Abu Dhabi: Having a purpose in life and making a positive difference, whether big or small, are key essentials of living, says Huda Al Shamsi.
Huda, who is vice-president of corporate branding, markerting and communications for Abu Dhabi Airports, lives by this mantra in her personal and professional life.
“Every day I wake up asking myself, what positive change I will bring to the table, what positive difference I can make around me? Even a small step goes a mile,” said Huda, who joined Abu Dhabi Airports in May 2019.
Huda brings over a decade of diversified experience in brand development, mass communication, corporate strategy and project management. She is recognised as someone who is passionate about delivering unique experiences, engaging communication and building brands, which reflect the rich culture of hospitality and inclusivity of Abu Dhabi.
“It has been a fabulous journey – exciting and challenging alike. My role at Abu Dhabi Airports as vice-president of corporate branding, marketing and communication is varied. I am leading the branding, marketing and communications’ activities across the entire group, including spearheading the positioning of the state-of-the-art Midfield Terminal Complex at Abu Dhabi International Airport,” Huda said.
“People think aviation is just a small sector, but it is incredibly big, contributing to the economy at so many levels.”
Abu Dhabi Airports Company is the operator of five airports within the UAE. “The idea is to connect to the world. My role is to promote and safeguard the reputation of AUH. I am in charge of marketing, events and corporate communications, as well as branding and a huge varied role that goes into so many different aspects,” Huda said.
“It is a great job and I am enjoying it every bit. We are starting to see the transition of Abu Dhabi airports and that is so special to me.
“We are communicating more with our passengers. On a corporate level as well, we have much going on with our partners and stakeholders. In terms of connectivity, Abu Dhabi Airports is growing and things are picking up post the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Huda, who holds a Bachelor of Arts in Management and Marketing and a Master’s in Business Administration from Abu Dhabi University.
Huda expressed her pride for AUH, which has grown from strength to strength. Reminiscing the past, she said the idea of AUH was first conceived in 1974, when the newly-formed UAE was looking at modernisation and expanding its international reach. Construction of the new airport began in 1979 and the new AUH was officially opened on January 2, 1982 featuring a circular satellite terminal with a single connection to a semi-circular terminal.
“Our Father of the Nation, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, had the foresight to build the airport. Thanks to his vision, the airport was conceived. A legacy has been built and it will grow from strength to strength,” Huda said.
Growth in numbers
She said when Etihad became the national carrier and the home airline, it served as a catalyst for rapid growth and paved the way for the opening of Terminal 2 in September 2005, a second runway (Runway 13L/31R) in 2008 and Terminal 3 in January 2009, boosting the airport’s capacity to 12 million passengers per year.
Another milestone came in 2014 when AUH introduced the first US border pre-clearance facilities in the Middle East to facilitate the processing of passengers on direct flights for entry into the US before they board their planes.
With passenger volumes, routes and airlines increasing, AUH recently re-opened Terminal 2, where five airline partners are now operating over 50 weekly flights, bringing the total number of airlines operating from all terminals at AUH to 26.
Latest passenger estimates by AUH estimates over 13 million passengers passing through Abu Dhabi International by the end of this year.
“I have grown a lot in terms of knowing how aviation works and that an airport is not just about the terminal itself. It is everything from the runway to the facilities in place and more. We are always looking at different synergies of how we can communicate to our passengers. We are not just that vehicle or facility. We are the first impression of UAE for passengers arriving into Abu Dhabi. We are a gateway,” Huda said.
Huda added that she is blessed that she has worked with leaders who became her mentors too. “They empowered me, taught me and shaped my personality to come this far in my career.”
She particularly recalled the encouragement and support she received from one mentor who will forever remain in her thoughts and prayers. “It is the late Mohammed Khalaf Al Mazrouei who served as heritage adviser to the Crown Prince and former chairman of Abu Dhabi Media,” she said.
“His words and advice are still with me. Some of the things he said, I carry it with me even today. I apply his advice in my work.”
Huda previously worked as director of marketing at KBBO Group, a private investment firm based in Abu Dhabi, with a multi-billion-dollar portfolio across the Middle East, Europe and the US.
She has also worked in the field of culture and tourism.
“I am passionate about the rich culture and heritage of Abu Dhabi and that is why I joined the Department of Culture and Tourism, where I led the marketing and communications department, handling special projects such as the Abu Dhabi Film Festival and the Emirati channel, Baynounah TV,” said Huda, who is a member of the International Academic Society, Beta Gamma Sigma.
“I continue to support the preservation and promotion of the heritage and culture of Abu Dhabi and the UAE by serving on several committees, including volunteering on the Steering Committee at the Cultural Programmes and Heritage Festivals Committee.”
Huda, who has a great interest for teaching, taught social studies at Abu Dhabi University and coordinated an undergraduate business exchange programme in the US in cooperation with the UAE Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Support from the government
“There is a lot of encouragement, empowerment as well as enablement from the government to push women forward. Personally, I don’t see it as a women-versus-men issue. I think that a woman has a lot to contribute and bring to the table, whether it is a perspective or opinion. Women can multi-task. They manage their home and work and somehow create a balance between the two really well.”
Message for career-driven women
“Know your purpose in life. Ask yourself, what is your purpose? How are you contributing to make a difference to everyone? I wake up every day asking myself what am I going to do that will change something for someone for the better,” Huda said.
“As someone who is in a leadership role for a big entity, I have learned that patience is key. Hurried decisions do not always mean they are right. So be calm, think with a cool head and be confident about the decisions you makeif you are doing it for the right reason.”
Huda said she earned her first income when she was just 15.
“It was a summer job. I come from a family who taught me to be financially independent early on in life. So at 15, when my friends were hanging out at cafes I was doing a summer job. From then on, I kept working and growing,” she said.
Huda, whose mother is British and father is Emirati, said her family has always supported her and her siblings.
“I have a twin who is 10 minutes older than me, a younger brother and sister. Most of us in the family are working in the aviation industry. We are like an aviation family. My two children will also get a childhood similar to mine. We all share a special bond and that will remain forever.”
“My children are six and seven so I spend a lot of my free time with them. I love travelling with the family. I believe there is much learning in every city of the world. I love to meet new people, discover new cultures, try new cuisines. So travel is definitely one thing I love to do,” Huda said, adding, “Family has been important in shaping my personality, confidence and growth.”