Out of the box

Combining creativity with perseverance has been the hallmark of Afaf Al Zakwani, Budget Controller, Oman Oil Company Exploration and Production’s professional growth and success
Afaf Al Zakwani has a flair for finance and numbers and it shows in her success. As the budget controller of Oman Oil Company Exploration and Production (OOCEP), she is tasked with planning and managing the finances of the company. Afaf graduated from Sultan Qaboos University with a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 2005. She decided to pursue her education and got a scholarship from SQU to do an MBA and graduated in 2010. Not one to rest on her laurels, she is currently pursuing CMA part 1 since August 2016. “I began my career in 2005 with Schlumberger, an oil servicing company. I started as a receivable accountant and learned a lot about dealing with clients. There were a lot of challenges as the environment was tough, but it was nice and enriching. I then moved to a management accounting role within the company and worked there for almost three years after which I got an opportunity to work with BG Oman as a working capital and cost recovery accountant and then I moved to lead budgeting and planning position.”
In 2010, she moved with the project to OOCEP, as the company had a 20 per cent share in BG Oman and eventually OOCEP acquired 100 per cent of the latter. “I started off as a joint venture controller and since then I have been holding various positions. I have contributed to the start-up of the finance department, setting up an ERP and projects systems. The final job that I have been tasked with is budgeting and planning, that’s what I am doing currently. I am looking after the organisation’s GNA and with the low oil prices the challenge is to reduce costs, challenge every number that is given to us and to work closely with the project team to capture project data both the capex and opex, revenues and to build a budgeted financial review, for the coming year and the life cycle of the project.”
Over the years Afaf has mastered the art of striking a balance between academics and her career. She started pursuing her MBA in 2008, while she was working in Schlumberger and though she moved to another company, she continued to pursuing her studies. Currently, she is enrolled in ACCA, having passed F5. She would have cleared the course by now, but had to stop for a while owing to work and personal pressures.
A creative person, Afaf likes thinking and working out of the box. “I don’t like rules and regulations as it limits your thinking. My subordinates say I am a good tutor. They say that they can learn what I teach them from better than anyone else. They also think that I should be a professor in future.” A fast learner, she gets bored with routine jobs and is constantly on the lookout for acquiring knowledge and leaning new skills. “I would like to specialise in one area but since there is so much knowledge there, I am exploring various areas, till I get what I want and will then specialise.”
The benefits of a newly established company is that there are minimum resources and plenty of opportunities compared to a well-established organisation where the openings for growth may be limited. “I was lucky when I landed in OOCEP, as there were many opportunities and they needed someone to set up systems and procedures in those areas.” She was moved from one position to another and she counts it as a blessing as over the last six months she has held various positions like joint venture, financial controlling, financial advisor, risk advisor, budget controlling etc. Though wearing multiple hats was a challenge, she feels that the benefits of it were far more than the obstacles.
Looking back Afaf feels that every company that she worked for had good tutors, managers and supervisors, who taught her a lot. “I was able to grasp and move on from one role to another in a short span of time because of the way they were teaching me. In addition, the confidence that they gave me made me stronger.” While educational institutes teach you academics, she thinks that there is so much more to learn on the job. She adds, “My parents taught me that to survive in life you need to struggle; things do not come easy; you need to work hard and earn things in life. If you believe in yourself, you can do anything in life.”
She thinks that with the Omanisation and ICV programme, the government has ensured that Omanis get to learn and grasp things from the best. As expatriates have the knowledge these programmes are ensuring that they transfer that knowledge to Omanis. “Earlier a number of companies just focused on expatriates. While I was lucky to work with expatriates who were ready to share their knowledge with Omanis without feeling insecure, there were cases where Omanis were not able to gain any knowledge from expatriates and unfortunately all that knowledge goes away when the person leaves. I see more of that happening now in the last five years.”
Talking about future prospects for nationals Afaf says that there are many opportunities for them which they need to grasp. For this they should know market requirements, equip themselves with certificates, knowledge etc. Moreover, they should not wait for an opportunity to come their way but to go out looking for one with self-belief and determination. “There are certain people who would like to stay in the same position for 20 years, because that is their comfort zone and that is what they are good at, they don’t want more challenges, more responsibilities etc. they don’t want more risk. On the other hand there is a small group, which will always be looking for something new and we need more of that population amongst Omanis.”
The sky is the limit
Her advice for young Omanis is simple. “First of all know yourself and your core. Second, know what your passion is. If you can answer these questions then you know what are your career goals and path. If you enjoy what you are doing, then you are going to ask for more, but if you are going to choose a career because you have been asked to do it by your family or friends or because of some other forces that are outside your control then you will be locking yourselves in a corner. The sky is the limit. Sometimes you take a decision based on circumstances.It does not mean that you have to stop there and it is never too late to start looking outside the box.”
Being a woman with multiple responsibilities has posed the proverbial work life balance challenge for Afaf and she admits that it is not easy. She feels that opportunities get very limited for a married women, especially with kids, because the management of companies know that a lady will have priorities beyond her work. “Hardly a day goes by without a challenge and a struggle; you need to prove yourself to the management every now and then. At the same time, you should not neglect your responsibilities as a mother and a wife. One need to work it out and balance things, though as a priority the family comes first.”
Having worked on budgeting for a long time, Afaf is on the lookout for something new. She is looking at planning and others as probable areas of specialisation. Aware of the fact that senior management role requires certain certifications, she is pursuing them assiduously.
Talking about NTI BizPro, she says, “It is a wonderful programme which brings successful Omanis under one roof. It provides an excellent opportunity to know other successful young Omanis and to learn from them. Just knowing that there is so much talent out there is amazing.” And Afaf is surely one amongst them.

To report this post you need to login first.