge, to listen more, to understand,” he says.

“When returning to Australia in 2019, one of my priorities was understanding and engaging with the external environment. Whether you’re in Germany, Japan, Indonesia, or Malaysia, it’s always about the people you work with. This is why at Bayer we always focus on diversity within the team and creating a good culture within the organisation that really nurtures diversity, inclusiveness and empathy.”

Al-Ouf inspired the culturally diverse Bayer team to walk in patient shoes.

Al-Ouf cites Japan as one of the more challenging places he has worked in due to the language barrier and deep-rooted cultural customs. Working long hours is viewed by the family as a sign of working hard and being a valued employee, while the Japanese also tend to be perfectionists. Yet by immersing himself in the culture, he could understand why Japanese people behaved in a certain way.

“I have been immersed in so many cultures and that has led me to value empathy and acceptance,” he says. “It’s really important to put yourself in other people’s shoes, to step into that culture and to understand it. If you just go in and tell people, this is my style and you have to follow me because I’m the big boss, that doesn’t work.”

Being born in the Middle East as the son of a pharmacist and adept at dispensing medicines as a teenager, Al-Ouf graduated from high school at 16 and, after completing a pharmacy degree, was accepted to study clinical pharmacy at a university in Canada.

It was 1991 and the eruption of the Gulf War resulted in the Canadian Embassy revoking his visa, giving AL-Ouf his first taste of the racial prejudice that can come from being born in the Middle East. The incident is perhaps one of the reasons he so greatly values his Australian citizenship, and his fondness for the Australian way of life and its melting pot of cultures.

“Sydney has a nice culture. You can do whatever you want. In this country, you are yourself and you’re not dictated by any other cultures. They call it a laid-back culture but I don’t see that. I simply love it.”

©MedNews 2022

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