Omar Ahmad is a homegrown partner at the global consultancy Simon-Kucher, a CEMS Corporate Partner with over 2,000 talented employees in 37 countries.
Since joining Simon-Kucher, he has worked his way up through a series of challenging roles in life sciences, advising organisations in the US, Asia, and Europe in areas as diverse as digital health, diagnostic solutions, and medical devices and equipment. Over the last 13 years, he has been a driving force for Simon-Kucher in the Nordics, helping open their Copenhagen office in 2008 and spearheading the growth of the company’s international Healthcare business. In 2022, his contribution, vision and leadership were recognised with his appointment to the Board, which represented both a new role and an invitation to influence the strategic direction of the organisation. Omar looks back on his accomplishments so far with pride – yet his career at Simon-Kucher might never have happened at all.
As a recent CEMS graduate, Omar’s first job was with the German airline Lufthansa, a role he would have developed had it not been for a single recommendation from a colleague.
“Fresh out of CEMS I was able to leverage my CEMS case study challenge to secure an internship with Lufthansa. It’s a great company, and I would have happily stayed there. But just after 9/11 there was a lot of movement in the industry, and a colleague suggested I apply to a role at Simon-Kucher as an alternative route.”
Omar’s start with the company in the Bonn office was fruitful, but a longing to return to his native Copenhagen saw him leave after a few years to pursue an entrepreneurial venture. Still fate came calling when Simon-Kucher contacted him again with the offer to help build their presence in Denmark.
“I was back home and working with a start-up when the company got back in touch asking if I’d be interested in opening our first office in the Nordics. I had loved being part of this culture, so I said yes. In fact, I was the first person to draw a salary with Simon-Kucher in Copenhagen.”
The appeal for Omar stemmed in part from the opportunity to pioneer its growth in the region, particularly in Healthcare. But there was also the intrinsic problem-solving dimension of consulting and the need to learn and adapt that suited his innate curiosity.
“I didn’t have any background in health or life sciences, but that was never an issue at Simon-Kucher. Consulting in general is about learning, and it’s about problem-solving. I was challenged to structure, communicate, and solve real problems from the get-go. And in this working environment, that’s what I have always done and continue to do. There’s always so much to learn.”
As he progressed in his career and the company grew, Omar took on different roles and challenges, from country management to leader of the global Healthcare practise to his recent appointment as board member. With each step forward, Omar has seen his day-to-day work evolve. At the start his work was largely project-based, involving interviewing, analysing and validating hypotheses and structuring solutions with clients to grow sales and expand offerings. Since becoming a senior partner and most recently a member of the Board, Omar’s focus has shifted to enabling others to grow the company.
“My day-to-day now looks like overseeing my teams and helping them in their jobs, selling projects to clients. I focus more on steering the work of team members and advising them on the key issues they need to resolve.”
Transitioning to a leadership position is a function of experience, he says. It comes from exposure, from practice, and from growing into things. Perhaps even more importantly leadership is about listening and learning – qualities that good consultants should prioritise.
“When you’re a young partner, you’re in the front seat, driving the project and working in a team to get it done. With leadership you take a back seat, and it’s down to you to help other people move things forward.”
Being a good leader, says Omar, is about understanding that individuals are unique and that each person you lead, coach and mentor will need different kinds of guidance. That means opening your eyes and ears.
“You really need to be able to see the differences between people in order to know what they need in terms of guidance. And you need to give your team the room to grow and deliver, stepping in to coach and mentor only where necessary,” says Omar. “At Simon-Kucher I’ve learnt about leadership over the years, with slow and steady exposure to positions and running different teams. I’ve learnt that leadership really is bottom-up. It’s following the boat and knowing when to steer a little to the left or right.”
Young professionals aspiring to leadership would do well to prioritise empathy as a skill, he adds. ”You need to be able to understand where people are coming from to help steer them toward where you want them to go.”
“Empathy is something that can be developed. It’s really about taking the time to observe the differences in people’s perceptions and figuring out how to mobilise and empower them. Understanding people – whether it’s your team or your client – is the best way to lead change, develop solutions and resolve conflicts. If you can understand why an employee is not progressing or a client is not buying something, it will help you fix the roadblock and better prepare for the future.
”A CEMS education is a great bedrock for future leadership in this sense, says Omar. The international exposure of the programme, and the chance to engage with diverse people and cultures can improve your ability to learn about others and question assumptions while simultaneously broadening your perspective.
“The CEMS experience was great because it was so international. It opened up my career options and equipped me with hard analytical and strategic skills. But CEMS also gave me the soft skills – the multicultural sensitivity, the exposure to different ways of thinking – that allow you to be an open-minded leader.”
The skills that he started developing as a CEMSie have, he says, been put to use throughout the course of his working life: “I am a real product of this experience.”
Omar has a few more words of advice to share with CEMSies and other young people starting out in their working lives. “A good basis,” he says, “is to do some research. Take the time to look at who’s recruiting and what values and opportunities they espouse. But perhaps even more important is the need to research yourself and connect with what you love or enjoy most.”
“When I graduated, the consensus was that consulting and investment banking were the only routes to success. But experience has taught me that to succeed, you need to do something you enjoy. CEMS students in particular have access to the resources and networks to try out different routes. I recommend taking the time to do that.
“Choose the things you feel are right, not what you think is right. Because what you enjoy most is where you will succeed most."
The CEMS Corporate Insights is a series of interviews that aims to highlight the diverse career paths CEMS senior alumni have embarked on at the CEMS Corporate Partners. Interviews focus on various aspects of life, including their work journey but also reflection on leadership, globalisation, finding the right path and their takeaways from their CEMS experience.
You can find previous interviews on cems.org or on the CEMS Career Center.