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7 Questions with Yousef Awwad
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7 Questions with Yousef Awwad
Name: Yousef Awwad
Current title: CFO
Current organisation: VisionQuest
Dr. Awwad is a highly accomplished executive in Finance, Auditing, Banking and Education, in both the public and the private sectors. Dr. Awwad immigrated to the United States about 22 years ago from Jordan. When he first moved to the United States, he was overwhelmed with the system and the culture that is vastly different from the culture he grew up with. But quickly, he adapted to the culture and learned the system. While it was hard at the beginning, he knew that he can do anything he sets his mind to. Determination and perseverance are qualities that helped him reach his goals and go on a successful journey in his life
His experience includes: Teaching at the University of Arizona, Chief Executive Officer, Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer for Portland Public Schools, Vice President of Finance for Oregon College of Oriental Medicine, Chief Financial Officer, and Deputy Superintendent for Tucson Unified School District (TUSD).
His academic background includes a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Jordan, a Master of Business Administration from Webster University and a Doctor of Education from the University of Portland. He is also a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA), Project Management Professional (PMP) and is COSO certified by the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission (COSO) and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).
While in Arizona, He was recognized and awarded the 2014 Crescordia Award, the Governor award for energy and technology innovation for his efforts to bring solar energy to about 80% of the schools in Tucson Unified School District as well as Certificate of Excellence in Financial Reporting Award from the Government Financial Officers Association (GFOA) and the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting Award from the Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO) for outstanding financial reporting in 2012 and 2013. In Oregon, He led the efforts to pass the largest Bond in the history of the State for $790 million to help rebuild schools and improve facilities in Portland Public Schools.
Dr. Awwad presented at several conferences throughout the country including the Government Financial Officers Association, and the Association of School Business Officers annual conferences. He was appointed and served on several state level task forces in Oregon to advise the Legislature on matters related to funding for English Language Learners, Capital Funding for Facilities, and Nursing for schools. He had served as trustee on health benefit trusts, governing board member for 3 to PHD, and an advisory board member for the Oregon Association of Minority Entrepreneurs (OAME).
He is passionate about volunteering; his signature program “Adopt School Program” for TUSD made the headlines and attracted many community members to dedicate their time and efforts to help their local schools.
Dr. Awwad is currently serving the Tucson community in the capacity of Chief Financial Officer for VisionQuest and volunteers for the Dunbar to serve people at risk and in adverse positions.
When he has time he travels, plays golf and works out.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
Change is always difficult. We might think we can make changes quickly because we can make the decision but the truth is, we have to work with our team and get their buy-in to ensure effective and productive change that serves the best interest of our organization and the people who make things happen.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
Early on in my career, I enjoyed working with my team to problem solve and make changes that help improve our business. I naturally took on a leadership role before I was in leadership. As I progressed in my career, I was promoted into different roles where I proved my ability to lead.
I think I climbed the leadership ladder quickly because of my background. I was born in Jordan, and I was raised in a large family of 9 siblings where I learned early on to negotiate and work with a team. Being born in a relatively poor family, taught me that I had to work hard and earn my position in leadership as well as appreciate opportunities that are offered to me. I did not have many opportunities growing up, so I had to create my own and work hard to achieve where I am now. Education was critical to help me succeed. It is the only thing that I could obtain If I studied hard and worked my way through college using my grades and intellectual abilities to succeed. Education armed me with degrees and professional certificates that opened opportunities for me and helped me succeed.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I start my day with a cup of coffee then I review my schedule and prioritize my day based on the importance of tasks. I go to the office and start my meetings and ensure I make my round to see my staff and say hello. I end my day with reflection on how my day went and send some emails to set up the next day's work.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
You can never do things alone, you need a good team of individuals to help you get things done. You need people who compliment your skills and fill the gaps for your weaknesses to ensure having strong leadership that you trust and are willing to be honest with you so we can work together to solve.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow. This book not only provided a great portrait of Washington leadership and the early times of our nation, but it also provided a great example of how Washington managed to lead his soldiers to victory using out of the box thinking when he encountered the British army. The British army at the time was a structured and strong army but their traditional methods of fighting were known. Washington knew he couldn't win using the traditional methods, so he had to come up with different ways to surprise them and use his limited number of soldiers more effectively and efficiently in a guerrilla war to win. In my view great leaders see the big picture, and they also know the strength and weaknesses of their team, then they put a plan in action that effectively uses the resources they have effectively and efficiently to achieve their goals. They may not have the best team in the world, but they still can achieve their goals by putting some structure and order in place.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
Succession planning is critical in building capacity. You must plan and identify talents constantly then give the new talents opportunities to learn and grow so when the time is ready, they can take their place on the leadership team to ensure future success and stability in leadership.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
When I was with TUSD in Arizona. In one Manson season, we had a lot of rain and wind that blew the roof off one of our schools right before school started. It was difficult to get contractors quickly to clean up the school and remove the debris to get the school ready on the first day of school. I quickly asked my leadership team to be on the scene and I sent an email to staff across our district to volunteer helping clean the debris in time. We also reached out to our business community to volunteer people and resources including supplies and tools to help us in this effort. Within two hours we had more than 150 people and enough supplies and tools to clear the debris and get the section of the school where the roof blew off closed off and then moved all the stuff out to the safe section of the school. We opened the school on time successfully. This happened because we had acted quickly and relied on good teamwork of our volunteers and the support of our community. Later, I created the Adopt School program where we adopted one school every month and with the help of volunteers and the community beautified the school by cleaning and doing any repairs needed.