Ali Al-Baluchi was born in Saudi Arabia soon after its unification. Against the backdrop of a conservative society confronting a rapidly increasing pace of modernization, he witnessed and participated in decades of significant social and economic change. Colored by Ali’s inimitable candor and humor, this series of extracts appearing in Aramco Expats from his recently published memoir, Heart and Soul, reveals rare and personal insights into the circumstances and experiences that shaped an impressionable young Saudi into a much-revered foundational pillar of the Aramco and Eastern Province communities.
Heart and Soul – Community Services
Conducting a stock inspection in the Dhahran Commissary Chill Room in 1976 as the Commissary Department Manager.
By the late 1970s, Ali Al-Baluchi had risen through Aramco’s Community Services to become Manager of the Food Distribution Department, where he was proud to employ one of the company’s first Saudi female employees. The following extract from Heart and Soul details how this opened a door to further training in the United States.
Dhahran: City of Bosses, Commissary Matters
In my capacity as departmental manager, I undertook an assignment in the United States with grocery store chain the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (or A&P). This subsequently prepared me for completing a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, followed closely by a master’s in Social Science at William Paterson University. Further to this, my position changed in 1980 to Manager of the combined Food Processing and Distribution Department.
1974 portrait for Aramco’s Arabian Sun.
I owe this opportunity to one particular American colleague who supported my case for further education and training. His name was Mr. Les Goss, an excellent engineer and a kind and sincere man with a good judgement of others. He was a great example to me, the sort of character who would tell you straight if you were being arrogant or difficult, but if you deserved it, would praise you for doing well. It was he and company Vice President Bob Ryrholm who agreed to give me the assignment to New Jersey with A&P. It meant I would also get the opportunity to complete my studies at night school.
While I was in America, A&P came to Dhahran and managed my job in Community Services in my stead, both heading up the commissary and implementing planned improvements. Meanwhile, during the day I worked for them in management in New Jersey and after I finished up, I went to night school at William Paterson University. After finishing work at 4:00 p.m., I would drive to my home (about half an hour away from the office) and attend class from 6:00 to 10:00 p.m., five days a week. Saturday and Sunday were days off work but on Saturdays I took a class from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 and then spent another couple of hours in the library. On Sundays, I would also go to the library and mostly stayed until they closed at 8:00 p.m. I remember one day they locked the library up while I was still inside! Luckily, they had those emergency doors that can only be opened from the inside, so I still managed to get out.
1996 visit to William Paterson University with President Speart.
On completion of my master’s degree, A&P specially commended me for my achievement — they had never before engaged a student who was able to complete the two-year college master’s degree program in the space of one year, as I had done.
During the time I was studying at the university, my late wife Sharifa came for a visit to New Jersey with a few of my children; they were all very excited about the prospect of spending the summer with me. However, they suffered one week of my routine, and then in the second week, she told me that they hadn’t come all that way just to eat and sleep while I worked. She wanted me to take them out and about to New York, Washington, Disney World and other tourist destinations.
In the Najmah Community Commissary conferring with Hassan Ahmed Salem, Supervisor of Retail Services in Ras Tanura.
I told her she was talking to the wrong guy: I wasn’t there for a holiday and my object was to get my degree, to work, learn more, gain further experience in management styles and how to manage the commissary and food distribution business, and then to go to school at night to finish up my degree. Disappointed, they went home to Saudi Arabia.
Over the ensuing years, I have continued my involvement with the William Paterson University Foundation by providing donations and establishing a scholarship fund under my name. I have continued to visit the university often as part of my schedule when I am travelling in the United States, and always enjoy catching up with my old friends there, hearing about ongoing and future developments. My education had a very significant impact on my life, and I am pleased to now be able to help others.