As an anesthesiologist, Abdulaleem Alatassi is accustomed to taking calculated risks.
"In my profession we are very prepared for different scenarios. We take risks, but it's very calculated - otherwise our patients wouldn't do well," he muses. "We don't deal very well with the unknown."
But the process of applying to the Stockholm School of Economics Executive MBA programme was nerve-wracking nonetheless.
"This was exactly the opposite," Abdulaleem laughs. "I had no idea what I was facing. It was a challenging process, and I felt lucky to get in."
Abdulaleem had been a top student throughout his school career, completing his undergraduate studies at home in Saudi Arabia and his postgraduate at the University of Toronto in Canada. He enjoyed working closely with patients and working at a fast pace, which led him to focus on cardiovascular care and pediatric anesthesia at the King Abdullah Specialized Children’s Hospital in Saudi Arabia.
But there was something missing, an itch which he couldn’t quite scratch.
"There was a period when I was working and I have to say I felt...almost fulfilled," he says. "But I wanted to develop myself. And I knew at the back of my mind that I wanted to learn more about administrative work."
A friend and colleague of his, an anesthesiologist working at a nearby hospital, recommended applying to the Stockholm School of Economics Executive MBA programme. And when he looked it up online, he found the school had a great ranking.
He had never been to Europe, and had no idea if he would get into the programme or what it would be like. But he took a chance - and the choice transformed his career and perspective on life entirely.
"This year, after finishing the MBA, I was promoted to a new position," Abdulaleem says. "I now work with operative services on the corporate level, looking into both quality and patient-safety perspectives."
In his new role, Abdulaleem spends a lot of time travelling among the different regions of Saudi Arabia to check in with various hospitals. And he's thriving.
"I have to say, before the MBA I sort of knew what I wanted to do, but it wasn't very well defined," Abdulaleem admits. "The MBA helped me to define what I wanted to work with. I was able to say, 'I am a public servant, and I want to work in the administration sector in order to serve more people.'"
In addition to helping him determine what exactly he wanted in his career, the SSE MBA also gave him the skills necessary to get there.
"The Change Management course, in particular, still helps me to this day. It helps me organize my thoughts and work on certain frames with the hospitals, enabling me to identify every zone in terms of strengths and weaknesses and determine how to work with them. I just delivered an executive report to the high administration, and it was based on the four-frames analysis that I learned in the MBA.”
Another area that Abdulaleem hadn't been exposed to previously was corporate social responsibility - something which he says has had a profound impact on him as a person as well as professionally.
"I literally didn't know the meaning of sustainability until then. We never thought about these things that way in the Middle East," he admits. "I didn't get it at first, but with time I loved it...and I started to think about how we can work with these areas in the Middle East. There is huge room for improvement. I feel enlightened."
Suffice it to say, looking back at his time at the MBA, Abdulaleem doesn’t hesitate to say it was worth it - both the time and every penny.
"I funded it myself, and if you would ask me if I would do it again, absolutely," he exclaims. "I would say that the return on investment materialized, for me, even before finishing the programme."
But it certainly wasn't easy.
"It was exhausting. I was working 60 to 70 hours a week and studying and travelling every six weeks on top of that. And you really have to get outside your comfort zone."
Luckily he wasn’t alone. One of the biggest boons of the SSE MBA, Abdulaleem says, is the network it gave him - or rather, the family.
"I would describe it as a big family. It was amazing," he remarks. His class consisted of 48 people from 19 countries, an experience which was as enriching as the course work itself. "I'm still in touch with them...and I'm looking forward to the reunion in Copenhagen next year!"
And to anyone considering the SSE MBA, Abdulaleem has one piece of advice: Go for it.
“We have this saying in medicine, especially in acute care: If you're thinking about something, just do it. Chances are it's better to do it than not to," he says. "Sure, you will go beyond your comfort zone. You will learn. You will be frustrated. But it will for sure be rewarding."